Breaking out of your tunnel vision

Take some time to lose the blinders and look at something different. You can never learn too much.

11/19/2012


Often during the course of a task, project, or even during a particular time in our career, we get a certain amount of tunnel vision. Being involved with a specific piece of software, hardware, or product, or even a specialized industry, we can focus too much on what’s directly in front of us. It’s no longer acceptable to entrench yourself in a single skill set and put on blinders that shut out the world around you. Even as project managers, we can lose insight on how this particular project fits into the facility or company as a whole. Working in a specific industry, we can find ourselves focusing on the “tried and true,” and even though that approach works, it may cause us to lose out on something new and better. As much as it’s a good thing to focus on the task we’ve been given, it often pays to adopt a wider and more long-term view. Here are some practical ways to broaden your horizon:

• While working on a project, take time to talk to those around you. Find out what they’re working on and how it may affect what you do. Just because you’re working on a specific piece, it doesn’t mean that what you do doesn’t affect anyone else, or that no one else’s work can affect you. Finding out how someone else is implementing his or her part may impact what you do. Whether you’re working on hardware or software, it all has to come together as a single working unit, and learning a little bit about how someone else’s piece will work can give you insight into how your piece may be used and how you can improve your own implementation. It will make the project run much smoother to take a moment and find out what else is involved as part of the project. Your eyes may be opened to a different way of doing the task you’re working on.

• Talk to other people in your company who are working on different projects. Find out what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. Finding out what’s worked and failed on other projects and for other people can help you avoid problems, increase your efficiency, and speed up your success. No one wants to repeat the same mistakes over and over.

• When not working directly on a project, take the time to learn something new, whether it’s a programming language, how a piece of hardware works, or even just general skills. There are many opportunities for picking up new skills. Whether it’s a piece of hardware or software you haven’t worked with before, take some time to figure out how to install it, program it, wire it up, and how it interfaces with other devices or software. You never know when you’ll come across something similar in future work. There are also opportunities online to learn new skills. Many OEMs have white papers on their websites offering insight on how to use their products. There are also websites that offer training classes online, some even for free. A simple web search turns up many websites that offer training classes, and even forums for people to post problems and solutions.

Regardless of whether you have designs to move up the corporate ladder, or are content in your current role, as an engineer you have a responsibility to provide a good product to your customer, whether that is a paying client or someone else in your company who will be building on your work. Technology is always changing, and the skills that you have today may not be compatible with the hardware, software, or processes that are being used tomorrow. It takes effort to keep up, but it will pay off, and you will thank yourself for the investment. So will your boss, coworkers, and clients.

This post was written by Brian Noftsier. Brian is a project engineer at MAVERICK Technologies, a leading system integrator providing industrial automation, operational support, and control systems engineering services in the manufacturing and process industries. MAVERICK delivers expertise and consulting in a wide variety of areas including industrial automation controls, distributed control systems, manufacturing execution systems, operational strategy, and business process optimization. The company provides a full range of automation and controls services – ranging from PID controller tuning and HMI programming to serving as a main automation contractor. Additionally MAVERICK offers industrial and technical staffing services, placing on-site automation, instrumentation and controls engineers.



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