on April 8th, 2009

Good morning to you all

Three items today.

1. Sarah Montgomery, Our conference manager, has kindly made available some of our papers from our recent SCADA and Industrial Automation conferences. Click here to download these.
2. Don’t forget our Major disasters in PLC projects webinar on 21st April – details at the end.

3. Build your engineering technical reputation especially during these hard times

We have all noticed that certain engineering professionals in the firm develop into technical experts – becoming rapidly indispensable. During the last downturn I was rather awestruck to see assorted partners, in a firm of consulting engineers, being retrenched when the indispensable, technical boffin remained unscathed – he was critical to the firm’s wellbeing. The technical experts are the ones sought out to solve hard technical problems and guide the firm in decision making on future activities. They often end up leading the business as Technical Director or even CEO. An obvious example of a technical expert who rode the rising tide is the inimitable Steve Jobs at Apple. He engineered all the most breathtaking advances (e.g. iPhone and iPod). With his outstanding technical and business skills he is driving a multi billion dollar business. And interestingly enough, he has no (engineering) qualifications – but that is another issue for another time.

How does one become a technical expert? Here are twelve suggestions:

1. Pay supreme attention to (technical) detail. Ensure that design or commissioning is done to the highest level of precision and accuracy. Check, check and re-check for errors.
2. Stay hands-on at all time. You only learn by doing. Constantly attempt new approaches from hardware to software prototypes, testing new ideas.
3. Go deep technically when meeting others. Don’t gloss over the technical detail when analysing problems. Ask the awkward and penetrating questions that ensure a problem or opportunity are thoroughly assessed.
4. Don’t get swamped by personal trivia. As Hanks (below) suggests: “Read e-mail on Wednesday”. Focus on and commit furiously and unswervingly to your design task. Avoid other distractions – the usual business trivia or bureaucratic demands. Hard thought often requires you to be anti-social.
5. Keep teaching. Training others on concepts is often the best way to test your own knowledge and gauge that you have a clear understanding of them. Give your knowledge freely to others and ensure that you listen carefully to them. You will learn a great deal – even from those you are instructing.
6. Join the technical expert groups and run with the wizards and wolves. Groups of high flying technical wizards, from different companies (in different countries), tend to group together – partner with them and tap their know-how all the time. Bridge the gaps in your knowledge. Be clear about where your industry is heading and transfer this know-how to your outfit.
7. Don’t be afraid to fail. If you have researched a particular approach carefully and are confident this has value – go for it. If it fails due to some reason out of your control, so be it. Remember, however, to give it your best shot, don’t compromise with the negative people who inhabit all firms, but drive your approach forward persistently.
8. Reach for the stars with your vision. Being an engineer or technician means you are probably strongly quantitative and conservative (a reason for being good here). But try and imagine approaches which would stretch you well outside of your technical comfort zone but, which are still well-grounded.
9. Ensure your passion and hobbies are aligned with the company mission and vision. If you find technical things boring and would prefer to run a fishing boat chartering business, bail out immediately and cross over. But if you love engineering, electronic and software design and are always tinkering/talking or reading about these things; you are most likely going to grow with the business technically.
10. Lead by example – inspire others to follow you by constantly driving forward with new ideas, new approaches and continued enthusiasm (despite the inevitable setbacks).
11. Keep learning and suck in new information, ideas and know-how. Keep examining how you can apply new approaches and knowledge to your projects. Become known as the “technical ideas” man/woman, with refreshing new approaches based on your recent learning.
12. Be apolitical and modest. A colleague of mine – one of the most successful control engineers, I know (yes, you Mr Martin G.) works assiduously putting a new process or plant together and avoids blaming anyone (no matter how tempting) for the usual detritus of ‘stuff ups’ and badly engineered jobs. He concentrates on fixing these and incorporating them successfully into a smoothly running plant. Be opinionated on well researched technical issues, but avoid arrogance (which may be tempting and fairly natural given your superior knowledge) and general organisational gossip which doesn’t benefit the final project outcome one iota.

Remember to learn constantly. As William Shakespeare said: “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool”.

My grateful thanks to John Hanks of National Instruments for the inspiration and some of the collateral to write this article.

3. Major disasters in PLC projects (and how to avoid them)
IDC Technologies proudly presents another live webinar in our popular series “Avoiding Engineering Failures”

When: Tuesday April 21
(Registrations close 24 hours before the first session).  There’s a choice of 3 session times on the registration page at http://www.idc-online.com/IDCwebinar.html .
Where: At your desk!

What will it cover: This complimentary 45 minute webinar will touch on the many considerations of PLCs, including; installations, planning, purchasing, hardware and software reviews, testing, commissioning, and operational aspects. We’ll also look briefly at good practice for safety PLCs and the documentation requirements. It will not be brand specific.

This is a live, interactive webinar. And it’s free!

Join us from anywhere – and bring our PLC expert to your desk! If you are involved in PLC selection, programming and operation you will benefit from the session. All you need to participate is a computer with adequate internet connection, speakers and (ideally) a microphone.

Yours in engineering learning


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