Getting Old, Thinking Young

There are no more pioneers, or so it seems. Today, companies, not visionaries, create products and technologies


I've been thinking about perspectives and lessons learned. I've reached another milestone--I turned a half-century and, to my amazement, I don't feel any different.

These events force you to reflect, whether you like it or not. But what is the reflection I see? I wondered, and drifted off to never-never land.

Personal reflections are very different from professional ones. And, I still wonder how I got so lucky. I'm writing for the premier magazine of the discrete control and automation community, still writing programs for processes that 25 years ago I wouldn't have dreamt about, and feel young enough to do anything.

But, we have changed! I looked back from now till then, and discovered much.

I was honored to review Dick Morley's (the father of the PLC) book, "Out of the Barn," before it went to print. I remember reading some of these articles in print many years ago and wondered about their relevance, truthfulness, and how anyone could ever come up with these opinions. Now I know.

Not that Dick is old (he is the self-professed oldest teenager on the block), but he was close to 50 when he wrote most of these articles. He certainly brought perspective, experience, and no fear of calling them as he sees them.

I looked back on my 25 years in this industry. Whew , what a ride. From "tactile" feedback keyboards, thermal printers, and archaic tools, to what we use now.

You automation rookies have no idea what we went through to give you what you use now.

In the early-ish 1980s, a documentation system cost $25,000, used CPM (what?), and was very slow. There's more power is in a PDA or a cell phone now.

I recently received some e-mails about perspectives--what the class of 2005 (born 1983) doesn't know about. The perspectives they have are very narrow in our world.

They don't know what an album is and would be stunned to learn a TV only had 13 channels. They buy music online, think a music video is a short film, and probably had no trouble solving Rubik's cube.

I have grown up with the automation industry. I thought back to where I had come from, and got scared. We actually used that junk? We have come a long way.

I have written about various topics over the past 20 years. They all were pervasive at the time, but none can be more pervasive than history and perspective. This is where we learn and eventually pontificate about our passions.

Technology is a passion, period. You can pay a controls guy peanuts, because he wants to do what he does. It's exciting, stimulating, everchanging, and very frustrating most times.

But the satisfaction at the end of the day, project, job, or startup is immeasurable. I can't buy that anywhere.

I envy the rookies. They are starting with tools that were only in our imagination. When ICOM Software developed programming software for IBM compatible PCs, our industry was struggling with no tools, advancing technology, and no way of dealing with it. Neil Taylor developed documentation software for a PC platform. Steve Rubin started Intellution and the HMI business was born. Dennis Morin, Dave Smith and Phil Huber started Wonderware and opened Windows into our darkened automation lives.

There are no more pioneers, or so it seems. Today, companies, not visionaries, create products and technologies. What happened?

Now it's the web, Ethernet, open systems, and a myriad of confusing connectivity solutions, and hardware choices that make some of the decisions we had to make look like child's play.

Industrial Automation careers may last five years, and we will consider that a long time. If it's not plug and play, we complain.

What a difference 25 years makes. I miss the good ol' days, but relish the future like I have never have before. Simplicity is God. But, simplicity, in our business, isn't in the cards. I envy the newbies, because they have to learn more and learn it faster without the benefit of transition. Their feet are to the fire.

Passion and satisfaction rules for now. When it stops, I'll sell shoes.

But, I can't ever imagine it.

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