The debate is now moving to whether the current coronavirus (as I write this, more than a hundred people have died) is more virulent than the earlier SARS virus with suggestions that it is even spreading before symptoms are evident. Some comparisons are also being made about the influenza pandemic in 1918 when between 20 and 40 million died near the end of World War I. (More people died in a single year here than in the horrendous Black Death Bubonic Plague from 1347 to...
As I was cycling into work this hot morning — forty degrees today —I was thinking about four incredible laws that we frequently use in engineering. Many of you would be familiar with them, but I see them come up so many times that I would thought I would revisit them.
The First Law: When there is any doubt, there is no doubt.
(Courtesy of the actor, Robert De Niro, I believe).
If you are contemplating a structure, such as a support, and are worried about...
No matter how good you are as a presenter, I am sure you have been in that horrible situation when you can see your audience fast losing interest in your presentation - from furtive looks out of the windows, whispered interchanges, more intensive glances at phones or simply walking out on you - sometimes with not even a muttered excuse. You start feeling desperate at your critical information being ignored and simply lost. You may be passionate about your topic – but...
I would respectfully suggest that most people and their companies go about their day-to-day work without a strong sense of purpose. However, in achieving success and fulfillment it is absolutely critical for both you and the business you work for to seek an overriding purpose.
Research clearly shows that the finest companies are those that have a deep sense of purpose and employ people who similarly derive meaning from this purpose. This...
With the rapid technology change occurring today resulting in tremendous career opportunities, there are increasing stories of engineering professionals changing their careers. There is always a huge risk when you change – you could be currently working in a great job paying well and you decide to change because you perceive there are better opportunities and perhaps, more exciting technical challenges. There is certainly a huge amount of change occurring in the engineering...
One only needs to think of the huge cases of lying and dishonesty within large industrial companies such as Volkswagen (car emissions fraud), Enron and Tyco (both accounting fraud), and the increasingly cynical commentary about these cases from a weary public to wonder whether this is a fast growing trend. I often wonder whether it is simply about people regarding it as a playful attempt at gaming the system rather than believing these cases are fraudulent.
As we all know – projects fail at a regular rate. Particularly software projects. Gary Klein has referred to doing a thorough review of a project before it actually commences by visualising that it has finished in outright failure – something he labels a pre-mortem.
We all do post mortems on projects – particularly ones that flame out spectacularly and where one often is seeking to…. as the old adage goes: ‘to reward the guilty and punish the innocent.’ So this is an...
Surely, the KISS principle is one of the most useful engineering tools we have in our armory (KISS means Keep it Simple Stupid, for those who have forgotten). This should be applied to our writing so that it is simple and easy to understand.
But this principle is often forgotten. Perhaps, the overriding consideration we mistakenly have is to impress our audience with lots of gigantic words. I believe it is a privilege when someone is reading your communications...
It is always hard to know genuinely how well or badly you are doing in your job when you try and get honest opinions from those around you. Especially if you are leading a team. The last thing on their mind is for a team member to give you an honest appraisal of how you are doing. In case it damages their position or irritates you. Thus you will often hear that you are tracking extraordinarily well and are the epitomy of success. Often this is very far from the truth.
We talk about ongoing learning and development for people all the time but I believe many managers only pay lip service to genuine learning opportunities. Many times, an employee is on a training course to ‘tick the box’ to comply with some ‘magical’ company development plan.
We all need to make learning a key part of what we do in business. Not only does this provide useful technical skills but it helps to boost the firm’s culture in a positive way. There is no doubt in...
We wouldn’t have breakthrough discoveries without that wonderful quality – curiosity - from inventing fire, the aircraft to the Google search engine. That magical feeling that goes about investigating new information, pondering on a different way of doing something or simply trying something out new (and often having that incredible ‘Ah hah’ moment) is an innate quality we all have.
No More Boredom
Without curiosity we would have a very...
As we all know – at various times one can be absolutely overwhelmed with work and ‘issues’ to deal with. Nothing unusual in the engineering workforce especially with project type work and harsh deadlines to meet. Examples of stress include: you may feel that you can’t cope with yet another email as you have this seemingly unlimited list of tasks to do; the phone is ringing with urgent requests; people are shouting at you for your decision on a crucial project; you have to...
I believe most of us get to some stage in our lives where you start asking the inevitable questions such as: am I doing the right thing; am I in the right company or career; am I progressing somewhere; am I going to be financially secure when I am older; isn’t this work somewhat predictable and boring; should I be doing something more exciting and rewarding…. ?
This is where you are seeking more meaning, fulfilment and satisfaction in your career (and indeed, life) against...
When I am discussing a critical issue with a colleague and confirming that he has ‘got it and agrees with my sentiments’, I also look carefully at his body language and I am never disappointed. Arms folded tightly, a quizzical frown and avoiding a direct glance are sure signals that what I have said hasn’t gone down well and disagreement is in the air.
You need to study body language – that interesting combination of facial and eye movements and limbs - perhaps...
I must confess I have always imagined engineers and technicians as the rough and tough, Wild West action types (who work out in the field in pioneering conditions), compared to our more dilettante, cultured brothers and sisters in Law, Medicine and the Arts. In a book entitled Does the Engineer Need Culture?, Prof. John Peck from City College, in New York remarked that engineers were “rough, tough spirits” who took “pride in cultivating construction-camp and bar-room...
No matter whether you are an electrician operating a one-woman business in the middle of the Great Sandy Desert or a Chief Engineer of the largest car company in the world – you need to have a strategic plan to operate to, so that you can continue to operate successfully as a business. Most people don’t really know what a strategic plan really is.
But these strategic plans are hugely helpful in keeping your enterprise on target in achieving great things.
Not even close to a...
I clearly remember when computing started taking off, about the wry remark referring to garbage in, garbage out. This referred to a marvelous computer program developed at huge cost being fed absolutely useless data and thus spitting out useless information it had derived from the data. This is even more true today with the advent of machine learning and the internet of things (IoT). Imagine training your computer program in a machine learning application with shoddy data. The...
At a recent function for would-be students of our engineering college on the need for more of a STEM focus, I was sharply corrected by a good colleague who remarked that we should think rather of STEEM: science, technology, engineering, entrepreneurship and mathematics. And he is so absolutely right.
My take on the industrial automation industry in Australia is that we do not have enough entrepreneurial activity with a global focus. With...
I am always humbled by many people’s pride in what would initially appear to be a horrific job. These range from those who clean up often horrific levels of sewage and waste / work with toxic chemicals / operate on remote and harsh mine sites. You see the obvious level of pride and skill in their work coupled with a tremendous camaraderie and most importantly – a purpose in what they are doing.
And then I see some engineering professionals - often well...
When you are on a fixed salary in a company life is pretty certain. But in the more fraught world of consultant and contractor, life can be considerably more complex and financially tricky when dealing with contracts that require you to deliver a specific outcome. Remember if you don’t handle these correctly, you will end up considerably poorer despite putting in an enormous amount of hours working. So it is worth re-considering the different options here as...
I bumped into an engineering friend the other day – unfortunately he has been out of work for a number of months and is in his late fifties. He was becoming somewhat despondent about the employment situation and at his age it is undoubtedly tough. Employers are very cautious about employing engineering ‘veterans’ no matter how good they are. Unless the employers have a specific need for the specialised skill that you may have.
My take on it is that if you are idling...
As you all know – common sense is NOT so common around here when it comes to avoiding industrial failures. Often these failures are caused by avoidable (always) strategies such as good maintenance, better quality equipment and better training for staff.
Historically, a hundred years ago a telegraph problem could have disrupted a few people’s lives – however the scale today of the impact of an electrical failure (power or communications) can be...
As you all know, the global workforce is rapidly growing. And it is rapidly becoming more multicultural and multinational. We all have our own cultures, skills, behaviours and attitudes about life and work which are generally focussed on our local environment or town. However companies are increasingly straddling borders or are required to work with suppliers/clients and partners in different countries. Fortunately for some of us, the English language is becoming...
In the past few years; we have seen some spectacular collapses of buildings and bridges. This is quite inexplicable to today’s structural designer and engineer who puts enormous effort into the careful use of materials and huge safety margins. In addition, it is not only about care in design but also in putting into place monitoring mechanisms for the life of the structure.
However, when a designer is operating at the limit of their expertise; mistakes still...
As an old pal of mine, once remarked about his career: ‘Find out what you enjoy doing which adds value to other peoples’ lives and never ever work again’. What he was saying is that if you can do something at work which gives you meaning to your life and which you truly enjoy; you really have a great job which is the same as your hobby.
Corporations Spend Millions
Corporations spend millions of dollars on trying to motivate their staff and...
Ferocious and violent arguments are the part of life in engineering. Needless to say, they are rarely productive. And often very damaging to relationships and self esteem. A few suggestions on breaking an argument in its tracks and focussing on positive productive outcomes follows….
An Argument over Defective Software
I have been involved in many meaningless arguments which have got heated and always regretted the unproductivity of them all. I...
As you bump (race?) up the ladder of an organization, keeping a journal can be really useful. No, I am not referring to making an accounting journal entry but a ‘diary entry’ as we in the Commonwealth English speaking world often refer to it. Or in shipping parlance, sometimes referred to as the ‘captain’s log’.
Journals can be Really Useful
Journals are useful for two reasons, I believe: firstly, to cover yourself when there are disagreements about what...
I was fascinated but not surprised about the impact you can make on reducing crime in your local area – simply by being more entrepreneurial and opening a local retail or manufacturing business. Well - any business where people are employed and clients visit you.
Worldwide, there has been an uptick in mixed use development – combining residential and commercial properties in the same area. This makes it an easier commute and strengthens the...
We all know that habits can be powerful in achieving great things (e.g. timekeeping or exercising/studying regularly) or descending into the depths (smoking, drinking or eating too much).When we think of habits, I guess we mainly think of the latter ones. And once you have a bad habit, it is verily a devil to break out of.
Some really great suggestions for good habits are listed below in helping to write great code but they actually apply to any part of working...
I notice with faint amusement that Intel announced last week (rather too confidently) that ‘Self-driving cars will add $7 trillion a year to global economy by 2050’. As one less-than-impressed punter remarked: This was presumably said to boost Intel shares.
What is the impact on us as engineering professionals?
Here we go again – ‘Massive Business Opportunities’
The move to the driverless future reminds me of a comment made by another colleague...
Great engineering careers aren’t built around sudden inspiration, profound insight or even incredible technical abilities. I believe they are built around an average person doing ordinary things extraordinarily well coupled with huge persistence and patience.
A good example of an ordinary person who did well in engineering and in the military is General Dwight Eisenhower (who later became – arguably a good president). He was an average performer in his...
If you look at the results of most economists, financiers and journalists you will see that their prognostications are never particularly good at predicting the future. It is nevertheless tempting to make a few suggestions about the future of oil and electric vehicles as solid trends are now emerging. Ultimately everything is driven by price - and oil and electricity is certainly no exception.
As engineering professionals you are certainly going to be impacted...
No matter how small or big one’s business is – we often tend to be obsessed with what our competition is doing. Naturally, this is all about staying in business and based around the thinking that if you ignore your competition; they may steal opportunities away from you and then who knows what could happen.
Competition could be a simple as another electrician providing similar installation services to you or perhaps, a fast growing engineering design...
Dr Steve Mackay and Ms Edwina Ross met with Engineers Australia on the morning of the 28th March. Emmanuelle Wintergerst, their National Manager for Skills Assessment, outlined the process for those wishing to work and reside in Australia. It is summarised here: To have your qualifications assessed by Engineers Australia, the following options are available:
I believe there are many of you – in common with me - who have accepted a new job or task and then regretted it afterwards. In my case, I recall a particularly well paying engineering job giving me huge opportunities in a growing area of engineering (industrial automation). However, the company was dysfunctional, treated their clients with disrespect, never delivered on promises and my boss was dictatorial and made poor decisions. It put huge pressure on me and after a year...
We are all keen for our teams to be more successful and innovative. This requires your team to be supremely experimental and enthused with constantly trying new approaches – probably showing significant levels of energy in doing this. But as engineering professionals, we are often also anxious about excessive risk and failure and thus try and steer our guys away from this experimental approach. All seemingly a gigantic contradiction.
Obviously, if you are dealing...
You can surely summarise the recent massive technology changes that have happened in four sentences:
The last change is the interesting one and the connectivity often referred to Internet of Things (IoT)
Most attempts at change fail - some pundits estimate up to 70% of change attempts fail (Harvard Business Review). Change is particularly hard as it involves people. This is the greatest challenge in effecting change – equipment and hardware changes are relatively easy by comparison. With people there is always inertia to changing from the existing status quo. Especially as they have probably undergone vigorous change initiatives in the past – many of which may not have been...
Great work! You have been offered a tremendous new engineering job and are poised to accept. Subject to a final negotiation session to finalise the details, of course.
When you are offered a job – this is normally a signal that you are near end of a long road of a job search, investigating the opportunities and then going on interminable interviews. This period of time when you are close to acceptance of the job is a critical one as you have a huge opportunity to...
You would often be confronted with the situation where you have to disagree with your boss or even worse – a client. Is it worth going through the pain of disagreement and the agony afterwards? My belief is that if you want to stay true to yourself as a credible engineering professional - you have to raise your objections.
It is perfectly natural to avoid conflict – it can be the source of pain and perhaps (in an extreme case – being fired for...
We all yearn for that magic formula to success in life and perhaps in our engineering careers, as well. Although I doubt a simple formula exists. However, scientists at University College London have found what they believe are the five key life skills that will bring you health, career success, wealth and overall success.
Five Fantastic Life Skills
You will probably...
When you want to raise some money (from the bank, your long suffering business associates or unsuspecting friends) for your next engineering or technology venture – no matter how big or small - there are some items you should remember when composing your inevitable business plan. I am not arrogant enough to suggest that I can summarise the great flood of articles and books on writing business plans in a few words but there are a few useful suggestions below.
Many of the...
Being an objective engineer, I have always been cautious about (whether soft signals from) body language have much impact on how you are perceived but I must say ongoing research shows that it does have a huge impact.
So here are some really great suggestions on improving your response from others especially at your next engineering presentation with the use of effective body language cues ….I believe you will find these tips really work. If they don’t - please let me know...
There are some frightening statistics about the number of people who would like to leave their jobs…some figures quote up to 70% of workers. Obviously, a huge number of unhappy people out there. Particularly in engineering with its hard drive, unrelenting need for precision, production and peak work loads (often around projects) and unpleasant persistent competition from other lower cost businesses. All placing high levels of pressure and stress on people.
Before You Quit
You will all sigh knowingly when you think of engineering meetings. Often a huge waste of time where the boss holds forth and gives everyone a lecture and participation is rather fractured. Personally I try and avoid them as I have had such bad experiences over the years with them often being unproductive. But they definitely have a vital role to play especially in today’s email ridden world where we sometimes lose the connections and contributions from our peers.
Well – I...
As a young lad or lass - can you remember your first project? I clearly remember my first one - building a crystal radio. Laboriously purchasing all the components (which admittedly weren’t many – a few capacitors/coils/resistors/ headset and a torturously long piece of wire for the antenna). It was simply amazing when everything clicked into place after some wrestling with the soldering iron and a few recalcitrant wires and I had strung up the antenna over the roof of our...
The current evidence clearly relates better maths results for students to a country’s higher GDP and incomes. Thus a key question relates to the best way to teach maths (or ‘math’ as our North American cousins refer to it). Further to this, a vital question is how to relate success in maths to success in your engineering job. Especially from a creative and innovation point of view. As we all know, creativity is highly prized in the world today (whether it be Bruce Springsteen...
In the old days – we couldn’t survive without decent filters on our camera to take a good photo. However, today much can be done digitally after the photo has been taken and the filtering and photo enhancement done later. As long as you have grabbed all the critical data with quality high resolution images together with good lighting.
A Noisy Old World
When you are working with real equipment and instrumentation, you will often see noisy signals. I am thinking particularly of...
I believe engineering professionals have a fundamental contradiction in their careers. They have to be obsessed with being absolutely meticulous, precise and have an enthusiasm for detail in their engineering work. However, in order to be successful – they have to communicate with absolute brilliance and passion summarising difficult concepts in often simple-to-understand ways.
How Many Times Have you Heard?
How many times have you heard someone highly technical droning on and...
Engineering careers have five flavours - how can we take advantage of them?
Since the early seventies, I have watched as engineering careers have morphed into five distinct types: ‘corporate’, ‘learning’, ‘contract’, ‘skilled global’ and ‘manager’. I would be most interested to know what your type is and naturally, make suggestions on what you think of my categorisation. I will conclude by making some suggestions on how you can take advantage of these trends.
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