Category Archives: Uncategorized

Engineering in 2014: A Tale of Two Centuries

I have this fine morning read three articles that allowed me to travel about 50 years in time in the space of an hour.

(1) The first is yet another Fleet Street article, alleging that UK industry has insufficient engineers for its specialist sectors. That’s news? It only provides further evidence that over two decades, government and industry in the UK (and I surmise, much of the western world) have failed (or refused) to solve a solvable problem.

The article suggests that if you’re a well qualified engineer, you’re sitting pretty. The world is your oyster, you can name your price and laugh at the days ahead.

What’s weird is that a quick perusal of readers’ comments on the article will tell you that engineers today feel like doing anything but laughing.
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Good human connections trump technology every time

An intriguing blog post has me reflecting on the value of social media, and LinkedIn specifically.

Amongst my industry peers, as well as amongst my age group, I was a very early adopter of LinkedIn. When I started playing with it, I remember thinking:

If this thing takes off, it will be the end of the recruitment industry.

My thinking was that LinkedIn would make it easy for the talented and the talent seekers to connect directly, thereby making the recruiter unnecessary. Cut out the middle man. Makes sense, right?

Eight years along, and nothing of the kind has happened. Recruiters have taken to LinkedIn like ducks to water. Most employers, the people actually needing the talent, have stayed on the sidelines. If anything, roughly two-thirds of the unsolicited connection invitations I receive on LinkedIn are from recruiters, seeking to expand their pool of possible candidates.

Just goes to show, you can’t predict human behaviour.

In hindsight, it does makes sense.

Most employers of any size above 25 have developed procedures to govern their human interactions, thereby turning them into machines. Social machines, to be sure, but machines nevertheless.

Machines that lose parts by wear, failure or attrition, want those parts replaced by more parts, identical if possible.

The fact that the part comes wrapped in a human being is, well, coincidental.

The machine’s control system would rather throw money at the problem (read: hire a recruiter to source the necessary people, sorry, parts).

The programme manager who’s short 15 engineers wants engineers in here now. I don’t care if they’re male, female, green, blue, black, what they look like, what their names are. They just have to be reasonably likeable, have skills x, y and z, and fit into our salary structure. Hurry up, go get ’em.

Time spent networking and building human relationships is, well, time wasted. (Or just plain scary.) Much easier to throw money at the problem, and get someone to do our networking for us. (I’m not sure it is, actually, but I can’t prove it.)

This rant is not to be critical of recruiters whatsoever. They deliver a service that their customers don’t want to do themselves.

What IS now clear is that it’s foolish to think that social media, or any other technology, can dig us out of a hole that only the patient building of valuable human relationships can solve.

The ones who invest that time and energy are the ones who win.

More turbulence ahead for Big Aerospace

I have generally refrained from making observations on current events in the aerospace world. Today’s an exception.

The union of Boeing machinists has rejected Boeing latest contract offer, which Boeing was using to extract pension and benefit concessions from the workforce, else they will move the work for the proposed 777X elsewhere.

I’m not taking sides in the argument. But I do suggest this:

Boeing managers, this is what happens when you treat your skilled engineers and technicians like chess pieces to move around on the board. They sweated blood for you on the 777 and 787. This is how you thank such sacrifice?

Union employees, this is what happens when you entrust your career and future to a large lumbering giant, in a world of ageing workforces, ballooning debts and unrealistic expectations. Nice cushy pensions and benefits (for either managers or workers) are not realistic expectations. Quit trying to live in a world that’s long gone. Start preparing for an ex-Boeing life.

Both sides: Wake up, quit trying to fight old battles, and collaborate to reinvent Big Commercial Aerospace in the 21st Century.

And those of us spectating from the sidelines in this particular skirmish, don’t smirk. This problem is coming your way soon. Plan for it now.

Big Aerospace needs to be reinvented. It needs to re-learn how to think Light. Nimble. Agile. Collaborative.

Otherwise it might soon become Small Aerospace.

A student’s take on studying aerospace

It’s time for another guest post!

I mentioned a few weeks ago that there was a sudden spike of traffic on this site. Well here is the guy who was probably responsible for it. Seems he liked the site, so he told a few friends, who told a few friends, who told . . . . . .

I quickly found myself chatting online with a very switched-on graduate student named Ilhan Akcay. We agreed that he should write a post.

This will obviously be of interest mainly to those approaching or in their university years, and less to those who are post- university. Nevertheless, I’m grateful for his writing this post. Now that I’m in the second half of my ball game, my memories are bound to be a little hazy, and times and technology have changed a lot.

Here is Ilhan’s take on what it’s like to actually do a course of study in aerospace engineering.

Continue reading A student’s take on studying aerospace

Happy Birthday! And a Question

I never was very good at keeping track of birthdays.

Aerospace Nation is a year old! In fact, it was a year old last month.

Applause, please! (Clap, clap, clap . . . . . )

Over the last year, the site has been launched, dropped (for several months, due to personal circumstances), relaunched, re-themed, and visited over 6000 times, including over 300 in one day (which made my jaw drop, because I hadn’t posted anything new for several days – Whoever was responsible for that, thank you!)

Indeed, to all of you who have visited, to all who have commented or emailed . . . . . Thank you. You have made the site a success.

I’ve sought to write material that helps 21st Century professionals forge a successful and satisfying career wherever you are, with a particular slant towards those working in aerospace.

In all of that material, I’ve had to make guesses at what your situation and problems were. Educated guesses, because I know the industry inside out. But still guesses.

So for my sake as well as yours, I’d like to turn the microphone over to you.
Continue reading Happy Birthday! And a Question

3D Printshow London, Oct 20-12

Following on from my last post, I’d like to encourage people to consider going to the first ever 3D Printshow London, Oct 20-21.

Just looking over the planned events for the show is enough to stimulate overwhelm. (But it’s cool overwhelm.)

In his latest book Makers, Chris Anderson argues that we are on the edge of a new cottage industry revolution. It is now possible, for very little initial investment, to conceive new products, and bring them to market, in very short time.

In short, to quickly become an entrepreneur producing real physical stuff (as opposed to just digital stuff).

Just how easy it would be for traditional aerospace techies to make such a career leap is not immediately clear to me.

But for those of seeking to change ourselves, and our industry, for the better, it should be a viable career option.

Who’s to say, 10 years from now, that it won’t be possible to raise money for a new aircraft design on Kickstarter, make most of it using additive manufacturing, and get it into flight test in 12 months?

Heck, Burt Rutan, from the late 1970’s onwards, averaged one new design into flight every year, without Kickstarter or additive manufacturing.

The 21st Century technological culture gap

I’ve recently become a Wired magazine junkie.

It’s been on the newsstand for almost two decades, and I’ve read the occasional Wired article online. But for whatever reason, I’d never actually peeked inside a hard copy until just a few months ago, when one of my teenagers came home with one.

It’s amazing what you learn just by imitating your kids.

Lo and behold, last week Wired‘s chief editor Chris Anderson came to town, lecturing to promote his latest book Makers.

The promotion worked. I bought the book, and am now devouring it. (On my Kindle, where I could buy it for half the price of the hard copy being flogged at the promotion. So the promotion was only 50% efficient. Ha, take that!)

I expected the lecture to be about 3D printing. And it was, but only in part.

Continue reading The 21st Century technological culture gap

And now for something completely different . . . .

On the odd chance that you’re wondering why someone would want to create a site like this, I thought I would tell you a bit of my own story.

I am a British engineer, living and working near Bristol, England.

However, if you bump into me in the street and have the misfortune to strike up a conversation, you’ll quickly detect something amiss in my accent. That’s because I’m also Canadian, and have spent most of my life in the Canadian provinces of Québec and Ontario. I actually grew up speaking both English and French, depending on who I was playing with. I was very proud of being able to speak two languages, and it’s a source of shame to me that my French has deteriorated over the years. Although that’s probably unavoidable, given that I have generally found myself surrounded by uniligual anglophones.

One of my earliest memories was of a visit from my grandparents. They would drive down from just outside Montréal to my home in Québec City. To give my parents some time off, they would take us kids to the local airport. It wasn’t a busy place at all, but Air Canada did fly some Vickers Viscounts and Vanguards through there. I would be absolutely transfixed by these amazing machines. The noise made by the props seemed musical.And all the movements on the ground, passengers getting on and off, taxiing to and from the runway, the take-off . . . . . wow.

Continue reading And now for something completely different . . . .

We have seen the enemy, and it is us

We get overlooked and taken for granted, us aerospace techies. Most of the time, we don’t say much. We just plug along, design a few widgets (which happen to form part of an airborne inanimate object), write a few documents (o-kay, a lot of documents), attend a few boring meetings (o-kay, a lot of boring meetings), and send a lot (read: a lot) of emails.

Sometimes we shout in those meetings, and once or twice in a career we might even punch somebody. But mostly, we just let our noggins collide over the problem at hand, play Death by Powerpoint, and make the occasional decision. Towards the end, we pour ourselves another cup of 10W40 from the thermos and wonder if there are any doughnuts left. Then we drift back to the desk (Nope, none left), flip up the laptop, send a few more viruses by email, and around 4.30 when the office quiets down, start to get some work done.

Continue reading We have seen the enemy, and it is us

The spirit of Steve Jobs meets aerospace

Um, welcome to Aerospace Nation. This would be the introductory post.

I’m starting this site on a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of whim. (Pun intended.) And as of yet, I don’t have a really clear idea where it’s going to go.

My motive stems from a comment left on my own personal blog by a young chap newly-graduated, and trying to land his first job in the field he’s gone into debt for.

It left me thinking, This sucks.

This guy should not be struggling like this.

Continue reading The spirit of Steve Jobs meets aerospace