Opportunities to work with cutting edge technologies along with a top-notch quality of life have made Iowa the right fit for Bret Culpepper and his family.
Culpepper grew up in Waterloo, Iowa, and earned his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering technology at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. He began working at John Deere part time in Waterloo during his undergraduate degree, and after graduation began working full time. He has worked in a number of roles with some of the company’s most innovative products and technologies over the past 15 years. He also earned a master’s degree in engineering management at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
He spent the first five years in manufacturing, working in hydraulics assembly and testing, then moved to John Deere Power Systems where he worked as a software systems engineer, focused on engine systems and then as an engine application engineer being a liaison engineer between power systems and vehicle partners.
Culpepper has spent the last five years at John Deere Intelligent Solutions Group. He began as a senior system engineer working on cameras that perform machine automated tasks. These products include cameras that detect crops in rows so that the equipment won’t run over them and cameras that detail how well the crop is being harvested and automatically adjust the equipment settings to optimize. He also spent time as a product safety engineer evaluating autonomy systems. His current role is a senior system engineer, display software delivery.
1. Why have you stayed in Iowa?
My wife is originally from Russia and we met while she was doing a study abroad program at the University of Northern Iowa. She returned home and finished her undergraduate degree, then was accepted to a masters program at UNI and then completed her doctorate at the University of Iowa. She applied for jobs as a professor across the country and was offered a position in Des Moines.
Because she grew up in Moscow (population 18 million) she had wanted to live in a big city like Chicago or New York. Des Moines started as a compromise for both of us, but it quickly became a perfect fit. I was able to take a job at John Deere Intelligent Solutions Group in Des Moines and we enjoy the quality of life, variety of events and activities, lower cost of living and shorter commutes compared to larger cities.
In fact, when my wife’s parents retired, they moved to Iowa from Russia, so it has become home for them as well.
2. What opportunities do you see in Iowa for young professionals, especially in the engineering field?
The opportunities for engineering roles are incredible. John Deere has three to four engineering divisions in the Des Moines area alone. There are engineer opportunities in companies and competitors in central Iowa and across the state at companies of all sizes.
3. What are some of the most exciting innovations that you are working on at Deere, or that you are seeing across the industry?
It is exciting to work on the cutting edge of technology that will make farmers more productive and sustainable. I’m currently working on displays for machines that provide and configure many features. The displays help set up a farmer’s machine to perform automated work, such as steering, turning, or raising and lowering of implements. The display can monitor your work and performance, store and upload that work, or allowing a supervisor or dealer to remotely view your display and provide feedback to improve quality and efficiency of your work, just to name a few.
I had the opportunity to be the safety lead on the first autonomous tractor that was delivered to key customers and revealed at the 2022 Consumer Electronics Show. Today, there is a labor shortage on farms, autonomy helps provide a solution to that problem. In addition, if you have a tight weather window, or just want to spend more time with your family, Deere plans on offering an autonomous solution in the near future.
4. What advice do you have for someone considering a move or return to Iowa?
We’ve found that Des Moines is a place our family is at home in. There are ample opportunities for cultural events, shows and all types of restaurants, so we get the perks of big city living with the feel of a smaller city, a lower cost of living and easier and less stressful commutes.
People don’t think of Iowa as a diverse place, but there is a lot more diversity than you might think. The World Food Festival and cultural events provide the opportunity to learn about and experience a variety of cultures. In our personal lives, we’ve found diversity in unexpected places, too. Our son’s first language is Russian, and even though we live in the middle of Iowa, it seemed like every time we took him to a playground or park in Des Moines, there were always other kids who spoke Russian, too!
5. Please share three recommendations of things to do or places to go in Iowa.
Des Moines Performing Arts presents a wide variety of shows from musicals to concerts to comedy shows. The organization includes performances at the Des Moines Civic Center, Stoner Theater, Cowles Commons and the Temple Theater.
Des Moines is a great city for foodies, with great options across the city and cultural events and festivals throughout the year. A highlight of the year is the World Food and Music Festival each August.
Whether you like to explore on land or on water, there are lots of options for nature lovers. With hiking and bike trails, paddleboarding and parks across the city, there is something for everyone!
City has bunch of nature trails, bike trails, paddleboarding, multiple parks that offer that.