What happens to the profession when we die?
what happens when you're gone
gone and left me crying
After you've gone ain't no denying
You'll feel blue; you'll feel bad
You'll miss the bestest mamma you
The passing of Bob Pease and Jim Williams highlighted a
problem I've been worried about for some time: What happens when you
retire? Or, assuming most of us probably won't retire in the
traditional sense but keep on doing what we do best, what happens when you die?
In many disciplines, the institutional knowledge that's been built over
decades vanishes. For the next generation, it's as if they're standing on a dock that suddenly
collapses and before they realize what's happened, they're underwater,
sinking like a stone.
Most executive managers pooh-pooh this transition, insisting that their
training programs have ensured a continuance of this institutional
knowledge. Or that new knowledge is more important than old knowledge
because technology is ever-changing. You and I know from experience
that that's a load of crap, and this is especially true in the analog
design world. Executive management has to say this because if they
understood the importance of institutional knowledge and technical
expertise, they wouldn't have gone into management!
I talked with old friend and PCB guru Lee
this spring, who has a cat bird seat to another of these
design areas that will suffer when you're gone: high-speed board design.
now. John Zaszio and I were talking about this. He has the same
problem. The company he works with hires people who 'design things.'
gets them in, they can’t read a schematic, don’t have a clue about
high-speed power issues. He’s
almost a voice in the wilderness. He’s the one guy out of 30 who can
built. If he’s gone, they’re up a creek. I don’t know if management has
Passage of time
Management, in Ritchey's eyes, is not
graduating from the right programs.
"All the management are computer science majors. They don’t know about
fields and waves and that tech you have to have to do high-speed
they don’t know when they’re getting in trouble until they fail."
is just a warm memory (how many commenters in the past couple of weeks wrote
in about how much they learned from Pease and Williams?);
time-to-market is a marketing-department crack addiction rarely based
in reality; and you can always throw more bodies (preferably
from low-wage tech centers) at the problem, sort of like the Somme in
1916. That worked well. Not.
Now, on the other hand, because our cohort here is precisely that
experienced, bearing-down-on-retirement-age type, these views could
simply reflect the old guard grumbling about being the old guard.
in MY day....") And new solutions, methods and tools arise that we
never anticipated that often make the old ways of doing thing--the old
knowledge--irrelevant tomorrow. When I was a kid, being able to do your
multiplication tables quickly in your head up past the 13s was a badge
of honor. Today, you just need to know how to tap buttons after hitting
the "on" switch.
In journalism, a new generation of reporters is coming onto the scene
adept at new media and technology. That's fantastic. But do they know
how to really dig up real stories or have the patience for it? Who is
teaching them how to butter up the county clerk to get that special
phone call or text message when a certain filing comes in?
In engineering, new talent comes into companies every day with academic
knowledge and tools you could only dream of back in the day. But who
will be there to help them anticipate the corner cases, management nonsense and technical hurdles you've suffered through and learned from?
Does it matter?
Or is that sound we're hearing a