5 Questions for Senior Software Developer Colin Nelson

Emerson’s Colin Nelson joins our 5 Questions for an Emerson Expert podcast series. Meeting the global demand for energy requires efficient transportation and storage from oil and gas production all the way through the supply chain to the consumer and business users. Colin helps to develop the real-time scheduling and optimization tools to help companies across this supply chain operate more efficiently.

Let me know if there are other Emerson Experts that you’d like to hear from and what you’d like me to ask them.

Emerson's Colin Nelson


Jim: Hi, everybody. This is Jim Cahill, and welcome to another edition of “5 Questions for an Emerson Expert.” Today, I’m joined by Colin Nelson who’s a senior software developer for Emerson and he has six years of experience with us by way of Energy Solutions International, who was acquired by Emerson a while back. Colin has a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from Davidson College. So, welcome, Colin. Thank you for joining us today.

Colin: Thank you for having me on.

Jim: All right. Well, let’s start out by asking what made you decide to pursue a STEM-based career?

Colin: So, I’ve always had an interest in STEM technologies, in particular biology, math, and programming. Starting off, I wanted to be a doctor, but I was really lucky to grow up in a strong STEM household. My dad has a Bachelors in Biology, my mother has a Masters in Mathematics, and they encouraged me to, you know, pursue my interest in all the STEM-related careers. And, I found during high school, I found out playing video games that if you hit this magic button, a little console would come up, and you could enter in these commands that would wind up changing the world around you, sort of a lightweight version of programming. And that sort of led me to explore and discover ways that I could write programs, or write software, and change the digital world around me, and that contributed well to my career in mathematics in college, and has brought me forward into my development role as it is today.

Jim: Well, that’s fascinating. So, what got you to that transition into really our world of process automation?

Colin: So, this is actually my first job out of college. I was interested in joining Energy Solutions because I was joining into their pipeline scheduling and optimization team, where it was a fantastic and fascinating space, especially pipeline scheduling, because it gets you the ability to marry the sort of strange differences between the physical real world of mathematics, problem-solving, fluid hydraulics, all of that real world laws of physics things with the business world of accounting, and the, you know, paper trades, the swaps, all the business processes where you actually operate on and change the functionality of what you came at your scheduling with. And so, as the team grew and developed at Energy Solutions, we experienced an amount of success, and we happily joined the Automation Solutions with Emerson.

Jim: Yeah. And, we’re glad to have you in the family. Right now, the whole world of pipelines is so dynamic with all this new production here in Texas, and other places brought to us by the Shale Revolution going on. So, that must keep things very exciting for you over there.

Colin: Oh, there is not a dull moment around here.

Jim: That’s excellent. So, tell us about a recent challenge that you’ve been working on to solve.

Colin: So, a new industry or a new branch of the pipeline solutions space with automation that we’re branching into is terminals. We have a terminal scheduling and optimization tool. And currently, I’m working on a real-time schedule verifier. You can imagine it as something that sits and is looking at and consuming data from the SCADA systems, from the meters, from the telemetry, getting a real-time view of what the terminal is, and then comparing that with the published projected schedules that the scheduling team is putting out.

So, it is taking those two pieces of data, in real-time comparing the two, and seeing if there are any significant deviations between them. So, the schedulers said, “Oh. I need to start moving this jet fuel from tank one to the ship docks at 5 o’clock, and I notice that these valves aren’t open or this meter isn’t running, and it’s almost that time.” It might start throwing some small warnings, some alarms to say, “Hey. You might be deviating from what your schedule is in your actual operations.” Let’s marry up and bring together the scheduling and operations of the pipeline in order to, you know, just maximize efficiency across the board.

Jim: Yeah. I imagine in the past, a lot of that was manual operations, and then you get those inherent delays as you find, maybe, the valves aren’t sequenced properly or whatever else you need to be able to real-time monitor that based on the schedule. That seems like there’s quite a bit of opportunity to increase efficiency at terminals.

Colin: There is, and that’s exactly what we’re going after.

Jim: So, with all this fun you’re having on the job and with how busy things are, what about outside as you leave for the weekend and other times? What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

Colin: Yeah. So, in my spare time, I enjoy running, yoga, cooking, breakfast tacos and coffee with my wife, but I also work on a number of personal side projects. I make contributions to various opensource codebases. I attend several STEM-related meetups in the Houston area, and I volunteer for a local non-profit, { code park } Houston, to help tech some underprivileged kids in the Houston area skills in STEM areas to help them grow into those sorts of careers.

Jim: Oh, That’s fantastic. As all these baby boomers around us are retiring and moving on to get more people interested in STEM-based fields including our world of process automation and optimization, and everything else, that’s fantastic. Now that you’ve had a number years in the field and everything, we still have a lot of new people entering in. What advice would you have for someone brand new into our world of optimization, automation, and the other things we do?

Colin: So, what I’d really suggest is you take whatever product or project that you are put on initially, and spend a good amount of time learning the history of it, learning the decisions that they made, learning how it works as it is now, get a good, solid, firm base of that, and then branch out. Go and find other products. Go and find other solutions in the space that are solving similar, but definitely different problems. Meet with them, take them out to lunch, make friends, learn, and try to see and debate the differences between what your product solution is and what theirs is. Try to look at the merits, the pros and the cons of both of them, and then try to take it back. Because being able to cross-synergize across different products in this automation space is definitely valuable for both products, and it helps give you a broader, more holistic perspective of the industry and the space.

Jim: Well, that sounds like really good advice in advancing not only your personal knowledge, but the products and other things that you’re working on or working with to be more effective at that. Well, thank you so much for sharing a little bit about yourself and how you got into the world of STEM, and we really appreciate it, Colin.

Colin: Well, thank you very much, Jim. It’s been a pleasure.

End of transcript

You can connect and interact with other optimization experts along the hydrocarbon supply chain in the Oil & Gas and Refining groups in the Emerson Exchange 365 community.

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