The Source Code of the Future?

Sept. 6, 2013
The Debate on Whether Social Media Has a Place and Holds Value in the B2B Automation Marketplace Remains Questionable
About the Author

Sarah Cechowski is the associate digital editor for Control Design and Industrial Networking. Email her at [email protected] or check out her Google+ profile.

This is the third edition of our quarterly column about the developing careers of several young engineers. Read the first two columns, "Young Professionals Map Careers" and "A Googolplex of Automation Resources."

Just as programmers write code in languages that consist of numbers, letters and various characters to communicate with a computer system, social media users have their own language that contains hashtags (#), "at" signs (@) and plus signs (+) to communicate with their audiences. While many might not understand what this language means, it has evolved into its own source code that allows each user to control what they read, what people they follow, and even connects us to third-party information we would never stumble on ourselves.

SEE ALSO: Can Automation Users Solve Social Media?

The controversial debate on whether social media has a place and holds value in the business-to-business (B2B) automation marketplace remains questionable, especially when we must consider the technology gap in a multi-generational workforce.

Sam Strickling, academic broad-based research marketing manager for National Instruments (NI), notes in previous columns it depends on how a person defines social media. It's not necessarily valid for them to be considered a "hang out," he says. Strickling calls them "social tech sites" — a place where he finds technical information that he wouldn't have without using a social media site to search for it.

The world is getting smaller because of all the technology available, and the way it lets us connect to people and information, Strickling says. "The days when you could make one product for one audience no longer exist. Now, because everybody can pretty much get access to any type of product, you really need to make sure that you're tailoring not just to one audience. A lot of tech companies are using (social media) to individualize the experience" It's very interactive, Strickly explains. Users give their feedback constantly and it creates a central place where you can ask for feeback in return.

Martin Copeland, PLC programmer for CCK Automations, believes blogs, forums, video and webinars are helpful when troubleshooting, finding out if certain components work with others, learning about competition and solving coding problems.


One example is the online support and training community at SolidWorks Electrical. "Just recently we've been using a lot of GoToMeetings for trainings," he states. "If I'm having trouble with PLC software, I can bring up my screen, and they'll walk me through what I need to do." This online community is extremely useful when troubleshooting something you know is software related, but you don't know what the issue is," he adds.

Tom Pasterik, manager of applications engineering for ExOne, relies heavily on video for research. "We'll have a lot of mechanical-based projects come in," he says. "There are endless amounts of video on YouTube that I will be on. I didn't think YouTube was (considered social media), but I see so many more people commenting, blogging and throwing out different links underneath people's videos."

Bill Purcell, mechanical engineer supervisor for Nevco, says machine-to-machine (M2M) expert Digi International hosts on-going webinars on communication solutions and software for mechanical design.

"Say you use a piece of software that is open source. Some of the best resources are blogs that people post solutions to certain errors the manufacturer doesn't have posted on its website," Purcell adds.

"Whether I want to be on a forum or not, sometimes I just end up there," Pasterik says. "I subscribed to a forum and didn't even realize four or five of my buddies that all work with different companies were there." Pasterik says he already can see the positive ways social media is evolving in the professional community.

Once more up-and-coming graduates come into the field, they'll be pushing for use of social media because that's how they communicate, Pasterik says.

"I think one of the hardest parts is really putting a face to what the business does," Strickling says. He adds that many people don't see the value of having a Facebook and Twitter page in the B2B application market because they don't understand how these tools can be used. "I think it would be unwise of us not to jump on the boat in some respects in grabbing Skype or Join Me, or Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. I think it's doing us a disservice not to."