Zach Burke

Nov 9, 2023 hireCNC

My CNC Story - Zach Burke

Zach's CNC Story

Machine Shop Operations Manager at Rose Machining (Gloucester, Massachusetts), Zach fell in love with machining at an 8th grade career day. From there, the rest is history, attributing his success in machining to a combination of curiosity and drive.


hireCNC: What made you decide to pursue a career in CNC Machining?

Zach: I was at a career day, in my 8th grade year leading up to high school. They gave us an opportunity to walk through all the shops and see what Gloucester High was doing at the time. When I walked through the shop door, I remember seeing this kid on a Bridgeport. And I just remember him cranking handles. He was spitting chips. 

I'm like, this is what I want to do. That's cool. You're getting dirty. You're putting pieces together. It's like a puzzle. That's kind of where it started. That’s the funny thing, when you're in eighth grade and you're going through life,  you’re not really exposed to stuff like that. I always liked “how it's made”. I always liked Mythbusters. And Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman. I just loved the idea of making things, and I thought that I'd be great at it. And here we are. 


hireCNC: There was a Machine Tool Technology program at your high school? 

Zach: Gloucester high school used to be a full-blown vocational school. They would do a week on, week off program. But then when I got there, they were only doing about two blocks a day. As you progressed through the years, once you got to junior year, you got four blocks. So four blocks out of seven, you were able to go out and go to the shop, learn your hardcore basic machining skills, blueprint, reading, GD&T, metrology, stuff like that. I just fell in love with it. 

I ended up taking all four years throughout high school. But I was also working in a machine shop. My freshman year, I cut my teeth on a Bridgeport. I was one of the only kids to get a machining job. That freshman summer, I was grinding it out in a shop, not even knowing how to edge find. Looking back at it, it was really intimidating walking into a shop and not really understanding much. As a 14 year old kid, you don't really know a lot of things. So walking into this rough and tough machine shop where these machinists are seasoned and can be a little bit difficult to deal with. When someone looks at you and says, “if you don't know how to edge find a part, you shouldn't be a machinist”, then it kind of clicks and makes you push harder. 

Through those years I took machining and I received awards every year for being the outstanding student. I was able to work at Roses my sophomore year, and they ended up taking me under their wing, where I had Mike as a mentor for several years. 

Through my junior year and senior year I was actually working 36 hours a week in high school. I was leaving high school at 11am and working at the shop until 5pm. And that energy, that drive, that passion - wow, I can learn so much just by messing up, or just by watching something on YouTube. Through those years, it was just a straight grind. To summarize, through those high schools years I knew this is what I want to do, and I’m going to work as hard as I can to get there.


hireCNC: What was it like apprenticing while you were in high school?

Zach: I've been working at Roses since 2012. I started working here as a sweeper. I was sweeping the floors. I was maintaining the machines, doing coolant concentricity levels, putting tools away. Stuff like that. Just a general machine shop helper. 

I'm very persistent. I think that in this trade you kind of have to be. I'd always go up to the foreman at the time and I was like, “Mike, can I run a machine? Can I run a Bridgeport? I know I can do this, just give me a shot.” And so a year into the job, Mike went on vacation and said, “I'm going to give you five prints for the week. Take your time, do what you can do.” 

I banged out all those jobs in about two days. When he came back, I was helping Craig with his jobs and he's like, “wow, you banged through all those jobs?!” That year of sweeping the floors, maintaining the shop, cleaning the toilet, getting in the machines and cleaning out the sludge in the coolant tanks - I loved it because I wanted to do it. I legitimately loved machining, and I still do to this day. That's why I post the things I do on Social Media. But after 2013, maybe halfway through that's when I really started learning the machines and actually soaking in a lot more of the Prototyping knowledge and just basic rule of thumbs in the shop. 


hireCNC: Any recommendations for a soon-to-be machining graduate in terms of what they should be looking for in their first job?

Zach: It's about drive. You really have to want it. You're not going to get anything handed to you. Nothing comes easy. But getting into a shop, asking questions. You don't have to remember everything the first time, but be a sponge, listen, pick up things. Just watching is very important. I think sometimes kids and people that I work with today, they forget that paying attention is a very important part of this trade. And so I think just being a sponge, grinding, waking up every day, showing up on time and just showing that you're valuable - you don't have to know everything. 

You don't have to be the best at anything, but showing up and putting in the 100% and realizing that, “hey, I messed up here, but how am I going to go and learn from that?” Maybe some people think that you can just hop in something and just know everything and make all this money. But it takes time. 


hireCNC: What specifically are you looking for when you’re hiring machinists?

Zach: I really think what makes or breaks a machinist is how you can handle a junk part and how you can uphold yourself when something does go wrong. Those qualities in somebody can show a lot. How can they learn from those situations instead of just sitting there and swearing and cussing themselves out. Those are the types of things that I look for.


hireCNC:  How important is understanding a bit of everything. Manual, CNC, gcode, CAD/CAM, etc. Does everybody need to know all of those? What's your take on that and how to balance it? 

Zach: That's a good one because we still do a decent amount of manual stuff here. Manual has its place. I've had an opportunity to train somebody who's been through an adult programming class, and personally, I would rather have somebody here who doesn't know a lot other than maybe some hand tools or maybe what a lathe is. And that’s because bad habits are real. When I started managing about five or six years ago, everyone did things wrong. And I'm not saying that I know everything about Machining, but you don't spin a carbide end mill at 1200 RPMs, or a half inch end mill at 1200 RPMs. You just typically don't do that in stainless steel. The “if it’s not broke, don't fix it” type of mentality is very real in machine shops, so I get nervous when someone comes from another place. Again, I'm not going to say that I know everything, but when I came into this shop, these guys didn't even know how to calculate SFM. They didn't know how to calculate RPM. They didn't know how to calculate inch per minute. So they didn't really know what feed per tooth was. Those are things that I definitely get nervous about when a candidate comes in from school.

And sometimes with big shops, they love telling people, “go push this button and sit there for 200 days and do that same job”. That's not the type of shop we are. We're cutting our stock, we're programming our parts, we're inspecting our Parts. And then I do some QC that's needed for some of our aerospace companies. I know the responsibility that I put on people here is more significant. 

To summarize, it can be scary to hire somebody, coming from a total different environment, because you don’t know what the standards or practices are there.


hireCNC: Any technology you’re excited about in the industry over the next 5 to 10 years?

Zach: I'm looking forward to 3D scanning and 3D printing. I'm a little nervous with additive Machining. I think everybody with Machining right now might be a little intimidated with that. But I'm really interested to see how much 3D scanning is really going to come into our lives. It's not going to be, hey, measure this part and do your best. It's going to be - scan it and make it. I think AI with toolpath creation will be interesting. Automating everything and using algorithms to understand material removal and deflection. That's what I'm excited about. 100% cool. 


hireCNC: What’s your pitch on CNC machining to an 8th grade class? To get them thinking about machining.

Zach: I did a career series at Gloucester High School last year. I kind of said to them, “we need another Elon Musk in the world.” And it doesn’t have to be machining. But manufacturing in general. That's the cool thing about the trade is that you can go into so many different avenues. But I said, manufacturing in the next 15 years is going to be booming with additive, with 3D printing, with different AI resources. It’s going to open the doors for God knows what. And I basically finished it with we're going to need another Elon Musk in this world, and it could be you

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