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The last question in our survey asked readers to rate which of five technologies—wireless, nano-technology, alternative energy sources, increased computing speed and power and Internet-based monitoring and control—would change the automation landscape the most. Wireless and Internet-based monitoring and control were in a statistical dead heat, at 43.2% and 42.6%, respectively.
Larry Wells says they will all matter to one degree or another. “Each will change it in a different way. Wireless will make things cheaper. We’ll get more information at a lower cost. Nano-tech could change the whole world if it lives up to its advertisement, but it’s still very far in the future. Alternative energy will not change automation tech, but will create more job opportunities. The computer speed thing will change the landscape the least. We have Internet-based monitoring and control now. It will change the location of where we do some things, but won’t change what we do. No one thing will supersede or preclude the others.”
Will the changing nature of the job cause automation engineers to morph into corporate drones, albeit ones with a better grasp of physics and chemistry than the average bear? Will the emphasis on “soft skills” and being “generalists” turn them into the English majors of technology−nice people, no doubt, but not really experts in anything? Should they just pack it in and get their MBAs instead?
The majority of those surveyed would answer a resounding, “No!” But the question is why.
Perhaps it has to do with Larry Wells’ elephant story. This is the one where the man pays a hunter with a big gun to keep the elephants away from his store. When it is pointed out to him that there are no elephants in the country outside the zoo, he says, “See. It’s working.”
“I use that story to explain why we spend money on automation engineers,” says Wells. “Why are we paying these people when the system is working on its own? It’s working on its own because you had the people there. It’s keeping away the elephants.”
Novapharm’s Mark Wells has a slightly more romantic take on the profession. He says, “I work with Nels Tyring, and he says, you don’t go into this for the money, but because it’s a really interesting career. Monetary rewards are great, but you have to love your job. There are the intellectual rewards. You get some interaction with things that move and go. You get varied projects. There’s a great satisfaction in performing these jobs, and a great sense of accomplishment.”
For the complete results of our survey, go to www.controlglobal.com/futuresurvey.html.
For a look at how women in the engineering workplace may change it see “Work/Life Balance from our June.
ControlGlobal.com is exclusively dedicated to the global process automation market. We report on developing industry trends, illustrate successful industry applications, and update the basic skills and knowledge base that provide the profession's foundation.