The Marching Morons is a GREAT story and very scaring at the same time. I always laughed at the science-fiction movies where nobody understood how the ship or the factory (or what have you) really worked, it just worked; well not any more...
I think it is more wishful thinking that if we are more indispensable, we would be treated better at work by those above us. I know that I am forced by necessity to be nice to the "indispensable" ones above me who can fire me. A quote I heard was,"Thank god that we are so frail less people would be worse to each other"
The other side of that coin, though, is that college is NOT supposed to train you to do only specific tasks. That's what technical schools teach. College is supposed to teach people how to learn, and learning is what they have to keep doing for the rest of their careers. What can be picked up "on the job" is probably best learned on the job.
Like Silicon Smith said, hopefully the masters that went before us documented what they did, and hopefully university has taught us how to research topics before we reinvent wheels.
"The sad truth is that no one is indispensable."
Whats so sad about reality? Were all here for only a short period of time. Enjoy it while you have it. Life's way to short to sit around discussing how will they handle it while I'm gone!
The modern reality is you work with others perhaps 3-5 years and things change. People move on, Perhaps you move on. You would have to be a real prim adona to think the place will fall apart without you.
I was an EE my whole career. My college course load started with DC Circuits, AC circuits, transmission lines, etc. (traditionally power systems and electrical distribution system oriented). Analog courses were mostly tube based. Finally, a new professor taught a series of Communications Theory courses where he actually talked about TRANSISTORS and solid state (he was a former Ma Bell man). Also, might I add, these were ANALYSIS courses, NOT design classes, necessary to be a designer, but not sufficient, as the Math guys would say. My first job as a circuit designer was at a small company that designed and sold its own line of standby/emergency power controls (Voltage, Phase , Frequency relays and cranking controls). They also designed custom products. In short, I learned design (including digital logic and integrated circuits) ON THE JOB. College had not trained me for these. What is needed is more practical design experience in school. That is the only way to replace the Williamses and Peases of the past. We can't count strictly on foreign engineers to keep us going. Industry needs to tell colleges what skills they need to teach and help fund them to get that.We also did our own PC board layout and populating, without CAD and automatic insertion equipment. Today's miniature IC's and BGA devices cannot be hand assembled easily, so tech schools need to teach these skills. The Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Hewletts and Packards of tomorrow, MUST be educated well today.
It's not so much about fundamental knowledge getting lost forever, it's about the time it takes to recover or re-discover something that was once known to the company.
Speed of execution is just as important, sometimes more important, than new invention and discovery. I doubt that any company in our business can afford to re-invent the wheel or reverse-engineer it's own products or IP, some of which has re-use value for new products.
I dont think there is a great danger. Of course, there are things that only an experienced scientist would understand, but "learning everything the hard way" is no justification. Its never a good practice to reinvent the wheel. As far as the "fundamental knowledge getting lost" argument goes, dont we have books and papers for that? I mean, dont all the experts document their experiences in such literature and in minute detail too? If the next generation needs guidance, isnt that a sufficient platform to start exploring?