Engineering Graduate Lands Job, Becomes First Hired by Industry

Engineers like to say they make the world go round.

Valencia senior Jacob Heck, who is finishing his senior design project course this summer, has landed a job in which he’ll be responsible not just for making sure the trains run on time – but assuring that they get to their destinations safely.

That also makes him the first graduate of Valencia’s electrical and computer engineering technology program to land an engineering job.

Heck, 29, has been hired by XO Rail, one of the nation’s leading railroad signal and communications engineering firms.  Working from the company’s Jacksonville office, Heck will be working as a signal engineer, a job that incorporates the electronic and controls for the crossing signals, speed limit zones and switching signals. He’ll be part of a team creating an automated backup conductor, which is a safety backup system to prevent collisions and accidents.

The idea, Heck says, is that if the conductor falls asleep or is text messaging on his phone, the trains can be automatically slowed or stopped.

Landing your first job as an engineer is exciting – and Heck is ready to get started.

“That can be the toughest part of getting started: Landing that first engineering position,” he says. “From there on, however, you have work experience in the field.”

Ali Notash, who is program chair of Valencia’s electrical and computer engineering technology program, says that Heck’s hard work has paid off, and he is “ready for such an exciting challenge.”

Jacob came to Valencia in 2008, fresh out of the Marine Corps. He earned his A.A. pre-major in engineering and moved on to the University of Central Florida to study electrical engineering. Because he was always more interested in the technical aspect of engineering – and not the theoretical – he was excited when Valencia introduced the bachelor’s degree in electrical and computer engineering technology. The program, which UCF dropped because of budget cuts, focuses on hands-on aspects of engineering, allowing students to learn how to program microprocessors, use circuit simulators, solder components and learn to use instruments for troubleshooting.

So after two semesters at UCF, he returned to Valencia, where he felt right at home. “The class sizes, the professors, everything, I enjoyed better over here,” says Heck.

While studying for his degree, Heck worked full-time, gaining valuable experience in the electronics field.  He worked as an avionics technician for a company in Sanford, doing modifications on trainer aircraft for the U.S. Navy. More recently, he has been working for an Orlando company as an avionics integration technician, modifying planes for foreign military use.

Because Heck wanted to relocate to Jacksonville – where he and his wife have family – he searched online for engineering job openings. When he spotted the job for XO Rail, he applied – even though his degree was pending.

“I think the work experience played a part in me being selected over candidates who did not have any work experience,” says Heck. “And the degree itself made me eligible for the position.”

Heck will return to Valencia later this summer to present his senior project to his professors, but starting this week, he’ll be in Jacksonville, starting his engineering career.