on September 11th, 2008

1. Whilst on this Queensland roadshow, I have really appreciated those of you who have approached me to chat about your work and engineering lives. Contrary to some reports I am not lying around the various country town pubs guffawing over copious beers. Our charter flights generally arrive at the next destination at midnight and everyone is up at sparrows for the next onslaught of visitors – so it can be a long day.

2. I am sometimes inclined to agree with Thoreau who noted that “most people live lives of quiet desperation” – people who are unhappy personally and in their careers. As far as the engineering or technology job is concerned – for some of us, it is working in technology-intensive environments (design/installation/configuration), but for others, it involves working in maintenance and operations, a less intensive environment. And occasionally – for some there is great wealth and the directing of large companies. The “good life” is very personal and differs for each of us. Our jobs, however, are vital in achieving life satisfaction as they consume big chunks of our days. I am sure many of you have dwelt on the various alternate activities you could engage in during your work days? I know the answer for many of us would be to take an extended break from the hum drum and relentlessness (and inherent stress) of our work days. Perhaps even retire and go fishing, or travel, or……… But I really doubt that deep down this is the solution.

If you are unhappy with your current job, you do have the capability to change to something better – design the career you really desire (and indeed deserve). I believe, however, that we engineers and technicians achieve some fundamental satisfaction from our jobs as we are generally making or fixing something which leads to tangible benefits for the community. Indeed, we tend not to be involved in ripping people off with interesting financial feats or becoming embroiled in legal shenanigans, as do lawyers, or bracing ourselves against the boredom of doctoring – seeing the thousandth patient with flu and sagely remarking “its going around at the moment”.

Some weeks ago, I met this inspirational technologist – Johan – someone absolutely passionate about his job. He showed me around his paper mill with great pride. He started off, many years ago, as an electrician with a modest diploma; but by dint of enthusiasm, a thirst for knowledge and panache for upskilling himself he is now in charge of the entire data communications network for this massive plant. It underpins the state of the art Distributed Control System (DCS) with fieldbus, fiber optic and high speed industrial Ethernet networks – engineering at a world class level. He was a key player in drawing up the detailed specifications for the DCS upgrade for the plant when he worked with and directed engineers throughout the world. He has an enormously detailed knowledge of the latest technologies. How did he gain this knowledge and get to this position – bearing in mind that he was originally an electrician wielding a screwdriver and multimeter?

• Through some training – yes, I am obliged to add this

• Perhaps more powerfully, by draining experts of their know-how, when they visited his site

• Regularly consulting the experts in the industry (when I visited him he was talking to one of the top engineering networking specialists in the country)

• Studying the various approaches and standards in detail (with a little flourish he showed me the thumbed standards of the latest and varied communication protocols he often refers to)

This all took him years to achieve, but as his plant managers saw how effective he was on-site, they were only too delighted to provide him with whatever tools he required. He is now absolutely crucial to the running of the plant, but despite this possession of enormously strategic information he has recorded everything meticulously and professionally for anyone to refer to. Furthermore, he delights in training others and his passion in this field makes him an inspirational technologist and teacher.

Old news, but necessary reminders:

• Pause for a second and write down what you truly want to do in your career (and personal life) and then work out how to get there (make these realistic and achievable goals)

• Design your job so that it fits you – ‘A Designer Job’ – and work out the skills you will need
• Find some relevant training if this is required

• Edge yourself into this environment by; reading, talking, appointing a mentor and getting experts to pass on their knowledge to you.

• Work towards getting rid of the tasks that are hum drum and take on more challenging and interesting work.

• Be useful, competent and enthusiastic to ensure you are fairly renumerated

• Maintain and update your skills – they are the same as those finely crafted pieces of furniture you make on the lathe – they date

Above all, ensure you are clear about your intended direction in your career. As Yogi Berra noted:
“If you don’t know where you are going; you’ll end up some place else”.

Yours in engineering learning


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