Sean's CNC Story

Feb 16, 2023 hireCNC

My CNC Story - Sean Dickie


A Red Seal General Machinist since 2012, Sean Dickie began his CNC career at 19 years of age in Ottawa and now resides in Calgary, Alberta – working as a CNC Applications Engineer for Source Atlantic. 

Recently, we asked Sean some questions about his career progression, along with some advice for those in the early stages of theirs. 

hireCNC:  What made you decide to pursue a career in CNC machining? Did you know this is the path you wanted to take? And why was that? 

Sean: I never really considered that I would be in the trades. I guess it wasn't on my radar at that point in time.  

I went to business school but didn't finish because I didn't like it- right after high school. I tried addictions counseling as well. I kind of fell into the CNC world. I had a buddy who was doing it, “Hey, you should come. I can hook you up with a job and you can see if you like it or not.” So, I started doing that. I saw how cool some of the technology and stuff was that they were using. Then I decided that's what I want to go to school for. I started working and going to school at the same time, and then that's what opened my eyes to the whole industry. I had no idea that it even existed before that. 


hireCNC: And what was your entry level position? 

Sean: It was basically just operating, being a shop hand. I was pressing the green button on fairly simple cycles, sweeping up, cleaning, cutting material on the saw, filling up some of the coolant tanks and the oils and stuff like that. Just really getting my hands on all the little things that kind of make the shop tick. 

And then the next year after schooling was where I started having a little bit more responsibility at the actual machines- getting the tools, replacing tools, touching off, inserts tracking sizing and all that good stuff. 


hireCNC: Why did you decide to pursue the Red Seal Certification? 

Sean: I started working at a high-end CNC shop making aerospace parts. I was a CNC operator and then I was a team leader for a group of CNC operators. That was all well and good, but I felt kind of disconnected from the actual core of machining. 

There were a couple of little departments of manual mills and manual lathes. I had to go do a part on a manual mill and I had next to no idea what I was doing. 

I could do a great job of keeping things going properly on a CNC and taking care of the CNC- being a great operator, but I felt like I didn't understand the actual cutting and machining aspect of it. 

That's when I switched to a different job- there it was predominantly manual machines with ACU-RTE MILLPWR controls 

I split four years of what would normally be an apprenticeship between high end machinery, high end parts, tight tolerances and then going back to; I kind of did it backwards, selecting my own tools and making my own programs. I had to really learn the intricacies of the machine works and how to develop and manufacturing process.  

That's when my wife and I got married and we moved to Edmonton. It drove me to get my Red Seal at that point. If I'm going to move out of province, it's going to open up a lot more doors for me to be more employable. 


hireCNC: Any advice for CNC trades on specific experiences they should be targeting and or ways to kind of land that first gig? Is it the apprenticeship route? 

Sean: The apprenticeship route I think is important because it shows that you're willing to follow structure and that's a lot of what a CNC shop is, or any machine shop, really. It shows the person that you are willing, you put in the time and you're capable of learning. 

That's a big part of our industry- it's just continuously learning. My only advice, whenever I was hiring people, it was always to hire on attitude first. Just through the apprenticeship route, it shows that you're willing to put in the time and you're willing to put in that structure. Try and get a position that will give you as much exposure to everything as possible. 


hireCNC: What are some of the changes that you've seen in the time that you've been in the industry? 

Sean: The rise of multi-axis over the last 15 years has been significant. So much has changed from different toolpaths to different coatings on end mills. The tooling has come a long way- high feed mills, trochoidal milling and different things like ceramic inserts for high grade steels. Once I got into the last couple of roles that I had, I noticed how much more important it all was.  

When you start to get into special projects and high-end machining, you really start to learn what the tooling is. For example, not only do I need a drill for this material, but I need a carbide drill. It must have this coating on it because this material is abrasive. And if it doesn't have that coating, it's going to wear down too quickly. These things are constantly evolving. You have all of these companies like Mastercam and Sandvik and all the machine tool companies that are constantly just pushing each other to get better all the time. It's easy to get lost and fall back - get comfortable. I find a lot of people get comfortable and my whole thing has been to stay uncomfortable. That generally means I'm learning something. That's a big thing. It's just like the industry evolves every single year and if you're not evolving with it, eventually you're just going to be kind of left behind or stuck in a singular position. 


hireCNC: You’re more on the automation side now? 

Sean: I'm a CNC Application Engineer and I'm working on two turnkey projects right now. I have a part where they used to do it on six different machines. I'm doing it all in one operation, so I still am on machine tools as well. But our main projects are based around automation and integration of robotics. 

It's been uncomfortable a few times. It's a lot of learning. Again, when you get into it, you kind of learn what is behind all the magic. 

It's a testament of what the industry can do. You can go as far as you want. You can be in it for five years and end up with a great career and just stay there and be happy. Or you can keep going, then achieve something else and be happy. Or you can just never stop. 

The whole thing that I would want anyone to take away from my story is that this career will give you anything you put into it. Most careers have an obvious ceiling. Machining doesn't have that. If you show that you can do your work- you don't even have to be the smartest guy in the room, just be willing to do the work. Work hard, show initiative, show that you can make good decisions at the right time, and then every single door will open for you. 

Do you want to tell your CNC Story? Write to us with the subject "My CNC Story" and we'll contact you to chat!

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