David Costello: ‘Ask Why Five Times’

Nov. 1, 2012
In developing and improving training material, David Costello takes inspiration from a saying they use a great deal at SEL Inc.: “Ask why five times.”

In developing and improving training material, David Costello takes inspiration from a saying they use a great deal at Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, Inc. (SEL): “Ask why five times.” A senior application engineer and trainer at SEL, Costello explains that asking why forces one to understand, reinvent, and improve when possible. He remembers that perspective when serving a customer or teaching a class.

Costello provides technical support and teaches several SEL University courses. He has taught fundamentals, application, and testing courses. “I am challenged each and every day in my present position to keep up, learn, and share what I know with others. In providing technical support, I am exposed to new products, new applications, and customer problems, all of which require me, and the engineers I work with, to continuously evolve and learn,” he said. “In teaching classes, or mentoring young engineers, I am challenged to revisit fundamentals and consider how best to explain complicated material in practical terms.”

Costello will present PROT 301 Protecting Power Systems for Technicians on Jan. 21–23 in Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas. This course addresses the basic methods, tools, and devices used in the field of power system protection.

The idea behind Protecting Power Systems is to provide an overall understanding of power system protection to technicians and electricians tasked with testing and commissioning protective relaying systems.

“New technicians often have to work without knowledge needed for their job.” Costello said. “The situation is made worse by the lack of training budgets, and training and mentoring programs at many companies due to economic pressures and short-sightedness. Retirements compound the loss of experience and knowledge transfer within companies.”

Today, power system engineers are faced with greater challenges than ever. “To borrow from the Oldsmobile slogan, ‘this isn’t my father’s power system,’” Costello said. “We have greater technological solutions today; it’s a really exciting time to be a power system engineer.”

He learned appreciation for the role that safe, reliable, and economical power plays in every facet of modern society from his father, Robert, who had a distinguished career as a power system engineer and executive at a local utility company. Costello was also good at, and interested in, math and science. “Being a part of continuing and improving that industry was more than a safe career decision. It seemed to be fun, challenging, and rewarding due to its critical role and importance.”

Having developed a habit of devoting time to learning, he often instructs students to be consistent in moving forward in their experience. Costello is an avid San Antonio Spurs fan and recalled a quote from writer Jacob Riis that the franchise has hanging in its locker room: “When nothing seems to help, I go look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before.”

For Costello, this quote speaks to consistency. “Learn a little bit, solve a new problem, and share what you know. Each and every day, make a bit of forward progress in each of these areas. You'll be amazed how far you develop and how many people you help over time.”

He emphasizes sharing what you know. “Learn to communicate, verbally and in writing,” he said. “I believe you’ll find it personally rewarding, and it’s in the best interests of our industry, customers, and the next generation of engineers who will follow and improve.”

It is also rewarding to balance work with outside interests in your life, according to Costello. He is active physically, whether that is participating in sports, traveling, or hiking. He loves to read and enjoys novels, history, and nonfiction when he is not at work. And, he enjoys spending time, doing anything, with his family.

As an engineer, Costello likes to build things, large and small. He designed and built his own home and loves landscaping.

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