Making certain that "nobody is even hard to replace" is what ISO9000 is all about. Make a task into simple steps that anybody can do and then dump the expensive engineers. Of course, anybody can be replaced-eventually, and at some cost that was not anticipated. I have always tried to share knowledge on jobs, but in many occasions there was nobody willing or able to learn, and in others, those whom I taught left and became a success elsewhere. And at one employer, they asked for copies of all my design s and all my notes and documents, and after I delivered them they let me go because they didn't need my skills any more. Fortunately for all of us I took copies of much of my work, because unfortunately for them the financial guy threw away all the paper files because he didn't see any need for them. That company does not exist in a visible form today, while I still get calls for service on equipment that I designed ten years ago.
I'm Lee Ritchey who Brian cited in his article. I agree that the body of technical information will live on after us old guys are gone. That wasn't my point when I spoke with Brian.
I teach a class in high speed design several times a year as well as do a fair amount of consulting for startups and established companies.
Many of the students are in class because there is no mentoring program at their company and they have had problems getting new designs to work.
In all too many cases, very complex designs are being tackled by engineers who have no prior experience with this level of task. There are no senior engineers around who have "been there before" to help steer the design away from problems that have been encountered before. The result in a design that does not meet its requirements, and in the case of startups, often leads to total failure of the company.
Among the reasons for this is the VC approach to building new companies where there is no time for mentoring new engineers and only "experienced" people are hired. The limited pool of experienced engineers soon runs out for two reasons. One- the company succeeds and the engineers take the money and run. Two- the pool has a limited size so some startups can't find experienced people and take what is available.
It's the loss of mentors and apprenticeship programs that I am concerned about. This leads to far too much trial and error engineering in areas where there is no need to repeat past failures.
I suppose I should not complain as it keeps me very busy doing consulting!
By the way, I once worked with Bob Pease as a young engineer and enjoyed his column as it was often a jolt from the past. I used his Philbrick differenial amplifiers as well as many of the National Semi op amps and 3 terminal regulators. The were so much better than designing ciruits from discrete transistors. Do they still exist today?
So true DarkMatter, and yet it will continue, like it has through human evolution, when knowledge is lost in any human endeavor, someone will eventually replicates it, and possibly may even improve on it, but at what expense?
Urmb112211, this view is way too simplistic, and does not realize that knowledge and experience is gained, as much by failure and not only success, in development of technology. Few publish their failures and wasted resources, in pursuit of knowledge and experience.
Did I read between the lines in this brief post that you are making reference to the urban legend regarding: “Charles H. Duell, patent commissioner, that everything has can be invented has already been invented”?. BTW, perpetual motion can be explained with harmonic oscillator?
I am trying to build a service to pass some knowledge to the next generation. I have created an online training site (http://www.learningmeasure.com) which has as its emphasis measurement and test, but not exclusively so.
If I am successful, I will be able to create eventually more than one site to pass on knowledge, and I wouldn't mind suggestions on how to be more effective.
If you are concerned about passing on your knowledge, do something about it, and I would gladly pass on what you know if you are willing to share.
A big part of the overall decline in American companies is their attitude towards their older workforce. They only see them as a liability to the bottom line. They have no clue how to leverage the accumulated wisdom in a way that they can create a young workforce capable of incredible things.
Until the day comes that American companies return to leadership that has knowledge of their products and customers, rather than executives that spend their time staring at spreadsheets with all the genius of mice on crack, this is how it will be.
Sorry, not even close: their training covers some of the basics but none of the details, let alone what to tweak, how to tweak it or, most importantly, WHY. This is the tribal knowledge that is important and gets lost when people are laid off or retire.
About a decade ago, I had a manager tell me that he saw errors in 3-year cycles: that was how long it took for enough turn-over in his department so that the new people were repeating the errors the last new people made.