on April 2nd, 2008

Dear Colleagues

1. Thanks so much for the flood of suggestions every week - some taking alternative views to mine so they are definitely worth reading. Many include really interesting suggestions which I try to place on the blog site. Please remember that thanks to the conferences we are running we are putting up a selection of good quality engineering papers as well (in addition to our white paper archive). These are accessible at www.idc-online.com

2.  I am currently on a roadshow with a rather eclectic group of engineers and technicians. I have been struck by how many technical disciplines they have progressed through during their careers. One engineer, John, started life as a metallurgist, then moved on to work as a mechanical engineer in flow measurement, but is now focussing on IT applications to process measurement using satellites to transfer the data. Recently he combined all this experience with some business skills to build up a successful business employing twenty people - providing solutions through the Asia Pacific.

I noted, some time ago, that one of the greater challenges with our engineering careers, I believe, is the rapidly changing nature of them. As we all know, much of what we did ten years ago is more or less obsolete and no longer valid practice. But we all start off with common foundations - maths/physics and often chemistry in our initial training.  There is an incredible overflow between the different disciplines anyway and they can't be put into little discrete boxes. The old timer engineers were always a source of great inspiration to me with their wide range of skills ranging from electrical, mechanical and even the new-fangled electronics and computer engineering. With a 'can do' attitude to all tasks that confronted them - grab a design book and study it or ring a colleague and quiz 'em. The old timers often ended up with a novel concept which had great significance, but in the process to achieve this end had started a completely new industry (often in totally different areas to their primary disciplines).

There is so much cross pollination between the different disciplines that jumping into other areas is often extremely productive for our own discipline. What I am suggesting is that we remain open to the acquisition of knowledge from the other disciplines – not merely tolerant, but eager to learn. Nothing is more enjoyable to me, as an (electronics and automation) engineer, when commissioning a plant, than to assist with the troubleshooting of a centrifugal pump or the review of some thorny electrical distribution problem, or  assisting an operator who is trying to implement a new procedure for her plant with new equipment that is perhaps not performing to spec. 

The know how and skills gained from moving into these other areas is incalculable and generally very useful in future design and commissioning work. And let's face it, most of us want more remuneration and opportunities - becoming an engineering manager for example, often means heading up multidisciplinary teams – the greater the spread of experience often results in increased respect and success.

So my suggestions are:
• Never turn down the opportunity to acquire any skill from other disciplines.
• Encourage your colleagues to do the same and thus to increase the storehouse of valuable skills in your team.
• Watch for opportunities to leapfrog from your current area to a new burgeoning area of activity even if it is outside your current skill area.
• Increase your enjoyment and appreciation of engineering by widening your skill window.
Gaining a diverse set of skills is perhaps what Aldous Huxley had in mind when he remarked: There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that's your own self

yours in engineering learning


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