In most organizations being a reliability engineer is a lonely position. I like to think we’re so effective that one or just a small team is all any an organization needs.
As with any engineering position, we have specialized training and skills. We view the world and problems just a little differently than others. Then we use statistics, which tends to future isolate us from our peers.
For over 50 years there have been professional societies focused on supporting the professional education of reliability engineers. For nearly as long there have been trade journals and newsletters. Longer for technical journals and other scientific and engineering organizations and journals.
Ever since the first reliability engineer, today we all look for support. We need to answer questions. We need to learn a new skill. We need to check assumptions. We seek to talk shop and discuss accomplishments and challenges. We seek to enjoy the company of others like us.
The support of professional societies, conferences, journals, trade magazines, the like is not really working in today’s world. The monthly newsletter or evening meeting is too little and often too late for today’s problems.
We have options today that our colleagues 20 years ago didn’t. Let’s explore a few of the changes I’ve noticed and how our world is now supporting our work and career in reliability engineering.
The Old Model is Fading
Industry-wide, newspapers, magazines, and print media, in general, is struggling. People today do not look for the morning paper to stay informed.
Trade magazines are in a downward spiral of fighting increase printing/mailing costs with more advertising – thus limiting or reducing the informative content. Too much clutter to sort through to find the good stuff.
Journals are or continue to produce articles for academics. Companies and practical case stories are not shared due to lack of time, received a lack of ROI, and general protection of trade secrets.
Professional societies are facing lower local meetings turn out, fewer volunteers, and declining membership.
Of course, there are exceptions, and those that provide unique value, those that have adopted to today’s world of finding information or staying informed are thriving.
The reliability engineering professional societies used to provide informative and practical newsletters with useful articles (monthly at best). They used to hold local monthly meetings and stage events – declining interest has many of those programs struggling.
Professional societies offered networking – LinkedIn does that now. Professional society offered professional development via articles and conferences, Wikipedia, bloggers, podcasters, and webinars do that now.
Reading the morning paper, attending a weekly staff meeting at work, a monthly evening meeting of the local professional society, and the annual technical conference is just not cutting it today.
We have problems to solve today, right now. I’m like you, I’m am online to find solutions. We can’t wait for the next newsletter and hope that it has a relevant article that helps us solve today’s problem.
The New Model is Under Development
So, what do we do today? We search, google (as a verb), check the NIST statistic handbook, we pull up an ebook to check a formula, we post a question on a LinkedIn group or online forum. We scan our alma mater library for references and articles, we don’t wait til the next meeting or conference to ask around.
We need to learn something now. We need to solve problems today.
The mix of blogs, podcasts, webinars and vast array of online resources and forums is not always the best or easiest way to find a solution. Yet in less then a month there is more technical content available via your desktop or tablet than by all our professional societies combined in a year.
Just for reliability topics, there are 30 (maybe more) sources for webinars on topics from asset management to Weibull analysis. Many with monthly or more often events, plus a growing library or recorded events.
There are more than 1,000 articles on reliability, quality, safety, and risk just on Accendo Reliability. There are more than 50 blogs creating articles on similar topics.
Did I mention YouTube? Just last week a 4-minute video saved me a trip to a chain saw repair show – a two-minute fix if you know what to look for and a simple step to restore functionality (my chain saw kill switch stopped working… not good)
I suspect this range of offerings and the mix of topics will only increase. More ways to provide how-to information, more ways to provide paths to design a test, more ways to explain reliability concepts.
It’s not perfect. We may struggle to find answers online at times. Yet, the available information, resources, and people willing to help you solve today’s problems is growing, evolving and getting better.
Today’s online ability to find the right information now is eroding the need for professional societies. I believe we still need to tend to our professional networks, yet we have options there too, not including professional societies.
I used to be excited to get a newsletter or journal in the mail. It was a chance to learn something. Today, the few I get in hardcopy I may quickly scan and toss onto the someday pile of reading material.
Today, faced with today’s problems, I’m online. More often than not we find our solutions, advice, ideas, and how-to information online. We find trusted sources and bookmark them. We find trusted connections that have specific knowledge in areas we may have questions – then ask them when necessary for help. We help others with our knowledge.
Years ago I managed the DFR email list at HP. There were hundreds of HP engineers from across the corporation on the list. This was before web browsers and Google (think FTP, Usenet, BBS, The Well, IRC, etc). Anyone could broadcast a question – they nearly always got a couple of very good answers within a day, sometimes within an hour.
Asking 100 people a question is more likely to find a useful answer than asking just two people. The power of the online world was clear to me.
Next time you attend a local evening meeting or technical conference, note how many of your peers are online while attending. Checking facts, noting ideas, sharing solutions, checking papers and cited references, etc.
Times are changing. It’s exciting and fun, and well, faster.
What do you see as benefits or problems with the changes? Leave a comment with your thoughts and ideas. If you have a favorite source of information, where it that? I bet you it is not a professional society.