Listening is the Key to Success in Engineering

August 10, 2016 | Author: David Bluestein

James Michener, the famous writer, once said that "Scientists dream about doing great things. Engineers do them."I've always enjoyed the process of taking the "theories of scientists" and finding practical applications in the real world.

Taking things apart and putting them back together; that was a passion growing up in Texas in a poor household where fixing our own things was a requirement. I once took apart our electric toaster just to see how it worked, and instead of getting angry, my Mom complimented me on my curiosity! And later, when I was called to fix my Mom’s sewing machine, she finally “got it” when she realized it was just another machine to me. It may not come as a surprise that Scotty, from Star Trek, has always been one of my heroes – he was truly a “hands on” engineer!

For the past 15 years, I've been working with cell technicians to make intuitive control panels to help make their tasks easier. This software, called FCS, or Facility Control Software is used to control valves, fuel and electrical items in our test cells. It can also be used to start, run and stop a gas turbine engine. It can contain safety logic to prevent unsafe conditions from damaging hardware or creating potential injury situations. It all depends upon the requirements of each test cell.

To the cell technician, the software is simply one or more screens containing buttons and fields of numbers. Each button controls something in the cell. For many tests, the buttons need to be pressed in a specific order to work properly. I can guide our cell technicians by selectively disabling buttons at key points in the testing, only allowing those buttons that are valid. It is like having a road map for the cell operator to follow – it gets them to their destination without getting lost!

But besides those technical skills, I’ve come to realize how important ‘people skills’ are to the job. You need to have good listening skills to build a good rapport with cell technicians so that way you completely understand what they need. I learned this skill early in my career as I have always had a natural inclination to make things easier for others.

For example, in one of our test cells, two different electronic systems were used to gather test data. These systems were not connected to each other. By talking with the test cell operators and watching their testing process, I discovered that the cell operators were printing sheets of numbers from one system, carrying them to the other system and typing them into that computer. It was a tedious process!

To fix this, we were able to create a new program designed to record the data from the first system and automatically transfer the values into the other computer. This freed the cell operators to focus on the more important goal of running their tests. Something they very much appreciated.

In the end, the people who are running our engines in the cell have proven to be very creative in their ideas and suggestions. They know the strengths and the weaknesses in our software. If we “make the rounds” and chat with the cell operators, we will learn many ways to help them be successful!

Creativity, imagination and energy are the hallmarks of building successful software solutions that people will find useful. I believe these are the keys to becoming more efficient and, if done well, will stand the test of time.

Remember these words from Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon: “Work hard, have fun and make history!”

David Bluestein

David Bluestein

David is a Principal Engineer (Software), working in Data and Automation, in Engineering Test Services. He writes and maintains Facility Control Software for test cells in Phoenix and our Sky Harbor site. He also wrote and supported Vibration Analysis software in Phoenix, San Tan and Greer sites. David just celebrated 37 years at Honeywell.

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