Born to Be Engineers

Good Engineers are Good Because They're Born That Way


Television commentator Andy Rooney once said, "I had a typewriter for 50 years; I've already updated my computer six times. If Bill Gates had invented television, 60 Minutes (the TV show he appears on) would take two hours."

Interesting times we live in. You've probably noticed that I say that a lot. Well, there are reasons why we do things like update our computers and software and machine controls. Is it all for the sake of progress? And why do we want to progress? It's simple: because we can!

Another ISA show and conference has come and gone, with just about everyone leaving the event with an incredible feeling of relief for the first time in three or four years. Our automation industry is finally starting to bubble again--that's a good bubble.

Most attendees were champing at the bit, since this was the first automation show many of them have attended in four years. Their budgets didn't allow for it, and besides, nobody was spending money anyway.

I have often thought that a Buyers Guide such as this one should be published before a major event such as ISA. That way you could be reminded of what you need and prodded into a frenzy in order to get to the event and get your hands on some of this technology. Seems as though this year you didn't need any help. Maybe this issue will get everyone psyched for the earlier-than-usual Manufacturing Week in February.

Now back to ISA. Most wanted to drink in the technology and see what was new and improved. Seemed to me that innovation was still at a premium, but it was a "had to be there" place this year.

So, why do some complain about upgrading, and some relish it? I got Dick Morley, the inventor of the PLC, to realize I was on to something. He should know this, but he would have to come down to my level to think about it.

Over dinner, we talked about lost jobs in the U.S. and Canada. Manufacturing is leaving North America because of cost, labor issues, and a growing economy in the Far East. 1.8 billion people make for a very pervasive market, particularly one that will do anything for a buck.

He lamented the lack of desire of young people to be in engineering. "We still need people to build roads," he said. True enough, but the more glamorous careers are gaining all the attention, such as computer programming, high-level graphics design, and the like.

So what's the deal? Is it the young person's fault they are not interested in the engineering field? The education system? Parents, maybe? Well here's where I caught Dick by surprise.

Engineers are born, not made, and engineers know they are engineers by Sixth Grade. You wouldn't go into Engineering just because Nursing or Anthropology, for example, were full.

I received an interesting look from Dick. I had him--for the first time ever. I was very proud. Something he hadn't thought of until I mentioned it. An approving smile told me I had him thinking.

Bill Lydon, the business development manager for Wago and I presented two technical sessions on IEC-61131 programming solutions at the ISA Expo. As we prepared, he talked about finding good engineers to work for his company. His main concern was how to separate the good ones from the not-so-good ones.

"The good ones have passion for the technology and it shows," I told him. Now, Bill has been in the business for a long time, and he looked at me and said, "I hadn't thought of it like that." Seems I had another hit.

Good engineers are good because they are engineers. And it's not because of the title--and that's my point. Engineering is a way of life, not an education.

Andy Rooney will never be an engineer, no matter how hard he tries, although I doubt that idea interests him much. I'm pretty sure he even pays someone to do his computer upgrades.

So, as you peruse the Buyers Guide, keep in mind your engineering roots, and the Lego mindset and that sense of discovery you had as a young boy or girl.

Oh, and think back to Sixth Grade from time to time. Innocent discovery has led to your present condition. And I hope it's a good thing.

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