I get the pleasure of sharing the thoughts of my friend Erik Walker with you all today. He is a talented writer, inspirational mentor, and devout Christian – but alas – I’m speaking with him in the context of his views on Blackness and his chosen profession: Electrical Engineering. I hope you enjoy this Black Perspective, cool kids.
Introducing: Erik Walker
SSD: Jumping right in, tell me a bit about what you do.
EW: The constant in my career has been programming controls/automation. That’s probably the heart of what I do. The functions of those machines have changed, but that’s been constant. At my first job, I was creating machines to do tasks. At the second I was working on a team to program conveyor systems. Now, I’m designing and programming automated backup power systems. The functions have changed, but the constant has been Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs).
SSD: What traits do you think a person interested in your line of work should probably possess?
EW: In addition to the obvious answer of paying attention to details, I think a better answer would be that a person interested in doing what I do is good at documenting what they’ve done.
In a lot of ways, every project I’ve done throughout my career is like a fingerprint. You could pull seven different electrical engineers to do the same thing, and we’d all probably do it a bit differently. That’s only an issue when someone has to come behind me to edit/add to/take away something that I did. If I haven’t spent the time to document what I’ve done and why [I did it], it will be pretty difficult to follow what my thinking was.
SSD: I know that you’ve done much more than engineering (mentoring, taking on roles at your church, investing, volunteering).
Can you tell me how all of that has factored into some of the moves you’ve made and the priorities you’ve been focusing on over the last few years?
EW: Most of the roles I’ve had have not been about setting myself up for anything in the future; at least not explicitly. The mentoring group that I helped create was more about filling a need than anything else. We saw a bunch of young men being raised in single-parent homes at our church, and we thought we could step in as big brother figures for some of the young men.
My involvement in the 100 Black Men of Greater Kansas City was the same.
Mentoring has always been a passion. It still is. I guess, if nothing else, it’s helped me to realize even more how important my presence in my own kids’ lives is. Maybe at some point, I’ll get back to mentoring. For now, my focus is at home. My most important mentees are the ones that share my DNA.
My role as Marketing Director at my church when I lived in Kansas City is the exception. I took that role 1) because I wanted to help my church grow, but also 2) because I wanted to find some kind of way to use this graduate degree I paid all this money to earn. I’ve always said that I don’t want to be an engineer forever. I’ll make my pivot in the future. That role gave me a glimpse of what that would be like.