Every day Dean Stange enthusiastically shows up at the Denver Tech Center offices of Stanley Consultants, he teaches young engineers. Some have experience, some are straight out of school. But all sit at Stange’s feet because there is little he hasn’t seen in power delivery design and construction. At the age 67, he is the longest tenured member of the company, 47 years. His company still works him hard and depends on him to smooth leadership transitions in the distribution department, to act as a sounding board on key client matters and most of all, to mentor. He is positive, engaging and accepting of all who cross his path.
His teaching style is a combination of technical explanation and real-life stories. Stories. He has a thousand of them. Of when he was on the team to rebuild Iraq after the Gulf War, identifying key electrical system deficiencies and projects. Of when he snapped photos of downed power lines that he happened on after an Iowa snow storm. Of getting stuck on the Cannon Dam line relocations, Monroe County, Missouri, and how he and other engineers put tire chains on their truck, and loaded coils of scrap wire in the back for traction in the snow.
The only son in an Iowa farming family, he started his career in 1972. While enduring the engineering crash during the early 1980s, Stange found himself in Yemen working on a power line for a water and sewer project. It was his first exposure to working in a foreign land. He enjoyed it and appreciated the work, but it wasn’t his last exposure to foreign lands. The fall of 2003 would bring him back to the Middle East, for the rebuilding of Iraq. He and his colleagues traveled throughout Iraq, usually with an armed escort, meeting with Iraqi ministers to evaluate electrical facilities and identify what needed to be repaired. They identified and evaluated power plants, substations, transmission lines and distribution systems. They identified over 100 generation projects, 250 transmission projects, 500 distribution projects and 70 supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) projects. He moved to the firm’s Denver office in 1983.
Stange maintains a healthy respect for electricity. While walking a power line in an arroyo in Rio Rico, Arizona, he suddenly found himself lying on his back, looking up at an orange glow in the sky after a big flash and crack. Luckily, he and his associate were not well-grounded. Their boots and the sand saved them.
Now that technology is once again reinventing the engineering profession, he reinforces the importance of life-long learning. The mentor again becomes mentee, as the digital revolution evolves, and Stange evolves with it, eagerly employing new tools of the discipline. “The only things that don’t change are things that are dead,” he told T&D World. He was awarded a Service Citation by the Coalition Provisional Authority and the Career Service Award from Stanley Consultants.
How did you get started in this business and come to Stanley Consultants?
I grew up near the town that Stanley started in, Muscatine, Iowa, and it seems I always knew people who worked there. When I got out of high school, I didn’t have grades or money to go to Iowa State. I attended junior college and took all the math and engineering courses I could. When I got out of junior college, I still didn’t have the grades or money to go to Iowa State. I did farm work at home and for neighbors and worked at a local factory. I spent the fall filling out employment applications around town, and Stanley called me with a job before anyone else. I started as a draftsman working on Mylar with ink.
How did you progress from there?
It took a year and a half to move up. My lettering was poor. There was an opening in cost estimating and another one as a technician over in electrical. My boss told me I was going to have a job at Stanley Consultants, but it wasn’t going to be in drafting. I did system planning work. I started staking power lines in three feet of snow. I had really good people to teach me things. I never learned electricity like an electrical engineer (EE) learns. The decisions were already standardized before I came along. I’ve also worked for some world-class jerks. But I’ve learned from them too. Not that I want to emulate all their characteristics.
What are some of your major lessons learned in engineering?
Stanley Consultants is a good place to work. Why do I say this? Because there were times I should have been fired and wasn’t. There were times I should have quit and didn’t. At those times, everyone was understanding, mostly patient and we kept going.
Accept your mistakes and learn from them. When you make a mistake, do not quit. We have invested a lot in the lesson you have just learned from your mistake, and we don’t want you and that investment going down the street to benefit our competition.
We are engineers. If you have an engineering problem, we can solve it, and probably with a superior, possibly elegant solution. If you have an economics problem, we can provide some help with analyzing it and might contribute to solving it. If you have a political problem, we aren’t the people to solve it, for there may not be a solution that you find acceptable.
There are some things we don’t do
- We don’t do ugly. This pertains to evenness, blending with the background, not taking advantage of one aspect of community over another. You want to end with everyone being equally unhappy, that’s success.
- We don’t do stupid.
- Unless the client requests it in writing.
When did you start training and mentoring younger engineers?
Probably in the late 1970s. Some of the clients I worked with would have me work alongside some of their people to acquire some knowledge or skill set that I had, so that when I had to leave, some of my skill sets would remain with them. I don’t know how many I’ve mentored. I didn’t see a reason to keep track.
How do you get started with training an engineer, designer or technician?
I hope they are curious about how things get done. I hope they understand basic concepts of efficiency and economics, honesty and loyalty. I hope they really like to read, can do higher math and are smarter than me.
What typically happens and how does the process go?
Some people can understand the concepts we use to do engineering; some people struggle to understand, some never do or will.
What do young engineers ask most about?
How do you remember all this stuff? Where do you find all this stuff? Do I need to know all this? Their learning needs are as variable as the individuals’ backgrounds. Mostly it’s a matter of fine-tuning pattern recognition skills, situational awareness and perception, decision management, problem analysis and prediction.
What is the effect of technology on T&D engineering?
Computers have had a major impact. It affected clearances on line designs. You used to measure line clearances at 60 degrees and estimate what sag you had when it had ice on it. Computers can simulate and handle the math that would take a week with a slide rule. GPS can measure distances and elevations we didn’t use to consider because it would bog down the design process. We used to put a measuring wheel on the road. Don’t have those any more, though I have one at home. They used to build bridges with a plumb bob and a long tape measure. Not anymore.
Before you start to solve a problem, you have to have an idea of what the solution’s going to look like, otherwise that smart phone or computer will give you the wrong calculation. When tech came along, I thought it was great. We used to guess a lot. Rules of thumb based on empirical experiences, also known as failures in the past. You can’t ignore innovative technology. I tried that with computers at first. They weren’t very good. In Yemen, the height of tech was a telex machine, which punches out ticker tape. You have to learn the clients’ software, their vendors and support, and worry about security. There are various levels of the smart grid, and many different levels of adoption.
If you stop learning, you might as well hang it up. The only things that don’t change are things that are dead. One regret. I wish I could have learned more on the electrical side of things. I’m mainly on overhead power lines. I wish I would have got my P.E. (professional engineer license), I would have been able to go overseas more. There are people you haven’t met and stories you haven’t heard. Iraq is where civilization started 13,000 years ago. I met some really good people there.
What do you get out of mentoring and working?
Fun. In the last 47 years, there may have been a few dozen days I had to argue with myself to go to “work.” I’ve worked with people who have that conversation every day. If this job ever quits being fun, and turns into work, I pray to God that I will have the backbone to walk away and not turn back.
Major Projects Handled by Stange
Cannon Dam line relocations, Monroe County, Missouri.
Good Friday Ice Storm rebuild, Champaign, Illinois.
Taiz’z Water and Sewerage, Taiz’z, Yemen. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Water and sewer and overhead line design.
North Captiva Island underwater and underground line extension. Lee County Florida.
System improvements, Intermountain Rural Electric Association, Sedalia, Colorado.
Line design and inspection, Rio Rico, Arizona.
North Coast Highway survey GPS control and cross-section, Jamaica.
Work order inspection, Tohono O'odham Utility Authority, Arizona.
Coalition Provisional Authority, Baghdad, Iraq.
CBEC – Grimes Transmission Project, Western Iowa.
Ice storm rebuilds, Franklin County and Harrison County, Iowa.
The best teachers, if we're lucky enough to encounter them, impact us on a much greater scale and impart wisdom we can carry with us our entire lives. Here are just a few lifelong lessons teachers have shared with me:
- Never, ever ask a woman if she is pregnant.
- Old people have lots and lots of good stuff to say.
- "I'm sorry. I made a mistake. I won't do that again," is always the best first response to any trouble you may be in.
- The people who make their dreams come true are the people who work the hardest. Talent means little.
- Good listeners are the most beloved people on the planet.
- Most people settle for a career rather than chasing their passion and end up living lives of quiet desperation. Promise yourself that you won't let this happen to you.
- Remember that almost every disaster will be meaningless in a year. Maybe a week.
- The weird ones are the interesting ones.
- Befriend people who are smarter than you.
- You care about what you look like. No one else does. Truly.
- Never, ever allow a person to sit alone in the cafeteria at lunch.
- If you learn to speak extemporaneously to an audience, you will have a skill that almost every other person on the planet does not have.
- Shakespeare isn't as hard as people want you to believe.
- If you want something, fight for it in writing.
- Always help your family with dinner. Cook, set the table, or clean up afterwards. Work for your food.
- Winners arrive on time. Losers are always unexpectedly stuck in traffic.
- Any chore that takes two minutes or less should be done immediately. Dishes in the sink should never be a thing.
- The single greatest thing you can do to guarantee your future success is to read a lot. Read more than everyone else in your peer groups.
- Don't ever expect life to be fair just because you are fair to life. Life is not fair - get used to it.
- Complain less than the people around you. If possible, don't complain at all.
- Drop mean friends instantly. There are too many people in this world to waste your time with them.
- If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough.
- In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice; in practice, there is.
- Not everything that can be counted, counts; not everything that counts, can be counted.
- It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently.
- An educational mindset that extols liberal arts as inspirational, and demotes math to merely useful, ignores the beauty and power of patterns and numbers and shapes.
- There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, perseverance, hard work, and learning from failure.
- You will not rise to the occasion; you will fall back on your level of training.
- In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.
- Consensus is the absence of effective leadership.
- Life is too short to be around people who don’t understand and practice the concepts of loyalty and honesty.
- Always go into new situations with your eyes wide open. Make your own deals, cry your own tears.
About Dean Stange:
Dean Stange is principal electrical designer in the Denver office of Stanley Consultants. Active in overhead and underground power line design since 1972. He has mentored and trained scores of engineers during his years as an engineer, all with Stanley Consultants. Stange’s project experience includes thousands of miles of transmission and distribution design. For more information, contact Carl Svard at [email protected].