Steven Engel: botanist and Computer Engineer

Steven Engel’s fingers flutter across his keyboard as he hammers out a string of code. Like a poet searching for just the right word, he pauses now and then over a broken line before repairing it with a well-placed keystroke. The software Engel’s working on now will soon be the brain behind the Torrcon IV, an innovative vacuum gauge controller he’s worked on for several years.

VTI’s WISE Pack Helium Sniffer Probe. Engel played a leading role in developing both the software and the mechanical design of this device

“Getting this project to the finish line is one of the most exciting things I’ve achieved at VTI. It’s been my baby since I started here, and watching it finally start shipping to customers is a very satisfying experience,” said Engel.

As a Software Controls Engineer at Vacuum Technology Incorporated (VTI), Engel programs minds into the industrial vacuum systems his colleagues design, fabricate, and assemble at VTI’s sprawling facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Engel also works closely with VTI’s global network of customers to service and upgrade software packages already in the field. In addition, he plays a central role in organizing the layout of circuit boards for vacuum gauge controllers and a wide variety of different instruments. VTI prides itself on producing intelligent machines that can work with operators to detect leaks in everything from submarine batteries to components of experimental fusion reactors, and Engel helps ensure those machines stay sharp.

“No two days are the same. Sometimes I’m helping customers troubleshoot their systems, sometimes I’m writing code, and sometimes I’m turning a wrench on the shop floor,” said Engel.

Engel started at VTI in 2018 after receiving his degree in Computer Engineering from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Engel had a number of job offers to choose from, but he says VTI won him over with their emphasis on personal development and professional growth.

“I had the feeling that if I worked at a larger company, I’d just be a number going through the same grind every day. At VTI, I get to wear a lot of different hats,” said Engel.

In his two years at VTI, Engel has accomplished a great deal. He’s particularly proud of how much he’s learned about microprocessor programming and development, but he’s also proud of his role in creating VTI’s WISE Pack and H2HS Pro sniffer leak detectors.

“For those projects, we were taking a customer’s concept and transforming it into an actual product. I not only wrote the software, but also helped actually design and assemble those devices. Being involved in every phase of development was rewarding,” said Engel.

When he’s not programming industrial vacuum equipment, Engel enjoys fighting intergalactic enemies on his PC and caring for his collection of carnivorous plants. He’s also an amateur mechanic with two project cars, a Corvette and a Chevy pickup truck.

“Computer engineering is my passion, but I also really enjoy the mechanical side of things. Working at VTI, I get to do a little bit of both,” said Engel.