Of old dogs and a brand-name education

Developing Your Potential columnist Dick Morley explains how tricks can be taught to mature engineers and that an education should consist not only of knowledge, but also of personal branding.

By Dick Morley


efore I wrote this column I asked Shirley, my bride of almost 50 years, about its topic: continuing education. She responded with the opinion that we “geeks” are narrow and socially challenged. She said “Education should include more than the job."

"Not so." said I. "Somebody has to build the bridges." Her lesson is that we look at old farms with nostalgia and old factories with disdain. Old maps used to show industrial and commercial enterprises as part of the community. Not today. The new telephone book listings do not have a section for us industry guys and gals. Movie villains are well-dressed, polite and own the property. The heroes are squatters—violent and against any change. The world has changed and so must we. Our education has to be refreshed and brought up to date.

Not to worry, Dick Morley is not going "new age." We do, however, need to continue to learn to communicate and construct the processes and devices necessary for the future. New technologies and processes are evolving. Our education in high school and college did not really prepare us for the outside world. The apprentice system really is the appendix in the book of life. You all know about the classes taught at the local schools so let's examine other roads to knowledge.


"Your education should consist of two major elements: knowledge and branding. Try to understand that self-branding is not BS."

Conferences are one of my quickie speed trips into the near future. Don't go to the usual company-recommended conference. Go to the one they forbid; the small conference in the strange city that will spur you into new frameworks of knowledge. The best conference is likely the one that you have to pay for.

Classes at the local university are OK, but not great. The best are the intense 1-week immersion classes. Don't attend the ones that offer two nights a week for the rest of your life; jump in and get wet. Basics are the best. I used to take a math class every 5-10 years. I never used the math, but it sure exercised my rusty neurons. The basics, physics, math and writing are tools of necessity no matter where the future takes us. PowerPoint and presentation skills are also important. Facts do not speak for themselves; we are their voices. To do a good engineering job we need to convince the check writers. Without the money, the good ideas will die.

Reading has always been my best resource. Diversity of literature is the key to the success of learning by the book. Whatever you read can be enjoyed then discarded, but the flotsam left behind will help unclog thinking. But note that I would never recommend any of those "1-minute whatevers" or any of those fashionable, but often unproven, business-oriented tracts.

Sadly, many learning experiences are experienced in a lecture hall or meeting room. Some of these meetings can be productive, if a tad too long. How do we know whether a meeting is valuable? Meeting metrics are straightforward. The tests for a bad meeting include:
* Does your bladder often need emptying?
* Do you drink lots of diet cola?
* Do you take copious notes on your laptop?
* Do you know the answers before the question is asked?
* Do you try to balance your sitting cheeks for comfort?
* Is the talk being given by a PhD or an economist?

If you notice a number of  these symptoms, think about leaving—quick.

Your education should consist of two major elements: knowledge and branding. Try to understand that self-branding is not BS. Knowledge is available from many local sources. Branding, however comes from obtaining credentials from the right schools. The Massachussetts Institute of Technology (MIT), for example, has been offering summer courses for 50 programs. The classes they offer seek to answer the question, "How do I assimilate the information I need to stay competitive?" Interested? Contact MIT at web.mit.edu/professional. For branding, one need not be concerned about course content, only the college name. Check it out. You are never too old to learn or to learn that it is OK to be smart.

Dick Morley is proprietor of
www.barn.org and can be reached at morley@barn.org.
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