Industrial Automation Knowledge Sharing, Revisited

About 6 months ago I blogged about ControlsOverload, a knowledge-sharing Q&A site for the Industrial Automation community: Make More Money with ControlsOverload.

I was pleased to read Bill Lydon’s article in InTech called Putting knowledge to work. Bill shares a story similar to what many of us have experienced:

Early in my career, I ran up against an automation systems software problem I could not figure out. Being the “new guy” in an open office with five other engineers who had experience with these systems, I decided to get their input and explained the problem as best I could. They had suggestions, but no one offered a solution. After working on the problem for a few days, I discovered some software code that only executed under certain system circumstances, which was creating the problem. I changed the code to get the system in the field working properly and wrote an engineering change request.

I proudly shared the solution with the group. One of the most knowledgeable and experienced engineers exclaimed, “I solved that problem months ago!” Pulling out a folder from his desk file drawer, he announced his notes on the solution were, “right here.” I asked why he did not tell me this a few days before, and he responded, “You didn’t ask the right question about this specific code.” I learned this was normal operating procedures with him because he believed withholding knowledge created job security.

That’s exactly the reason why ControlsOverload was created. I’ve seen the impact of withholding knowledge, and it’s painful. Engineers are entering the industrial automation career path all the time and all of them have to re-learn the same lessons over and over because older generations aren’t taking the time to share their knowledge and mentor. It’s the opposite of the behavior that built our civilization. We need to pass these expensive lessons on to the next generation so they can spend more time building better things than we ever could.

One-on-one interaction and teaching is good, but social networking adds an economy of scale that allows knowledge sharing to explode. But somebody has to take the time to seed the field before we get our first harvest.

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