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Tackling new challenges to gain a broader perspective

Denver Water employee finds variety and a career across utility’s different groups.

With more than 1,000 employees working across a 335-square-mile service area, and with mountain reservoirs and infrastructure stretching even farther across the state, it’s difficult to grasp the full picture of all the work necessary to deliver safe, great-tasting water to 1.5 million people.

One of the benefits to Denver Water’s vast, complex system — with a variety of experts across the organization — is the many opportunities available for employees to learn and continue to grow their careers.

It’s a perk to working at Denver Water that Austin Steckler has embraced over the last nine years, as he has earned the opportunity to work in six different positions in a variety of departments.

A dark-haired man in a button-up shirt with a collar smiles for the camera.
From April 2016 to January 2019, Austin Steckler worked on Denver Water’s Continuous Improvement team as an organizational improvement facilitator. He credits the concepts learned through C.I. for advancing his career and preparing him for a leadership role at the utility. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Steckler earned a bachelor’s degree in biology with his sights set on a career in pharmaceutical sales. But after 12 years of selling ski equipment, he decided sales wasn’t his passion. He decided to put his biology degree to use in a different way: water. 

Steckler began working at Denver Water in 2012 as a utility worker, inspecting and maintaining more than 22,000 fire hydrants across the system.

He then transitioned to the utility’s Water Distribution division, where he worked on a crew installing 16-inch diameter pipes along Dry Creek Road. 

“It was hard, physical work, but my first jobs at Denver Water really provided so much perspective on the critical nature of the work we do,” he said.

After a few years, Steckler wanted to get to know employees from other parts of the organization. 

He took a job on the utility’s dispatch team, fielding emergency calls from customers and coordinating with repair crews during pipe breaks and other urgent matters.

A man in a hard hat and safety vest is dwarfed by a giant, metal pipe lying in a trench.
Austin Steckler stands on a 60-inch-diameter conduit during a repair project near the Highlands Reservoir at County Line Road and University Boulevard, on the southern side of the Denver metro area. Photo credit: Denver Water.

While Steckler was nervous transitioning from an active, outdoor setting into an office role, he looked forward to learning more about the organization. 

While working on the dispatch team, Steckler participated in Denver Water’s Continuous Improvement activities — a philosophy that provides tools and processes that employees use to proactively identify and solve challenges.

“I hadn’t really been exposed to C.I. before, and I discovered that I really enjoyed examining problems in-depth, analyzing them, and coming up with solutions. My experience working in the field, and also interacting with customers through dispatch, gave me a unique perspective that made the activities even more meaningful because I was helping to solve challenges I had faced firsthand in my previous positions,” Steckler said.

After almost two years in dispatch, Steckler accepted a position with the team responsible for answering his sometimes late-night dispatches: Denver Water’s emergency services team. 

He responded to customer reports and was responsible for assessing and isolating emergencies, such as main breaks, service leaks, low pressure, sink holes and other problems. 

After a few months, when a job opened in the utility’s C.I. section, Steckler knew it was perfect for him. He became a C.I. facilitator, working with employees in every department across the organization. 

“Seeing the full scope of work at Denver Water really opened my eyes to a lot of things. I was better able to help solve problems without getting stuck thinking within a silo, keeping the full context of the issues top of mind,” he said.

“I was also exposed to parts of the organization I had never interacted with before, like the Water Quality Lab and the teams managing our reservoirs.”

Steckler believes the three years he spent working in C.I. was instrumental in helping him better understand Denver Water and advance his career.

And while he loved the work, Steckler knew he was ready for the next step in his profession.

“I needed some supervisory experience and was ready to try and put to use all the tools I had been teaching in C.I. The opportunity to manage the Warehouse provided that opportunity,” he said. 

Denver Water’s Warehouse stores and maintains all the supplies and inventory employees need to do their jobs — pipes, parts, tools, cleaning supplies, safety equipment and more. 

With his background working in the field, Steckler felt he was able to provide excellent service to meet his customers’ needs. He understood the work being done, as well as the important service the Warehouse provides to help employees complete their work. Most importantly, he was able to lead a team.

In December 2020, Steckler took on a new role at Denver Water as a water distribution manager, in which he leads three maintenance crews, the valve improvement team, Water Distribution training and the Water Distribution plumbing group.

Three men in Denver Water hard hats and safety vest stand in front of a tree by the side of a road.
Austin Steckler (left) with Denver Water team members Johnny Roybal and Devin Shable. Steckler enjoys spending time in the field and learning from the crews in his new role as a water distribution manager. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Always looking for the next big challenge — Steckler believes he’s found it.

“I still have so much to learn, and my teams are teaching me a lot. From plumbing and valve replacement to training and technical innovations, there is so much to learn. And I truly have an amazing team of people who are enthusiastic to share their vast knowledge with me,” he said.

In addition to all he has learned over the years from co-workers, Steckler credits Denver Water for helping him prepare for each role he took on.

“The organization has always been so supportive. They paid for me to attend collesge courses to make sure I was ready for my water distribution tests and paid for me to get the water certifications required for my various roles. They allow time to participate in C.I. activities and have always given me the opportunity to learn more and grow,” he said.

“I’d encourage all employees, no matter your role in the organization, to find ways to get outside your immediate work group. There are opportunities everywhere: Volunteer to be part of a C.I. event, take trainings to learn and to meet others, be curious and strive to improve your work.”