Stephen Cialdea: Be a Lifelong Learner

NETA World StaffColumns, Insights & Inspiration, Summer 2024 Insights & Inspiration


Stephen Cialdea is the Chief Operating Officer for Sigma C Power Services LLC (SCPS), which is headquartered out of Westborough, Massachusetts, and has now expanded to several other areas. He oversees all SCPS operational staff on the field service and engineering sides of the business. “I’ve had the great opportunity to be part of the company’s beginnings and rapid growth over the past couple of years,” he says.

Cialdea earned a BS in electrical engineering focused on power systems and a thesis master’s degree with a power systems certificate from Worcester Polytechnical Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts. Over the years, he has attained his Professional Engineer license, worked his way up to NETA Level IV Certification, and completed his MBA at Johns Hopkins University with a focus on financial institutions.

In our continuing “Insight and Inspiration” series, Cialdea describes his journey and shares his thoughts for those new to the industry. 

NW: What attracted you to electrical testing?

Cialdea: I have always been interested in engineering and physics. Electrical engineering seemed like the correct fit because it has a strong physics background while also having interesting topics like circuitry and programming. I think the power and testing industry was a great choice because it combines all of these. The assets we test are very much based on physics principles and are large enough that some of the more interesting principles make a significant difference. At the same time, we are commissioning systems that have programming and circuitry that can become pretty complex and interesting because they often tie back to physical principles, particularly for relaying.

Ron Widup handed Cialdea the award for Best Reliability Presentation at PowerTest 24.

NW: How did you get to your current position?  

Cialdea: There were a lot of turns along the road! I grew up around the industry, and when I was still under 18, I worked in my father’s shop, helped fix office technology, and mowed the office lawn. As I got older, I started to work in IT a little more, and once I was over 18, I began to be more involved with actual fieldwork. 

In my off time while attending Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) for my engineering degrees, I built automation for the company test database and reporting. During school breaks, I would rejoin the field staff to work on-site. I started as a set of able hands to help break/make connections but quickly was tapped to help with more technical things as other technicians found out I was tech savvy.

After my undergraduate degree, I had the great honor of being awarded a research assistant position under Professor Alexander E. Emanuel at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. He had been awarded a grant in combination with National Grid from the U.S. Department of Energy to research grid-scale battery energy storage. We were studying the various impacts of distributed energy storage. This was in 2012, so it was early in the battery energy storage game. 

I completed my MSc with my thesis on the topic and published my first papers. I was able to attend and speak at two conferences for WPI during this time, and just as when I was an undergraduate, I spent my school breaks working in the field.

After graduating from that program, I started full-time at 3C Electrical as an associate engineer. I worked on engineering deliverables and went into the field to assist as necessary. I feel that I fairly quickly became a well-rounded field and office engineer. I stayed in that role until I received my Professional Engineer license.

From there, I started down the path of having my own small team, and I also began my MBA study at Johns Hopkins University. During this time, 3C was acquired by CE Power, where I worked on the engineering leadership team and was the subject matter expert (SME) for NERC compliance. 

Next, I took on the director of engineering role at a Boston-based solar engineering, procurement, and construction company for about a year, where I helped them grow into larger-scale projects and streamline their engineering efforts. My time in this role was interesting because it was during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it was very different than what I was used to. The company provided full engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC)  services for renewable projects. 

As time went on, I was starting to itch to get back into the power industry. The stars aligned, and I was able to help start Sigma C Power and grow it to where we are today. Starting a company from scratch is more difficult than I would have imagined. Every single thing we needed, we had to build. I’ve grown with the company and am extremely proud of what we have accomplished. It continues to be an exciting and challenging role while we grow at a rapid rate.

NW: Who has influenced or mentored you along the way?

Cialdea: So many people have mentored me along the way, it is difficult to make a list. My parents were positive influences and mentors at every step, and they have always been there to help guide me through the different stages of my life. My brother James is also in a technical field (computer science), and he helped me with my programming classes during the year we overlapped at WPI.

During the grant work at WPI, Professor Emanuel taught me how to think a little differently than I learned in conventional classroom education, which has made a big difference in my life and career, and many of my professors at Johns Hopkins made me look at work and life in ways that have had a massive positive influence on me. My life had been so focused on engineering to that point and having the business school experience has been crucial. I truly do not believe I would be able to see and understand some of the things that are going on at our new venture, Sigma C Power Services, without this experience and the great insights those professors gave me. 

Every single one of my colleagues along my career path has influenced me or mentored me in some way, and my partners and colleagues at Sigma C continue to influence me and help me grow every day. 

NW: What is it about this work that keeps you committed to the profession?

Cialdea: There are several aspects, but the most important part is the people. I work with an amazing group of people, and this industry is full of amazing people. I only stepped out of the industry once for a small amount of time, but during that time, I missed the personalities we have in power and testing. Aside from that, there are always new challenges in this profession whether it is new technology, new regulations, or just the emergency of the day that has everyone scratching their head. It is very satisfying to marvel at a new concept or see a customer go back on-line after some creative solutions were put forth. For me, it is fulfilling to solve problems that serve as many people as you do in this industry.

NW: Describe one of your best workdays…what happened?

Cialdea: Some of my favorite days are large outages or training/safety seminars when the whole team can get together. 

NW: Please share the story of a day that didn’t go as planned. How did you respond and what did you learn?

Cialdea: Many days have not gone as planned! I can think of so many times when I’ve been dispatched to a troubleshooting emergency call and we just can’t seem to come up with the issue. You’re there late into the night tired and frustrated. At the end of the day, you do what you must do and stay until you get it done. 

The biggest thing I’ve learned in these situations is to have a network of people to call on for help. Everyone sees problems in different ways, and someone else may have an angle that is better for that particular issue than yours, or you may have tunnel vision on a solution that is serving as a self-bias that has you ignoring another potential cause. A good technician will get stumped and power through to a solution with brute force. An excellent technician will get stumped and seek help to get different angles on the problem.

NW: What energy trend do you think will most affect your work in the future?

Cialdea: I believe renewable technology will continue to affect our industry greatly. I say renewable technology broadly because I think renewable energy drives our industry in many different directions. From a technical perspective, we will need to see battery energy storage proliferate to balance generation and load. There are complications with bi-directional energy flows and all of the system-level planning that goes with that — not to mention the number of distributed assets that impact the system level. We also have to make sure, as an industry, that we’re up to date on the new technology and how it impacts our customers. Then there are regulatory aspects that will follow with all of this change. Bottom line, I think we will see renewable technology impact us on various fronts for quite a while.

NW: If you were talking to a young person interested in knowing more about being an electrical testing technician, how would you describe the job, and what advice would you give them?

Cialdea: I would describe it as a challenging and ever-changing job — and I mean challenging and ever-changing in good ways. It is an industry that will always challenge you in ways you don’t expect, and it offers strong career growth. You also get to see some interesting new and old technologies that are each impressive in their own way. I would suggest that a young person interested in this field try and shadow someone for a day or two to get a feel for the work.