Sports Drought offers Opportunities in Disguise
With the current strikes in professional baseball and hockey, there may be an opportunity to move some of our free spectating time onto the playing field of our own careers. For example, this could be the ideal time to expand our involvement in activities like technical societies.
Whatever your discipline, take a fresh look at its technical societies, technical meetings and trade conferences. In our field, organizations like the Institute of Environmental Sciences (IES) offer accessibility to industry peers, help keep us up-to-date and credible, and certainly improve our visibility in the universe of contamination control.
Joining is the first step. Becoming involved is the next. There are at least five ways to participate, each with benefits to us and to the organization.
l Technical Information
l Technical Actions
l Social Contacts
Networking is the lubricant of human activity and interaction. Like it or not, we don`t live in a vacuum, and human interactions are becoming paramount to the success of the human race. Networking methodically builds a collection of contacts and information about the value of these contacts in our activities.
A technology network helps us find individuals whose technical knowledge is valuable, provides an organized method-perhaps an evolving database-on how, when and where to contact individuals, how cooperative a contact may be, areas of mutual interest, tips on how our knowledge supplements their knowledge as a clue to areas of collaboration and cooperation.
Well-tended networks are important to most of us in every aspect of life. Even a great artist will be a failure if there isn`t a network of observers to appreciate the work. Building a strong technical network is the binding factor in accomplishing all the desired results from participating in technical activities.
The second benefit is the exchange of technical information. It`s important to recognize that these exchanges take place on several levels, and to cultivate all of them. Some of the most valuable exchanges take place outside the structure of a conference program.
They may be as informal as discussions of our work, results, accomplishments, problems and hurdles with old or new friends at a coffee break, at a meal or over a cocktail.
Participation usually provides us with formal publications from the technical society and fresh perspectives from our network concerning books, videos, and other sources of technical information we may overlook when operating in relative isolation back at work.
Technical papers, formal discussion sessions, and conversations with suppliers all spring from involvement and participation. Our perspective widens.
The third benefit is technical action. This is the practical implementation of the information we have garnered. Technical societies provide a framework for us to help in creating national or international standards and practices, preparing and presenting a paper or article, running the local activities or chapter of a national organization, or helping organize national and international events.
It`s in these areas that the combined expertise of the network can become the basis of leading-edge technical recommendations or standards. It can stimulate the creation of high-quality papers, courses and tutorials that serve the needs of the technical community.
A good example for all of us is the work that Stan Baber, a retired Boeing employee and the education chair of the Northwest IES chapter, is doing with the schools in the Seattle area. Stan is working through the IES and with other technical societies to bring an awareness of high technology to the students in our school system; an effort we could all support.
The fourth benefit is representation, by which I mean the role the technical society or organization plays in representing the interests of your specific profession. Job security, continuation of earned benefits and the 40-hour work week are in jeopardy in this age of downsizing. Many changes detrimental to the professional are pushed in the name of competitive pressure, when in fact inept management may be willing to sacrifice experienced employees to show a better bottom line to stockholders…a short-term fix for a long-term problem.
Technical societies haven`t been very assertive in the past. But, as corporations become increasingly reluctant to foot the bill for professional dues and other technical activities for employees, societies must wake up to the fact that they are now representing individuals, not corporations. Technical societies need you now more than ever before.
Engineers have not been strong supporters of participation and involvement unless their companies have paid the bill. It`s time to pick up some of the burden and work on our own behalf. An investment of $100 could cover membership and participation at a local level, and $1,000 or less usually covers participation in a national meeting.
Often, companies are more willing to provide support if individuals demonstrate they`re interested enough to put some of their own skin into the project.
Finally, social contacts are also a key benefit of technical societies. Although this isn`t usually mentioned, one of the most important long range benefits of participation is the opportunity to meet new people and form friendships. This fall, when my wife and I drove from Vermont to California to attend the CleanRooms `94 West show in Santa Clara, one of the real joys of the trip was stopping across the country to visit some of these friends.
Quite frankly, the real bottom line to involvement is not self-promotion. That`s a byproduct. The main benefit is the invigoration that comes with a change of perspective. No doubt some of you are reading this and saying: “Yeah, yeah. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.” But time has also marched on since you were that young hard-charging engineer. Some invigoration might be just the thing to pick up your life and contribute to those around you.
A friend of mine who left a giant corporation 10 years ago to work for himself says three things are critical to survival in our changing work environment. They are accessibility, credibility and visibility. Involvement in technical societies can help provide all three. n
Harold Fitch is president of Future Resource Development, a consulting firm in Burlington, VT, specializing in cleanroom education and problem-solving. He conducts international training seminars for CleanRooms` shows and seminars.