May/June 2010

Putting knowledge to work

By Bill Lydon, InTech, Chief Editor

Share your knowledge or keep it in a drawer?

Early in my career, I ran up against an automation systems software problem I could not figure out. Being the "new guy" in an open office with five other engineers who had experience with these systems, I decided to get their input and explained the problem as best I could. They had suggestions, but no one offered a solution. After working on the problem for a few days, I discovered some software code that only executed under certain system circumstances, which was creating the problem. I changed the code to get the system in the field working properly and wrote an engineering change request.

I proudly shared the solution with the group. One of the most knowledgeable and experienced engineers exclaimed, "I solved that problem months ago!" Pulling out a folder from his desk file drawer, he announced his notes on the solution were, "right here." I asked why he did not tell me this a few days before, and he responded, "You didn't ask the right question about this specific code." I learned this was normal operating procedures with him because he believed withholding knowledge created job security. That engineer never did get promoted in the company, while several of us went on to much better positions. The lesson learned? Control and automation people improve themselves and their profession by sharing information.

During the past several years, many people have taken advantage of the opportunity to share solutions, tips, experiences, and other information via various media channels. Sharing your knowledge and experiences helps others learn and it improves our profession. For instance, I enjoy writing articles as it helps me research and generate new ideas on specific topics. Having an article published improves credibility and best showcases your knowledge, experience, and expertise. It increases your network of people to share problems, ask for help, and get solutions.

Where am I going with this? I believe there is a wealth of knowledge out there that you the reader would enjoy writing or hearing about. There are a number of possible article topics and focus areas, including identifying a problem solution, suggesting new approaches, describing lessons learned from a project or application, and challenging the majority view or "perceived wisdom." Case studies that describe fast paths and pitfalls of actual projects, applications, and implementations are valuable because they are real world.

If you decide to write an article, ask yourself how the reader benefits from reading the article. Will they learn a new technique? Will they work more effectively if they implement the list of tips, techniques, and tricks you provide? Will they get started with a new project more successfully based on the implementation plan you outline? Provide rules-of-thumb and guidelines for readers whenever possible, including pointing out obstacles they might encounter and offering workarounds. If talking about a specific project, what do you know now that you wish you knew before you started? In short, articles should give readers the inside track on how to be more effective.

Sharing experiences in an InTech article is a great way to improve the automation profession. Your knowledge can save another auto­mation and control colleague a great deal of frustration, time, and effort. You also
become a link in the chain of knowledge.

Writing an article is something many people intend to do but keep putting off. Simply think about the topic, and jot down the basic points to start. Each day, build on those points, and before you know it, an article is written. If you are interested in contributing or have an idea to share, please contact me, and I will send you writing guidelines and other information.

Please share any thoughts and successes. Talk to me at [email protected].