Talking endlessly about quaint base-drive toroids, ticklish lifetime issues with aluminum capacitors, neat though quirky current-sensing techniques, and what have you. has only one purpose in mind: that of advancing technology. But do we, as engineers, usually solidly devoted to our craft, really manage to achieve that to the full extent we hoped and struggled for? Or is it a case of "one step forward" and then "two steps backward" (for reasons beyond our control)? A glass that at best remains tantalizingly half-empty and half-full - all because of a darn leak, that we just forgot to factor into our calculations!
But what about the organizational side? Advances in science and technology, especially in power conversion, hinge on a few basic and fairly obvious commonsensical principles. But surprisingly, these are the very ones often overlooked at an organizational level. Let me try to categorize some of my personal observations heresee if you agree:
A lot can be learned by simply sharing experiences: things that worked and things that didn't. Why should engineers always end up repeating mistakes and learning the hard way - potential bugs or possible catastrophes that they could've known about beforehand, just by listening and thinking. Couldn't they also take what in fact was already proven to be the best available engineering solution at that time, and develop it further? Creativity has its place, but let's not re-invent the wheel please!
However, when organizations grow they usually start sub-dividing, and fairly quite arbitrarily too. So the Power team becomes separate "AC/DC" and "DC/DC" groups. Whereas we all know that at the heart of any AC/DC switcher is none other than a DC/DC switcher! At a later stage, the DC/DC group may become "Portable power" and "Power Management" groups. But both still use the same topologies duh! Then sooner or later, Power management may bifurcate into "high power" and "low power." Does all this imply any radical change in engineering principles? Not really! So the end result is that engineers, the ones that are expected to generate products and revenue in the first place, simply don't run into each other anymore, or get to talk about their experiences to each other, even over a coffee machine.
What's worse: if the assignments are on the unimaginative basis of "one project, one engineer," then even within any such finely divided sub-group, there is almost no sharing of engineering information thereafter.
Yes, I agree: marketing or sales or even Field Application engineers may need to be divided to get more "business focus," but for engineering focus, you actually need to get the engineers together, not drive them apart. Engineers always thrive when they share. No one really benefits in the long run if the pinky for example, no longer knows what even the middle finger is up to. And Power conversion is just too tricky an area to take that chance.
Engineers are trained to respect only facts and data! That's the key to their success as engineers: standing behind every robust and brilliant product they create. Unfortunately, that strength also sometimes isolates them from the rest of the crowd. Of course there are people whose legitimate job is to slightly blur the boundaries between fact and fiction - to create nebulous and fuzzy perceptions in others minds. Sales, Marketing, PR for example?
But conflicts over integrity can turn out to be quite debilitating to an engineer in the long run. Like what to write in a datasheet. Or what can or can't be designedand how soon. Or "promote this part number pleaseI don't care what you are writing in your App Note if you don't manage to sell my part first and foremost!" In fact, I know a company where the entire Applications Engineering department reports to the person who doubles over as the Marketing manager too. That may not have been such a bad idea provided that person was once an engineer, or at least had a thorough grasp of technical details. But that is usually not so. So one can easily envisage a situation where the Marketing person promises the customer the moon and the stars (all at daybreak tomorrow!), and then goes back to drive his engineers to build his (already committed) palace of dreams overnight. Or else
Engineers relish challenges. Changes to their daily routine excite them. Do not hand them the humdrum job of simple repetitive power-up testing of 50 odd boards for a customer. That kills their spirit. Yet how often have we seen that, come layoff time, the first persons to go are the CAD guys, then the technicians, and then the documentation expert! On paper, the concerned manager can show impressive savings to his superiors. Headcount is what it is all about! But a few months later, engineers are still trying to grapple with ORCAD or Protel just to do their simple PCBs.
And in addition, they have to learn a rather complicated language whose only purpose is to transcribe what they already know and have written, into a format suitable for the datasheet standard used by the company. And yes! Those damn 50 boards are still waiting on the bench! Why couldn't these engineers have been doing what they are best trained to do, and also enjoy the most - you guessed it: engineering!? In fact right now, they may have just become the most highly-paid technicians around.
Technology may never gain a foothold in a "king's court," where you are either rewarded with largesse for being vehemently agreeable, or unceremoniously sentenced to the dark dungeons for the rest of your life. Engineers like to speak out - but usually only when they were sure of their facts and have incontrovertible data to back themselves up. They therefore deserve and need a "peer environment," where they are judged (primarily) by the respect received from their peers the king be damned (on occasion)!
It must be kept in mind that this can really bother the king sometimes! So managers who supervise engineers, should be fairly competent at a technical level themselves and respect data and facts equally. They can't attempt to win a technical argument by throwing rank on their subordinates. Nor should they ever go around, God forbid, trying to subsequently shoot the "emotional and/or disrespectful" engineer down ("that'll teach him"). Surprisingly that does happen more than we dare admit. Not only does the good engineer pay the price, but so does technology in the long run.
Do write me at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. If you think I'm being a busybody, don't hesitate to tell Steve at email@example.com to ask me to cut these musings out-- and get back to Mosfets and diodes please!! Alternately, voice your opinion (albeit, multiple choice) on the Planet Analog home page.