Saturday, November 4, 2017

Ten years of experience, or one year’s experience ten times?

The question shown above, about whether most of your experience really counts, appeared in a Refuse 2 Be Boring blog post by Joseph Popovich on October 21, 2017 titled When 10 x 1 = 1. How do you rate experience? I remember my father saying something similar when he was recruiting engineers back when I was in high school, five decades ago.

When I searched on Google to see where it came from, I found an excellent quotation by Steve McConnell on page 832 of his 2004 book, Code Complete: 

“The bottom line on experience is this: if you work for 10 years, do you get 10 years of experience or do you get 1 year of experience 10 times? You have to reflect on your activities to get true experience. If you make learning a continuous commitment, you’ll get experience. If you don’t, you won’t, no matter how many years you have under your belt.”

But it goes back much further. I found another version by W. F. McMullen in an article titled Engineering Education - Have We a Problem? which appeared in the January 1962 of the Engineering Journal (from Canada) on page 54:

“It is the obligation of industry to provide the climate for growth, and where necessary, the tools. Experience alone is not necessarily the best teacher; it is the slowest and very likely the most expensive. Ten years of experience is not too valuable if it is one year of experience repeated 10 times.” 

What matters is to not be just coasting, running on cruise-control, or going through the motions. I remember an example from over two decades ago, where our just doing a “same as last time” failed misearably.  

We had gotten the water inlet hose from a washing machine to analyze for cause of failure. The insurance company who sent it in had paid the loss, and now wanted to pass the bill on to the manufacturer – a process called subrogation. There was no manufacturer identification on the outside of the hose, but the insured had given the claims adjuster a purchase receipt that was supposed to identify them. 

Then the hose manufacturer sent an engineer to visit us and inspect the failed hose. He told me to cut off a three-inch length from the other end of the hose, split it longitudinally, and then make a cut parallel to the surface and peel back the outer cover from the inner tube to reveal the braided reinforcement yarns inside. There also was a colored maker yarn inside. He said, that’s not MY COLOR, so THIS is not MY problem. See you later.

Oops! We hadn’t known about those marker yarns. Now we had to research them to find who really had made that hose. The story behind them was that the Society of Automotive Engineers (later SAE International) had a standard called SAE J1401 for hydraulic brake hose assemblies which had an appendix that listed a set of marker yarn color identification codes (one to three colors) they assigned to different manufacturers. The Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) decided that was a great idea for all kinds of hoses. They mentioned it in their Hose Handbook, and they created a broader standard coordinated with SAE. Other products like wire rope also may contain identification.

The painting of an unidentified man came from Wikimedia Commons, and the painting of acute dementia came from the U. S. National Library of Medicine.  

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