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ESD Between Engineers and Technicians

ESD Between Engineers and Technicians - RF CafeMy electronics career began in the USAF as a radar system maintenance specialist and did not have exposure to engineers except a rare visit by a communications officer during system certification tests. Following separation (aka "getting out"), I went to work as an electronics technician for Westinghouse at the Oceanic Division in Annapolis, Maryland. It was the first time I worked alongside engineers. My nature is to be subservient and respectful toward people put in charge of my activities, whether at work or otherwise, so I was surprised to witness an underlying rift that persisted between engineers and technicians. A minority of the techs seemed to harbor resentment for the engineers and took every opportunity to highlight their mistakes, no matter how minor. Derisive comments were usually reserved for the benefit of co-workers, not the engineers themselves (backbiting). I admired most of the engineers enough that it motivated me to spend many years taking classes part-time to earn my own BSEE degree.

On one occasion a production test technician discovered an incorrect voltage reference level on a comparator circuit in a very complex mixed signal circuit that was part of a towed sonar array for the U.S. Navy. He spent a good week telling everyone who would listen how dumb the engineer was and how smart he was. "Those d**n engineers have all that schooling and can't even design a simple comparator circuit, and they get paid many times what I make," to paraphrase from distant memory. The engineer was actually one of the company's top designers with many highly successful projects to his credit, and a nice guy as well. The technician was know to make his own share of mistakes, including applying incorrect voltage to circuits under test and unnecessarily failing an entire batch of boards because of it.

On the other hand, another engineer I worked with there was truly a legend in his own mind. He was a Ph.D type who was never wrong, even when he was. The guy designed the transducer elements for sonar arrays. When the metal plating on a new type ceramic element detatched during a soldering process, he spent days blaming the incompetent technicians who had all (including me) been trained and qualified in NASA-quality soldering techniques. As you might guess, the problem turned out being a faulty lamination procedure he devised. The guy left our clean room assembly area in a rage and never returned, even after a redesign corrected the problem.

What brings these situations to mind, you might ask? Well, being an avid reader of the Sherlock Ohms series published by Design News, I sometimes detect a hint of the same type of tension between engineers and technicians. A couple days ago a story titled, "Capacitor Problem? Replace the Contactor" was posted and then today another titled, "Sneak Path Snafus Circuit Board," appeared. The two scenarios exactly illustrate the rift I have witnessed throughout my electronics career.

Posted  September 13, 2013

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