Keeping Up With Technology

May 5, 2009
The pace of technology is so dizzying, it’s easy to get caught up in it. But then we remember we still have work to do.

The pace of technology is so dizzying, it’s easy to get caught up in it. But then we remember we still have work to do — work with little of the glamour and glitz of the world of computers. For most engineering professionals, technology is a sideshow. The main event is the project in front of them — and it is already behind schedule.

Most senior people in engineering organizations today grew up in a world in which change was progressive, even gradual — and often optional. The drawing was the coin of the realm. The manual skills involved in producing drawings quickly and accurately were appreciated.

When CAD systems came along — and everyone knew that the “D” was supposed to stand for “design,” but actually meant “drafting” — they were measured by how much they improved on the drafting board. How quickly could you produce or modify a drawing?

As CAD developed, it became an exciting innovation for many engineers and frightening for others. Suddenly, lettering skills were irrelevant. The CAD system lettered perfectly, and in an unlimited variety of fonts and styles. Suddenly, things that used to take a long time took only a little. The rising stars in engineering organizations were those who mastered the computer — even if their engineering knowledge and skills were mediocre.

Then, before these major shifts had been fully absorbed, along came the Internet. Good-bye, fax; farewell, FedEx. Suddenly, everything could be accessible to anyone with a computer and an Internet connection. You want it now? Here it is — and I didn’t have to ask what flavor computer you are running or what OS. You’ve got a Web browser? That’s enough commonality.

But wait a minute, you say, aren’t we still taking great designs, adding raw materials and construction and manufacturing processes, and developing great structures and great products?

Yes — and no. On some level, the business is still the same. But everything else is different. Jobs are different. Organizational structure is different. It’s not like cars replacing horses and carriages — it’s more like teleportation.

Technology is transforming engineering. And this is just the beginning. What are you going to do about it? Now would be a good time to ask yourself some questions:

• What’s my job? Am I a producer of engineering drawings? An operator of engineering computers? Or someone who brings years of product experience to bear on the challenges of communicating engineering information so projects are completed on time?

• What five changes have most affected my work life in the past 10 years? What changes do I expect in the next 10? How prepared am I to deal with these changes?

• Have my fears of technology hampered my progress at work?

• Has my love of technology drawn me away from engineering?

• How good a balance have I struck between work and family? Is the balance improving or deteriorating?

Our fast-paced lives tend to drown out the important things. Your houseplants don’t nag you if you don’t water them — they just die. What are the “dying houseplants” in your life? What three things can you do today to start making things better? If you want to get along, follow the rules, and don’t make waves. If you want to excel, seek balance, and live it.

— Joel Orr

Joel Orr is Chief Visionary at Cyon Research Corp. in Bethesda, Md. If you have a question or a comment, e-mail Joel at [email protected]

Edited by Leslie Gordon

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