Master Machinist's Career Advice: Pay Attention

Machinists at work
Our team was honored to speak with one of the most accomplished machinist veterans we work with, Roger Downing. Roger entered the machinist trade almost 30 years ago with a passion for how and why things work. Over a career of jobs at large production shops as well as smaller “mom and pop” job shops, he became a master of manual machining. Then, about 10 years into his career, he was getting ready to leave his first shift job when a senior colleague asked him if he’d like to stick around to experiment with a new computer-numeric control (CNC) machining system the company was testing out. The rest is history for this native Texan who has become a mentor to two generations of machinists.

Manual vs. CNC Machining

We asked Roger whether he thought CNC machining would ever completely replace the manual machines.  He was swift and sure in his response. “Absolutely not. There is more than enough room — a requirement — for both types of machining. In many of the smaller job shops I’ve been at, the craft required to manage and work a manual machine is essential to the task of developing prototypes and producing small run, highly customized products. But the amazing ability of CAD-based tools in the set-up and production of large jobs is one of the innovations that opens up an entire new career for many machinists.”

Like many of the machinists we work with, Roger has countless side-projects and hobbies working at any given time. For Roger, his favorite pursuit is his Harley and the time he spends with his young son tuning his favorite high performance machine.

Sage advice for machinists

Given Roger’s master skills with both manual and CNC machines, no one is better positioned to offer career advice to up-and-coming machinists. When we asked him for the single most important piece of advice he would offer young machinists, he said without hesitation, “Pay attention. I have trained and mentored some very sharp machinists. Some with great technical school chops who graduated with very solid knowledge of how these machines work. But when it comes to becoming a truly skilled crafts person, it takes one thing: experience. The best way to get that experience is from working on a range of different machines, manual and CNC, and learning from people who are already skilled and often eager to teach. So yes, pay attention. You’ll go far, for as long as you want to work, on almost any machine in the world.”

Choice is good

Our experience tells us Roger Downing couldn’t be more right. Choice is good, and there are few skilled trades where such a wide range of choice — whether working traditional manual machines or mastering the most cutting-edge CNC technology — offer an equally lucrative career. If you’re a machinist thinking about what’s the next best move for your career we’d love to hear from you.   

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