These days, technology goes everywhere: oil rigs, pulp mills, sewage plants, you name it. Somebody's gotta clean up the mess and keep the lights on. But few IT gigs get earthier than Dan King's job as a process control engineer for a Texas sewage treatment facility in the mid-1990s.
"Among other things," King says, "I was responsible for crawling around the sludge dryer -- that's where the poo goes after it's extracted from the water -- trying to figure out how to program the computers to run the conveyors at speeds that would get the sludge dry enough so that it's not a sloppy muddy mess, yet not so dry and dusty that it would catch on fire." A particularly smelly fire was the reason King was assigned to the project in the first place, he adds pungently.
To keep the "sludge" at the right consistency, King used an '80s-era programming language called CL, made by Honeywell Industrial Control Systems, to move the conveyor belts at precisely the right speed and send the right amount of electricity to the dryers. That was the easy part.
"Then I had to crawl around the belt and reach in with my glove to check the consistency of this muddy, slushy mess while watching the temperature."
After that formative experience, King went to grad school. Although he no longer works as a sludge systems architect, he's still encounters the dirty work of a career in IT on a daily basis. "Some days, I'm still up to my hips in poo, but it's bull poo," King says.