From: "Christopher R. Carlen"
Subject: Re: 1523 joints
Date: Mon, 11 Nov 2002 09:33:13 -0800
Organization: Sandia National Laboratories, Albuquerque, NM USA
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> I worked for a military test & eval lab, as an electronics tech, while going to
> school. And ALL (4) of (us) the techs could write instrument drivers in C and
> assembly, design simple analog signal conditioning & digital glule logic ckts,
> layout PCBs, operate a theodolite for basic survey tasks, perfom simple
> machinists tasks, operate broadcast-quality video cameras & edit the tapes
> using a non-linear editing system, manufacture what we or an engineer designed,
> etc, etc, etc. If we did not have a particular skill required for project, we
> were expected to acquire the skill or adapt an existing skill to find another
> solution. And we were low peons (GS7 and GS 9).
> What you have is a personnel issue, not a technical issue.
Now if you were asked by a superior to take a truck mechanic and have
him assist you in assembling PCBs, how much trouble do you think that
Keep in mind that to assemble PCBs in a *prototype* and low volume
environment, you won't have the advantage of automated manufacturing
techniques to insulate the assembly workers from having to know such
things as how to ground a chassis, what size wire to use for what
purpose, which end of a polarized cap is which, same goes for diodes,
and other things which have polarity.
Ok fine, you can write out explicit instructions for all that. But in
my case, it seems that unless the volume of devices that must be
fabricated is greater than some threshold, say 5 or so, that the effort
of explaining to someone every little detail is greater than the effort
of doing it myself. Explaining *every* detail is exactly what is
necessary in the case where you are dealing with someone who knows
*nothing* about electronics except that it involves wires and parts.
Furthermore, there are differences in people's technical aptitudes,
affected by several parameters, most notable of which are basic
intelligence and attitude. There are folks who do mediocre work
consistently, no matter how explicity you specify the detailed
information about how the "little touches" are to be handled that will
make the difference between a mediocre product and an excellant one.
Other folks do it better than you asked, no matter how much you insist
that this is not a job which requires perfectionism.
An experience of working in a group of four rather similarly talented
techs., with what appear to be strong "self-starter" attitudes, doesn't
lend itself to drawing conclusions that one can always find these
characteristics in anybody walking down the street, or by a random pick
out of the pool of various techs. from varying disciplines that happen
to be available at a particular facility.
I'll give you another example to wrap things up. A manager approved the
purchase of about 3 licenses for AutoCAD, the full version, a few years
back because several techs. indicated they wanted to add it to their
skill base. A total cost of close to $10000. Two years later the
software is still sitting on a shelf. One tech. has learned to use it
somewhat, and the other two licenses are collecting dust. Meanwhile,
another tech. took it upon himself to learn AutoCAD, but realized that
for the work he'd be doing he only needed the light version, only $695.
He was up and running in two weeks and is turning out productive work
that he couldn't have done before.
Not only did a couple of techs. bite off more than they could chew, but
the management, not really having an understanding of the individual
aptitude's of the people working for them (this isn't really the
manager's fault, it is an inherent function of our organizational
structure), allowed wasteful spending to occur. Fortunately the
AutoCADs have been used by visiting scientists so there wasn't really a
gross waste. The point is that not any Joe can put down the wrench and
learn AutoCAD, or assemble electronics, or heaven forbid--align optical
parametric oscillators and lasers.
Finally, on a somewhat humorous note, I've been considering that the
next time it is suggested that I have techs. assist me in aligning
lasers or assembling electronics that are very unlikely to have the
required background, I will suggest to the manager that if we need an
extra scientist to run a lab, design experiments, and write scientific
papers about the data, we could have one of the techs. do it.
This is just an extreme example of the point I'm trying to make. There
are fundamental educational differences between the scientists and the
techs. in general. That any of the techs. in my facility could even
approach what a typical scientist around here does, is completely
absurd. There are some things which cannot be attained through
"training." Education and training are different.
You cannot train someone to think. If thinking is required for a job,
then a thinker is needed. A "procedure follower" will not do.
Christopher R. Carlen
Principal Laser/Optical Technologist
Sandia National Laboratories CA USA