Saturday, December 22, 2007

Advice to the young at heart

In the fifteen years since I left the Beeb I've employed & supervised a dozen engineers and a couple of runners/work experience types. Some of them have blown me away with how keen they are and other have totally underwhelmed me with their eagerness! If I had any advice then it would fall into a few categories

  • Timekeeping - the difference between being a few minutes early and a bit late equates to maybe ten minutes extra in bed but from your supervisor's point of view it is a world of difference. Are you serious about what you do or are you just showing up so that you get your pay cheque? The Micawber principle applies. Also - the people who I've known who are easy about their timekeeping at the start of the working day tend to be sticklers come the end of it.
  • Are you aiming to give your best or merely doing as little as you can get away with? I know modern employment law encourages the latter - all this business of verbal and then several written warnings means that lazy people can gauge where the bar is and then stay just above it. The irony is that people who set out to impress the boss with how hard they work invariably enjoy their labour more and the day flies by.
  • Do you try and better yourself during the quiet periods - if you're an engineer then no doubt there are areas where you know little and knowing more would make you a better, more rounded individual. In my line (broadcast engineering) I've known lots of people who do what they do and nothing else - vision engineers who never stray into the workshop to do some equipment maintenance, Avid support engineers who never take an interest in systems design etc. If you call yourself a television engineer then you should (as a matter of course) be able to (or at least aiming yourself towards) rack a studio camera, build and configure an Avid/FCP workstation from scratch, re-head and align a VTR, calibrate a grade-1 monitor and configure a variety of internet routers and firewalls. Specialisation is for insects.
  • Take your employer's IT seriously - I knew one engineer who religiously backed-up his pr0n and illegal MP3 collection but never bothered with his work - when his laptop's drive died we lost a load of customer data, but at least the filth and music was safe! After all - someone else is paying for the computer and bandwidth and if you're doing more personal stuff on work time than actual work then something is wrong. Also - if you're serious get to know all three modern OSes - knowing Linux as well as the MacOS and Windows inside out can only make you better at IT in general. Those engineers I know who have bothered to move out of their Windows comfort zone are all the better for it.
  • Spread all you learn around - trying to cultivate a guru status makes no sense - do you really want to be the only engineer who gets the call at three AM?!
  • Take electrical, chemical and mechanical safety very seriously. If you're responsible for PAT testing a system do it twice. If you can test something both by measuring it and then using the system it's intended for then do it - nobody likes to have to return to a system that should have been left working.
  • Finally - don't view anything as being beneath you - if something needs doing and you can then you'll be all the better for getting it done. Have you got a couple of hours to kill and the workshop needs sweeping - I do it.

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