Engineering Influence welcomes Kevin Flaker, Becca Schmidt, & Ryan Karlin, the hosts of the “Close of Business” podcast. Kevin, Becca and Ryan are all young professional engineers at Black & Veatch who started the podcast as a place for young professionals in STEM to discuss all issues related to tech, innovation, work/life balance and any and all issues related to the science and engineering industries.  Subscribe to their podcast on Spotify, the Apple podcast here and wherever podcasts are heard.  Check them out!


Host: Welcome to another episode of the engineering influence podcast. ACC is regular series of podcasts. We're here today with the three presenters of the close of business podcast, which they build is the one and only podcast for young STEM professionals. All three are engineers at black and Veatch. So why don't we start off by the, each of you introducing yourself and telling us a little about yourself.

Kevin: All right. I don't know. I'll go ahead and my name is Kevin flaker and first thank you for having us on and letting us join your podcast. We've all three are engineers at Black & Veatch. I am an electrical engineer. I work in the solar design business. I design solar fields for a living and podcasting is, I guess as you would say, a side hustle for me.

Becca: My name's Becca Schmidt. I'm also, I'm an engineer mechanical engineer who's been focused on designing a natural gas fired power plants and just transitioned over to to doing business development and sales, more client facing work.

Ryan: And then I'm the third cohost. A name is Ryan Carlin. Instead of those two, I am a civil engineer, so he got all of covered. I have been focused in the power delivery group transmission line and substation work. So kind of diverse engineers within the power business. But all have love for podcasts. Yeah.

Host: Yeah. I've really enjoyed it. I've listened to a few of them and they're really well done. It sounds like you guys have a lot of fun doing it. It, you, when you first started, you were saying that, you know, this is, this is from people who have never looked up on Google how to do a podcast. How did, how did you guys decide to do a podcast?

Kevin: Yeah, so a couple of years ago, a few of us were pulled into somewhat of a roundtable here at Black & Veatch. And the purpose of the discussion was to look for ways for Black & Veatch to engage more in the community. We're a severely industrial or in the past we're heavy in the industrial power water, telecom businesses and not necessarily more on the commercial side. So we were just kind of throwing around ideas for ways for us to connect into the community. And I happened to just start getting into podcasts and listen to podcasts and love how much you can learn. So I threw this idea out there that, you know, we could create this podcast. It would be a way for us to engage with community on the different projects we're doing. The work we're doing at Black & Veatch. But then also selfishly it was going to be, if it went through a cool way for me to being a recent graduate, look up all these different cool industry technologies that were emerging as well as all the different things Black & Veatch was doing.

Kevin: And being able to like research that for myself as well as share that on the podcast format with the community. And what that's transformed into today is not so much of a, here's what we do at Black & Veatch, but more of a, here's a generic STEM podcast where we talk about technology across, we try to reach all industries, not just power or water, telecom. Oh, you know, we talk about autonomous vehicles and the Hyperloop, just any really cool thing going on in the STEM industry and just bring that to the community. And I guess utilize Black & Veatch's knowledge when when applicable.

Becca: And in addition to that, we talked a lot about engaging with the millennial workforce, the millennial group. We felt like there's this external perception of what engineers and people working in the STEM industry are really like. And the three of us kind of like to categorize ourselves as something that's kind of against the grain, not the typical stereotypical, nerdy, nerdy engineer, you know, and we wanted to present, you know, what it can be like to be an engineer, that it's this really cool and exciting thing and it doesn't have to be over complicated or super nerdy.

Becca: It can be talking about just cool things going on in the STEM industry, literally over beers and communicating it in a really digestible, relatable way too.

Ryan:  And that's kind of just to give a hindsight how we got the name close of business. So it was all meant around, you know, having to close the business, you know, when everyone goes home or goes to a happy hour, kind of just talking recent news or STEM-related stuff in a fun and kind of informal manner. So we try to kind of play on that and have an informative yet fun kind of atmosphere.

Becca: Kind of a long winded response. But we put it all on the table.

Host: It really comes across and I especially in your early ones when when you were sort of finding your feet what do, I mean all three of you are, are really quite young. I mean, I, if I'm right, I mean you're all graduated since like 2015 or 2014 is is what does that bring, do you think to your, your program? I mean, you know, the, the picture of the old stodgy engineer with the time and you guys are not that obviously, but it, what impact does your age do you think have on this?

Ryan: I think I mean one is just a different perspective, you know, we don't know what we don't know type of thing, so we're not afraid to ask questions. Kind of along the same lines of our audience. We're learning just as much when we're preparing for these episodes as our listeners. So I mean, I think, I think that's one big thing that I see.

Kevin: Yeah. I guess one of the focuses or one of the, one of the purposes for this podcast would be to kind of grow and influence STEM in younger generations, whether that be college students who are studying in the field and are, or maybe flirting with the idea of getting into STEM industry, but don't really know, like, you know, that's a huge entry point when you start talking science and tech. It's kind of scary, daunting at first or even high schoolers who are interested. So I think like we're able to bridge the gap to where we can communicate with the experts in the industry. We have the connections, but at the same time, we're still learning ourselves. So we're able to, as Ryan mentioned, ask the questions that the everyday listener would be asking. You know, we're not experts. We hardly know what we're talking about. And I think that's kind of our trick.

Becca: Yeah, for sure. And I think a lot of the perception that of that I've had with the people that I work with here is that, you know, they're experts now, but what were they like when they were developing as young adults, young people in their career. And I think we're all kind of like finding ourselves when we're learning throughout our, our careers and also learning what it's like to be a young adult in early on in your career, in developing through all of that. It's something that people don't really talk about as much. And in reality, when we all started working full time, we didn't know we were doing, Oh, that's totally fine to community, still trying to communicate that, you know. And that's something that we are really passionate about engaging with our listeners on as well.

Host: Yeah, no, you can hear the passion obviously, and the enthusiasm. I mean, what have you, have you learned about your listeners at all? Do you know who they are? You know, are they, are they the young people who are thinking about getting into STEM or are they other engineers?

Ryan: I'd say it's kind of a wide range. So we've gone to college career fairs and some people have listened to the podcasts, you know, they love it and they say they get good stuff out of it. But then also, you know, we do episodes kind of internally and they're released and we have executives come up to us whether within black and Veatch or external companies, and they kind of share their interests and kind of excitement about the podcast. So, I mean, I think just, we're geared towards young professionals, but I don't think that really leaves us out of, you know, Quinn Robinson, who's on your guys's board. He's a big fan as well. And I want to call him a young professional. So it kind of all ages, I guess, in that sense. Yeah.

Host: Yeah. How do you guys how do you come up with your, to your topics, the, I mean you've done 33 so far, that's a lot of things to think of and, and, and bring and research and bring to the air.

Becca: Yeah. It's a combination of tapping into all of the different things that are all the different innovative things that are happening within Black & Veatch. A lot of the people that we've interviewed so far professionals that are doing really awesome, big innovative things within the company and we're excited about it and we want to communicate that with the, within the world, what we want to commute that out into the community. And then also just things we're interested in too. A lot of times it's us just we're on the internet work, curious reading about what's going on in that STEM industry and we'll talk about it amongst ourselves and we're like, this is a really cool thing to do, a podcast episode about.

Kevin: And one cool thing that's happening is as we grow within Black & Veatch, we have more and more people reaching out to us with topic ideas or inviting us to go to conferences where, you know, we just came back from San Francisco at a Singularity University summit where there are topics talking about, you know, Bitcoin and digital currency, AI, space, like all these really cool topics and you know, we're getting invited to go there. So we find our topics via presenters at these conferences or you know, clients of Black & Veatch, you know, black and beaches worked with Tesla or Volkswagen with the electrify America. So, you know, our clients are also the ones who are out there innovating in this industry. So we're, we're being put in contact with a bunch of different people as well.

Host: I mean, I tell that you guys were at Power Gen I mean, you guys do get around it. I mean, is it is it the podcast taking you there or are you going there and then using that for the podcast?

Kevin: Well, I think it's 100% the podcast taking us there.

Ryan: Yeah, we've definitely got a lot of support from within Black & Veatch. I mean they really liked the idea of the podcast and kind of what we bring to the table. And so Black & Veatch has really been supportive about, you know, giving us a budget. And that budget allows us to do things like, you know, buy new fancy equipment or go to these conferences or I may have you, so I really say it's a podcast that's really funded a lot of this. Yeah.

Host: Yeah. I would say the you know, it doesn't feel like a Black & Veatch podcast if at all. It feel, I mean, I guess when you mention it, yeah, you do talk to a lot of Black & Veatch people, but it doesn't feel like you're doing this to promote the company, you know, which is great.

Kevin: That's a very important point. We don't, we don't want to be a podcast that shoves Black & Veatch down the listeners throat because that will just be a turnoff in all honesty. It's an obvious marketing scheme and that's not what we are here. We're, we're basically utilizing our contacts because we work with these people. They know us, they reach out to us the most. But as we see I'm willing to bet if we were to look back, like the first half are mainly Black & Veatch centric, but as we started to expand and grow our network, we are focusing on I don't want to do you want to call it external initiatives and stuff like that. So we definitely want to utilize Black & Veatch when we can, but we also don't want to, you know, make it all about Black & Veatch.

Host: Yeah. What looking back over all the, the episodes, what are some of your favorite episodes that people might want to, to listen to?

Becca: Yeah. I think one of my personal favorites was when we had the opportunity to interview Eric Anderson who is the executive chairman for top golf and CEO for West River Group. That was a great opportunity because that's PR one because it was one of the most high profile people that we've been able to sit down and talk to, but also a lot of the business and leadership and entrepreneurship insights that he gave us were completely invaluable. And then also the additional content that we have on that episode. We focus on technology and sports and the three of us are really big sports fans. And so it was kind of like a wonderful merging of worlds and just us being able to really truly show our personality and show our interest on that episode. That's definitely one of my favorite ones. And Kevin's having a hard time deciding,

Kevin: I've got a couple, I'll give you two, I guess. One of my favorites I guess I would say would be the Hyperloop, one of the Hyperloop discussions we had, and this was kind of more early on at around episode 10 or so. Yeah, but it was, I mean, Hyperloops kind of continued to get a lot of the limelight and just selfishly, you know, I learned a lot from doing that episode about what Hyperloop is. So I mean, I think that's on the kind of still applies today even though that was maybe one a year ago. And then the other one probably I would say is he's a little bit of a wild card. But Tom Friend we interviewed him at PowerGen. He just give a quick background. He's like, was what? He was in the air force and then now he w he was a consultant for Duke Energy. He's a scrum or like agility consultant. He's kind of all over the place. But super fascinating and intriguing guy. And that was probably one of my favorites

Becca: Talk about somebody who's passionate about learning. Tom Friend was the most passionate about learning.

Ryan:  Yeah, he was, it was a fun interview. I think, you know, I just, I just want to say all of the guests you've had and all the topics we've covered are great. Let me just put that out there. My, my favorite is probably the Prekapa Sankar interview that we just completed at singularity university, mainly because this is a woman dominating the STEM industry at such a young age. She's on her second company right now and data and AI for good. Yeah. And that's like the future and that's where, you know, the probably going to be the dominating technology coming in the next 10, 15 years and she's already at the helm of it. And I'm more excited to have interviewed her then maybe about the topic just cause like I'm excited to see what she can do in the future.

Becca: She's going to make a big impact on the planet. She, she already is, but she's gonna make really big impacts. So, yeah.

Host: And I guess from your, from your visit out to Singularity or do you have other, other podcasts planned, maybe something on blockchain or something?

Ryan: Yeah, we are. Blockchain episode fell through. We did get a little bit into it with Tom Friend, we'll say, but he, he was so passionate and so like educated on it that, you know, we try to slow him down and yeah, that's definitely something we need to do is like a block chain 101 episode because it is kind of like a really vague idea that's kind of hard to explain and process and we have a hard time understanding it sometimes. So definitely that would be something we want to help our viewers unders or listeners understand as well. So trust me, that's, that's on the list of ideas.

Kevin: We do have an episode, one more episode from singularity to coming up with the CEO of Upwork. who was a Silicon Valley guy back in the PayPal and all that those days. So really cool guy. I got to sit down and talk with him about the future of work play more than anything else. So Upwork is a, what do you, freelance platform online like one of the largest and one of the largest in the world. And he has really great insights about what the future of the workforce is going to be like and how we need to adapt and how Upwork is helping the workforce adapt as well. Yeah. So

Host: Well you guys really get into a lot. I that you actually had, didn't you have one on space recently?

Becca: We just released one on a little bit of a space topic. One of the more random, we interviewed the chief scientist, Bruce Betts from the planetary society. For those who aren't familiar with the planetary society, it's a non nonprofit crowdfunded space exploration and research company headed by the boy, bill Nye, bill Nye the science guy.

Becca: Yeah, so it's his, his company. And Bruce bets was one of the people who led on the LightSail 2 mission. I can go into all sorts of details about that, but you can listen to our episode and you might learn a little bit more about what that technology is.

Kevin: If you want to hear an interview that had absolutely no outline or plan, listen to that. Cause we literally grabbed him from off stage and interviewed him with no questions or anything, just kind of let the conversation go. And I think it was pretty funny and random because of that.

Becca: And it's still super educational as well.

Host: Well for, for if any of our members were listening and were thinking maybe they wanted to start a podcast, what, what would your, what your advice be for them to, to as a member of a member firm to get a successful podcast going?

Ryan: Yeah. And I think this answer may apply to more than just a podcast. It's really anything that you think is kind of entrepreneurial within your company or just in general is I think just taking the bull by the horns and kind of holding yourself accountable. You know, Kevin was a ringleader of this, but just him making the statement that he thought it would be a good idea kind of puts the wheels in motion. And without that kind of first step you're never gonna actually achieve anything. So, you know, we, Kevin, myself, Becca, we didn't know how a podcast recording and the whole post-production, all that stuff, that was all new to us when we started out. But it's just something you kind of learn as you go. You know, it took us a while to release our first couple of episodes and kind of master what we we're doing. We've been doing it what for two years now and we're still not mastered. So yeah, just like any new skill or hobby, you know, it takes, takes time and takes initiative and action and kind of holding yourself accountable.

Kevin: I guess from, from with inside a company, if we want to look at that mind frame, if you have an idea, I think in any successful company you're going to have leaders that support most ideas. And I think, yeah, like Ryan said, the biggest thing is speaking out, expressing your idea and then following through with it as Ryan said. But I think like the biggest thing was I spoke out in a meeting and there are leaders in that meeting that were willing to be like, you know what, let's run with this. We'll give you five hours a week, let's see what you can do. And since then, iteration after iteration, we've grown to have, you know, a larger budget but also make sure that whatever it is you're doing is something that you love. And I know that sounds kind of cliche, but one thing that we found is we're full time engineers.

Kevin: So we work 40 plus hours a week doing engineering work or Becca with business development. And this is something we have to do on the side. And it's really hard to put in the extra hours when it's not something you enjoy. So you have to make sure you enjoy it first if you're really gonna be successful in it.

Becca: I think just jumping off of things that they both said, we're really fortunate that there is leadership within Black & Veatch that supports innovation. They see the value in what we're doing here. And we feel really fortunate that there are leaders here that were willing to take a chance on us and help us progress through this whole project and see where it could go. So we're really thankful for that. And then in addition, yeah, the passion is super important. And then also just finding a voice that's different than what is out there now.

Becca: We think that we had a, and we still do believe that we have a different perspective than anybody else out there on the podcast platform. And we have a voice and we have things to say and we're hoping that we're teaching people and they're learning and also just give, giving people a better perspective on what our industry is about and the kind of impacts we're wanting to make as well. Yeah.

Ryan: And one last thing I would just add to that is, one thing I've noticed talking to a lot of these interviewees is most companies are passionate about kind of motivating and giving ownership to young employees. Most companies have a STEM related kind of program. And so I think you know, don't be afraid to kind of speak out and speak your idea. Like we've kind of been saying so far. Yeah.

Host: Yeah. And from, you know, being in the industry, writing about the industry for the last 12 years, I mean, one of the big issues is how do you motivate your younger employees, you know, the, the baby boomers don't understand the millennials sort of thing. And this seems to be a an example of a way of doing it.

Becca: 100%. Yeah. I think in general, us in the millennial generation are really motivated by kind of like a greater calling. I don't come to work everyday because I know I'm going to be sitting in responding to emails or doing calculations. It's because I know that I'm coming to work and I'm contributing to a better society, a better community, a better infrastructure, so that we as a community can live a healthier, more comfortable life. And I think that this is just another outlet for us to discuss that and try and get that out into the world a little bit more.

Host: Well, great. Well that, that, that I think you've guys have covered the gamut here. So I'm, I really appreciate your coming on and I urge our our listeners to tune into the Close of Business podcast. You guys are on a Spotify, right?

Ryan: Yeah. Spotify, Apple podcasts, any, any really podcast forum.

Ryan: Yeah. The best way just to look up whatever you listen to on podcast closed the business and you'll find us. And hopefully you enjoy the episodes. And if you got questions or comments reply to us. But otherwise you can email us to that. Awesome.

Host: Well, thank you.


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