Matt Denver, a 61-year-old operations and maintenance manager at NRG’s Devon Generating Station in Connecticut, loves working in power plants because “there is always a challenge.”
Although fixing things is his favorite part of the job, it took Denver some trial and error to find engineering.
After graduating high school, Denver enrolled at New York City Technical College to earn an associate degree in applied arts and sciences in automotive technology. “All I ever wanted to do was work on cars.”
“For some reason, I failed out,” Denver said. “I had more important things to do as a young man, although I cannot tell you any of those things right now. I have no idea.”
So, Denver decided to join the U.S. Navy. He took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB)—a test that measures abilities and predicts academic and occupational success—and the test results indicated that he should be a machinist mate, “everything just kind of clicked. It opened up my mind to a more organized way of thinking.” Luckily, Denver managed to find more success in the service as a machinist mate on the USS Portland, LSD-37, which gave him training in engineering, machine maintenance, air conditioning and refrigeration.
After four years in the Navy, Denver moved back to Brooklyn, New York, and got a job in the NTC Board of Education building as a cleaner, then a handyman, then as a building engineer.
Denver then decided to take another shot at school. He re-enrolled at New York City Technical College and then transferred to Pratt Institute for mechanical engineering. “I was an experienced field guy. I knew how things worked, but I never really knew the math and science behind it, but that’s exactly what Pratt did: it opened up a whole new world.”
Denver earned his engineering degree at 31 and, since then, Denver has worked in power plants—most recently working as the engineering manager at Homer City Generating Station coal plant and, before that, as plant manager at Armstrong Power—both located in Pennsylvania.
Denver also holds an MBA from Rutgers University with a concentration in Finance.
Now, in his current role as operations and maintenance manager at the Devon Generating Station, Denver works more with people than with the technical side; however, he still enjoys taking on the new challenges of the role. “You make decisions on a day-to-day basis that impact people’s lives, their families,” Denver said.
As for what challenges the industry is facing, Denver says recruiting for the next generation as the industry undergoes dramatic changes.
“I want people that don’t think like me—who think outside the box, who’ll bring up the things that I haven’t thought about yet. Otherwise, why would I need you? I’ll just do whatever I want to whenever I want to. That is the value of diversity in the workplace: people look at things differently.”
His advice for younger professionals coming into the industry is “there is no substitute for hard work.”
Denver’s role has allowed him to afford a life that as a kid, as one of six children, he wouldn’t have been able to imagine. He has been married to his wife, Elise, for 26 years and has three children.
Working in engineering has given him a new, more forward way of thinking. “I think I found a place where I can actually make a difference and contribute,” Denver said. “I think everybody needs to belong to something bigger than them.”
So, when asked what working in the industry has meant to him, Denver said: “absolutely everything.”