Episode 69 — Credentials

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diplomaWe talk with Gary Bertoline about graphics communication, computer-aided design, credentials, and competency-based degree programs in this episode of The Engineering Commons.

  • Adam is less stressed now that he’s earned his professional engineer (PE) license.
  • Our guest for this episode is Gary Bertoline, Dean of Purdue University’s College of Technology. In addition to his administrative work, Dean Bertoline has authored a number of books on graphics communication and computer-aided design (CAD).
  • Graphics is a communication medium, just like language or mathematics.
  • Mental manipulation of figures and objects in three-dimensional space is known as spatial visualization.
  • Jeff is old enough to have taken a drafting course in college that required T-squares, compasses, and triangular scales.
  • Carmen expresses his desire that electrical engineers possess better drafting skills.
  • According to Dean Bertoline, computer gaming can help improve visualization skills. So now you have an excuse!
  • Ancestor to today’s CAD software, Sketchpad was a computer graphics program written in 1963 by Ivan Sutherland. (A YouTube video shows the software in action.)
  • Autodesk and Dassault Systems are large companies that have survived in the competitive computer-aided drafting (CAD) industry.
  • Many modern CAD packages include modules designed to assist with product lifecycle management (PLM).
  • Brian mentions the use of a STEP file, which is an industry standard (ISO 10303) for exchanging 3D model information. The acronym stands for “Standard for the Exchange of Product model data.”
  • HFSS is a commercial finite-element model solver for electromagnetic structures (owned by Ansys). Carmen isn’t sure of the acronym’s meaning, but Wikipedia tell us that it originally stood for “High Frequency Structural Simulator.”
  • Carmen’s “E&M” reference refers to “electricity and magnetism.”
  • Digital models can be made to behave as physical objects through the use of a physics engine, which is software that constrains the models to conform with “real-world” physical phenomena.
  • Professional credentials might take the form of academic degrees, academic certificates, professional certificates, digital badges, or physical artifacts.
  • Gary heads up Purdue’s Polytechnic Institute, which seeks to radically transform the undergraduate educational experience.
  • Purdue is one of 108 United States institutions listed by the Carnegie Foundation as being a very high research activity university.
  • Purdue University’s College of Technology was chartered in 1964, and it currently offers 30 undergraduate degree options across its seven academic departments.
  • The first Polytechnic was École Polytechnique, founded in 1794 and located in Palaiseau, France.
  • One can better understand the development and adoption of innovative technologies using the S Curve Framework.
  • Our guest walks us thorough some of his organization’s early experiences in establishing a competency-based degree program.
  • Jeff inquires whether competency badges might lead to employers defining their own unique sets of required competencies for potential employees.
  • Gary tells us that T-shaped professionals are being sought out by industrial firms.
  • Our guest mentions “Generation on a Tightrope,” a book that argues today’s students need a very different education from the one that their parents received.
  • Also mentioned is “Creating Innovators,” a book that explores how the educational process must change to encourage young people to become innovators.
  • Listeners will find additional information online about Purdue’s College of Technology, and the Purdue Polytechnic Institute.
  • Dean Bertoline can be reached via email at: bertoline -=+ at +=- purdue.edu.

Thanks to Jim Kelly for the photo titled “My Diploma.” Podcast theme music by Paul Stevenson.

Episode 68 — Engineering Expert

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expertJames Trevelyan speaks with us about the skills and talents of expert engineers, and how those of us who have not yet achieved “expert” status can improve our ability to complete engineering projects on time and within budget.

  • Brian feels he is becoming less of an expert as time goes along; there just seems to be so much to know!
  • Our guest is James Trevelyan, a professor of Mechatronics Engineering at The University of Western Australia.
  • Some of our listeners may remember Dr. Trevelyan from Episode 19. (Yes, Jeff said Episode 17 during the podcast, but he was wrong!)
  • Dr. Trevelyan has recently published a book, The Making of an Expert Engineer.
  • Our guest mentions the book by Louis Bucciarelli, Designing Engineers, as one of the few sources of information about what engineers actually do on the job.
  • Engineering provides great opportunities for making the world a better place… and for spending other people’s money!
  • Research indicates that engineers have trouble delivering reliable and predictable results.
  • Carmen quotes the singer Meatloaf, noting that “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad.”
  • James mentions the accomplishments of C.Y. O’Connor, an engineer who oversaw the construction of a water pipeline across uncharted regions of Australia in the late 19th century.
  • Our guest feels the skills needed to drive projects to completion have been largely lost as experienced engineers retire.
  • While Jeff longs to take engineering students out onto the factory floor, James indicates that some students aren’t particularly keen about participating in plant trips.
  • Engineers spend a lot of time teaching others, even if on an informal basis.
  • Peer instruction has proven effective in helping college students learn new material.
  • James mentions our prior interview with Dave Goldberg, in Episode 65.
  • Once again, we mention the Grinter report (pdf), which changed the course of engineering education in the United States.
  • ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc.) is the organization that accredits most engineering programs in the United States.
  • James has spoken with corporate leaders who actively work to dismiss engineering employees, seeing the engineers as unable to produce predictable results.
  • Engineers have a reputation for being unable to communicate with those in other professions.
  • Listeners who are curious about accrual accounting are directed to Episode 34, Accounting for Engineers.
  • Expert engineers accurately forecast what can be done, then deliver on their promises.
  • An ability to avoid problems is often the mark of an expert engineer, and is more highly valued than the ability to solve problems.
  • “Prudent engineers build on past practice as much as they can.”
  • Engineers rely a lot on unwritten (implicit) knowledge.
  • Michael Polanyi was a philosopher who suggested that “we know more than we can tell.”
  • Explicit knowledge can be written down, and easily transferred; this type of knowledge forms the basis for much of what is taught in universities.
  • Expert engineers do not rely solely on their own knowledge, but know how to build on the knowledge and abilities of others.
  • Supplements to James’ book are available online, including a classification of engineering knowledge (pdf).
  • University grades don’t have much relation to engineering performance, at least as evaluated by supervisors.
  • Young engineers with an ability to obtain assistance from seasoned engineers are more likely to experience career success than are those who find themselves unable to garner expert support.
  • James hopes that senior engineers will begin cataloging concepts and ideas that younger engineers need to learn and understand.
  • One important skill that has been lost among the current generation of engineers is the art of writing of technical specifications.
  • While prior guest Dave Goldberg champions Noticing, Listening, and Questioning (NLQ), our current guest dedicates a chapter of his book to similar observational activities, which he designates the “three neglected skills:” listening, seeing, and reading.
  • We debated the relative merits of programming languages in Episode 64; James tells us that programming among engineers is most frequently performed with Excel (and its accompanying Visual Basic language).
  • James can be reached via his website: JamesPTrevelyan.com.

Thanks to Ruth Hartnup for the photo titled “Expert Ethan.” Podcast theme music by Paul Stevenson.

Episode 67 — Pragmatic

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wrenchElectrical engineer John Chidgey joins us in this episode of The Engineering Commons to talk about ladder logic, podcasting, and an engineer’s role in making the world a better place.

  • An open invitation to discuss general engineering issues got Jeff started in the world of podcasting.
  • Carmen, Brian, and Adam became trapped involved as co-hosts on this podcast when Chris Gammell left the show.
  • Our guest for this episode is electrical engineer John Chidgey, who has worked in several engineering domains, including RF hardware, systems engineering, and the oil & gas industry. He also produces a weekly podcast, Pragmatic, and authors the Tech Distortion website.
  • Carmen and John are fans of making coffee with the Aeropress.
  • Citizens band (CB) radio served to interest John in electrical engineering.
  • John notes that there is a general trend toward standardization, as the costs of customization are too high for many companies.
  • For a while, at least, John had a job that may (or may not have) required a security clearance.
  • Our guest moved into the controls industry around 2003, installing programmable logic controllers (PLCs) for industrial clients.
  • Many PLCs can be programmed using ladder logic, which originally was nothing more than a schematic for wiring together electromechanical relays.
  • John has had some bad experiences programming PLCs with software implementing function block diagrams.
  • “Where there is a choice, there is a problem.”
  • After testing out several other podcast concepts, John launched the Pragmatic podcast to cover engineering topics in a practical and actionable manner.
  • John mentions the Hypercritical blog, written by John Siracusa.
  • Carmen is excited to read the recent OS X 10.10 Yosemite review that John Siracusa wrote for Ars Technica.
  • “Engineering is all about tradeoffs.”
  • In additional to covering technical topics, John’s podcast sometimes covers non-technical issues like weather forecasting and coffee.
  • John reveals that he loves using whiteboards.
  • A live chat room has recently been added as a feature of the Pragmatic podcast. Jeff doesn’t think he could handle the additional cognitive load while recording interviews.
  • We’ve gone meta with a podcast about podcasting!
  • John occasionally gets requests for career advice, although many times engineers write in to simply point out technical errors.
  • According to our guest, engineers can change the world by providing reliable services and infrastructure that will improve people’s lives.
  • John can be found on Twitter as @JohnChidgey and @PragmaticShow. His podcast is Pragmatic, and his website is Tech Distortion.

Thanks to Daniel Oines for the untitled photo of a crescent wrench. Podcast theme music by Paul Stevenson.

Practical insights for the engineering crowd