At a small company in Illinois in the early 90s, Steve Cash was given a lot of leash. As a 20-something fresh out of college with a degree in electrical engineering, this was heady stuff. The company did prototype engineering with a focus on automotive fuel injection and ignition systems. “Our goal was to enable people to explore how fuel injection could improve fuel economy and emissions,” Cash explains. Many of his designs were used in applications like snowblowers, lawn mowers, and a whole range of smaller devices.
Cash’s boss gave him the freedom to explore and learn. “I needed a device to throw on an engine to measure the engine speed—to create a histogram of the engine speed over time,” Cash says. His boss didn’t tell him how to do it, though. “He just said, ‘Go do it.’” Cash had to figure it out. He loved it. “I had to repeatedly ask myself, ‘What do I need to do?’ to understand how to provide the product.”
“That job,” Cash notes, “made me a systems engineer.” It would take him a while to realize it, though.
In the interim, he went to work at larger companies—Bayer, Cummins, Motorola, Johnson Controls—in the role of electrical engineer, product line engineer, chief engineer, and eventually, systems engineer. At these different enterprises and in these different roles, Cash learned a lot about all kinds of engineering. “This gave me a broad understanding of engineering,” he says, “although I still need the subject matter experts.”
In his job at Johnson Controls, Cash was asked to work on requirements and systems design. The company also encouraged him to look at his career path and what he wanted to do in life. “Here I was, 20 years into my career, and only just beginning to think about it,” he says. By that time, Cash was a systems engineer by title, but unsure of exactly what that meant. He became involved with the International Council on Systems Engineering, or INCOSE, to learn more, and realized, “This was all stuff I had done!”
He soon discovered that INCOSE had a certification program; you just needed to take a test. Cash took the exam without studying, and passed it. “It was because I had a lifetime of doing the work,” he explains. With his years of experience, he easily exceeded the requirement for a Certified Systems Engineering Professional, or CSEP. “I’d been a systems engineer all along,” he realized. “I’d been thinking this way my whole life.”
With a mother who was a mathematician and a father who was an attorney, Cash came by the logical thinking of a systems engineer quite naturally. As a child, he was also a bit of a tinkerer. He simply wanted to know how things work. In fact, his desire to understand the world was instrumental, so to speak, to his growth.
Cash recounts the story like this: “When I was 12 years old, I was in the living room playing the piano. I loved how it sounded. I wanted to understand why. I wanted to figure out how you translate finger movements into sound. So I decided to take apart my mother’s piano. It was a nice piano. I knew my parents had spent a lot of money on it.” Nonetheless, his curiosity got the better of him. His mother walked into the living room while her son’s deconstruction project was in full swing. Luckily, she was understanding. “She just said, ‘Be sure you can put it back together.’” (He did.)
Rather than being just a tinkerer, Cash describes himself as having a problem-solving orientation. When he was in the 8th grade, he started programming on an Apple IIe. He created his own video game in which he had a stick figure that you could move around, making it go into virtual rooms. While he never achieved greatness with it, he had entered the engineering world. “It was programming that set my north star,” he says.
At Vitech, Cash serves as a consultant, helping customers benefit from applying systems engineering via GENESYS to their projects. “I analyze what they are doing, identify where they are having difficulty, look at ways our tools can help, and assist in implementing improvements,” he says.
What Cash likes most about being a systems engineer is the opportunity to look at a lot of different problems and conceptualize solutions. “It’s that problem-solving instinct,” he says. “I want to solve a problem, to deliver something useful.”
Beyond gaining the satisfaction of solving a problem, Cash has learned that being a systems engineer can bring together two of his life passions: systems engineering and golf. The first International Symposium he attended was the 2016 event in Edinburgh, Scotland. While there, he got to play golf, and although it was not at the famed St. Andrews course, still, it was the Balgove “Par 3” golf course at St. Andrews. All of which is to say, you never know where systems engineering will take you.
The image shows Steve Cash at the tee of the 6th hole on the Balgove Course in St. Andrews, Scotland. It was a hole that he birdied.
To learn more about GENESYS, we encourage you to visit What’s New in GENESYS 2020 R2.