Gary Burgess has established himself as a competent and highly valuable “utility player” in the field of contract engineering. Just like in sports, the versatile mechanical process engineer has developed the ability to play any number of roles and perform at a high level when his name is penciled into the starting lineup at a specialty chemical, waste water, food or pharmaceutical company.
“Working on diverse projects is not only cool, it builds your expertise and your confidence,” said Burgess, who is quick to point out that he is 67 years young.
Burgess’s long and successful second career as an independent engineer was born of necessity when Marathon’s Southern Engineering Office closed in 1993. Being both curious and outgoing by nature, he saw change as an opportunity to grow his career and hasn’t looked back since.
Anything But Routine
Forget boring, routine jobs. For Burgess, every assignment brings new and interesting challenges. It doesn’t matter whether the project involves design, R&D, pilot plant studies, P&IDs, PSM or advanced troubleshooting, the tenacious pro has proven that he is up to the task.
“Sometimes, you get paid to be a detective, to figure things out,” he explained. “Other times, contractors are called on to tackle projects that the full-time engineering staff is unable or unwilling to do.”
When you do independent work and make your own paycheck, you don’t have to worry about protecting your turf or making a mistake that could cost you your job he added. Drawing on your past experience and success gives you the courage to take risks and try new things.
For instance, on his last assignment, Burgess was tasked with creating guidance and justification for a pilot plant that would produce almond milk and almond snacks. In a previous assignment, he created user requirement specifications for support of Antisense Oligonucleotide Synthesis Manufacturing Process. The project supported a game-changing medical innovation for patients suffering from spinal muscular atrophy.
Identifying plant safety issues, gap analysis and process design, project management – no problem. It is all in a day’s work for a resourceful contractor, like Burgess.
Accumulating vast amounts of experience and knowledge has also made him a highly sought after consultant, speaker and mentor to students.
“As a contractor your value comes from what you know,” Burgess said. “I’ve taken full advantage of the opportunity to build my network and invest time in continuing education and career development.”
“I’ve actually impressed myself several times with the things that I have been able to accomplish, despite having no prior experience with that type of project or equipment,” Burgess humbly admitted.
Going the Extra Mile
To say that Burgess is willing to go “the extra mile” to succeed as a contract professional would be an understatement. In fact, he has crossed North America 10 times, passed through 151 airports, and documented his epic 8,290 mile motorcycle trek across the Trans-Canada Highway. He’s also worked in Communist China and studied at American University in Cairo while working on wind and solar projects.
Although it hasn’t been all work and no play. Burgess says that he has eaten plenty of great food over the course of his travels and visited hundreds of parks, museums and landmarks while playing tourist on the weekends during out-of-town assignments.
A savvy marketer, Burgess uses tales of his adventures on his Honda motorcycles to add some fun or spice to his presentations and engage the audience. Storytelling lets him showcase his personality and create a unique and memorable brand identity, an essential for every engineering professional.
He also makes an extra effort to build relationships and collaborate with colleagues during assignments. (FYI, Burgess has over 2,500 connections on LinkedIn.)
Finding work as a contractor is all about time and timing Burgess noted. When things get slow, he reconnects and sends out an updated resume to past managers and contacts to show that he’s available for new opportunities.
“Engineers who work in the same environment for a long time are often insecure about what they know or capable of doing,” he noted. “I’ve always been a confident guy, so I try to engage and involve others in my work. I’m always willing to share what I know.”
Tips for Becoming a Utility Player
Burgess offered the following tips and lessons learned for engineers who are interested in becoming utility players:
- Aim for variety when considering projects, especially when you’re starting out. Don’t hesitate to accept short-term assignments either, since they’ll help you gain confidence, contacts and diversify your skill sets.
- Create a long and short version of your resume, because engineering managers don’t want to wade through pages of project experience to understand your strengths and weaknesses.
- Juggling multiple opportunities? That’s a nice problem to have, but don’t concentrate on landing the best one. Pursue them all equally and accept the first reasonable offer that comes along.
Gary Burgess’s Career Stats
- Worked in 34 states and 8 different countries
- Worked or toured 764 factories (his goal is to visit 1,000)
- Accumulated over 1,300 professional development hours
- Supported 72 different water/wastewater projects
- Authored over 25 articles for 4 magazines
- Created and delivered 32 instructional presentations to over 1,000 attendees
- Won 2 cars in amateur field goal kicking contests (including a 20-yard strike in front of 70,000 fans at Carolina Panthers Stadium)
- Scored two holes-in-one, as an amateur golfer
- Founded one of Charlotte’s oldest job support networks
- Donated over 350 hours to Habitat for Humanity
- Member of Patriot Guard
- Former marathoner
- BS Mechanical Engineering, MS Sanitary Engineering