Social media in your learning mix for control engineering

Are you using all the possible resources you can when solving engineering problems? Don’t forget blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, and even YouTube.


It’s been said that skill set required to be a process control engineer is perhaps the broadest of any engineering discipline. To be effective, one must have knowledge that spans chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, process safety, information technology, networking, and cyber security, to name but a few. Some of these skills, such as PC networks and cyber security, are recent developments with the move of automation technology to commercially available, off-the-shelf technologies (COTS).

The need to grow one’s skills and keep up with the changing technologies is a career-long challenge for process control engineers. So how do we best continue this learning process?

The answer is a mix of traditional ways and new ways opened up by advances in people-connecting communications, dubbed social media. Traditional ways include formal classroom training through universities, training offered by professional associations such as the International Society of Automation (ISA), and automation supplier product-specific training. Books and, more recently, e-books are popular as a method of skill building. Newer developments include virtual training with online instructors, which is more interactive than the pre-canned online training sessions that have been with us for many years.

The greatest tools to find answers to the immediate problems we face are the search engines such as Google and Bing. A few well-placed keywords and key phrases return results that often help answer our questions. More and more, these results land us in online communities, blogs, Facebook pages, LinkedIn groups, YouTube channels, and so on. It is in these results where we typically intersect with the world of social media.

Instead of a more formal approach to education, skills learned through social media communication paths develop question-by-question over time, interacting with others with similar expertise. Beyond simple questions and answers, these sites provide ways to share profile information—education, work experience, hobbies, and so on—that creates opportunities for social bonds.

For example, if you find the answer to a critical question in a LinkedIn group such as the Automation & Control Engineering group, and then you find an answer to another question there, it may be time to join the group. From there, you can connect with others who have similar expertise. With over 17,000 members in the group, there is quite a bit of wisdom from which to draw. Groups like these also give you an opportunity to share your expertise and build thought leadership around your personal brand.

This is not the only online community available to process control professionals. In LinkedIn alone, there are supplier brand groups, industry-related groups, trade association groups, trade magazine groups, and more. Similarly, Facebook has many of these special interest groups and pages available.

The key is to find a community that covers the area of expertise and skills you have or need to develop. Building a network of peers is one of the best ways to rapidly develop and hone these skills. If you’re anything like me, a peer group was really important with the challenge of attaining an engineering degree. These social media sites provide a virtual way to form these peer groups and also strengthen the bonds when face-to-face opportunities emerge at trade and industry conferences.

As a blogger, I can’t end this article without mentioning blogs. When your search results land you on one, and you find the information valuable, consider leaving a comment sharing your perspectives. It’s one way to get to know the person who may have helped you with a question or challenge you faced. Some blogs, such as the Modeling and Control blog, provide a vast amount of freely available process control insight and experience.

Conferences you attend become more valuable because of the people you meet and the social bonds you form that last well beyond your trip home. Similarly, the online communities you join and in which you participate build your peer-to-peer network to help you to grow the skills you need and your brand to help advance your career.

Jim Cahill is the chief blogger, surface dweller, and head of social media for Emerson Process Management. Reach him at


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