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Control Report from Jim Montague: Nobody is a nobody

July 14, 2021
Everyone has something interesting to say, if they're willing and given the chance

As usual, I was just about to write another column about how much I appreciate the respondents to Control's 2021 salary survey. I wanted to highlight that they once again report valuing challenging work far above pay and benefits, and tell everyone how much I appreciate their personal reliability and steadfastness, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic that has sickened and killed so many people and severely impacted everyone in the past 18 months.

I've done it before, but I also wanted to shift a little well-deserved spotlight onto the respondents and their fellow control engineers, operators, system integrators, managers and other technical professionals. They typically labor in obscurity, even though they keep all their process applications and industries up and running, and directly or indirectly make sure the rest of us have the clean water, wastewater services, electricity, oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, food and beverages, and other essential products and services we need to stay healthy and happy.

However, my plan for an admiring column was interrupted when one of the respondents, who I interviewed for this month's "Steady as she goes" cover article on the salary survey (p. 22), sent an email asking to be anonymous or back out of the story. What struck me is this individual added that he was "a nobody to no one" in his industry. I guess this was his rationalization for refusing to be quoted and identified.

Well, no problem. I strenuously avoid unnamed sources and examples because they have no credibility with readers, who tell me that all anonymous examples are most likely fiction. Consequently, if someone doesn't want to be interviewed or quoted, then it's grudgingly OK with me. I understand that many professionals labor under non-disclosure agreements, or simply work for companies that don't want to risk giving away intellectual property by talking about the technical details of their processes.

In my case, I just want people to feel good about what they're saying, and not feel like they were ambushed, burned, mistreated or misrepresented. I want them to be glad that they stood up and were counted. While I don't mind if they're ruffled or agitated, I also don't want them to be too ticked off. This is because the process control community—like any a small town—requires some added diplomacy because it's likely that I'll be back asking to interview them or their colleagues again someday.

Politeness aside, there's still a price for not participating in articles and other public forums. It's mainly paid by the readers, their professional community, and even by the source that can't or won't be quoted. Not only are some colorful experiences, best practices and encouraging words lost, but every member of a community is diminished when one doesn't communicate with the others.

I've likely mentioned before that I think of any print or online publication as a big dinner table, where everyone gathers to share "what they learned in school" today or the grown-up equivalents. Whether a community is geographically or professionally defined, these exchanges and interactions are what bind it and its residents together. Without them, I don't think a community can really be thought of as existing in a meaningful and useful way—it's just a place with some disassociated people in it.

Granted, some comments may be more epic and momentous than others. However, after more than a few thousand interviews, I can confidently say that everyone has something interesting, useful and even innovative to say, as well as a heroic story to tell, even of it's not super-heroic.

Everyone is somebody, even if fear keeps some from letting others know it. All that's required is a little encouragement on the part of the listener, and a little courage on the part of the speaker. I still average just one or two interviews for every half-dozen requests on a good day or dozen or more requests on bad day, but I still say the input I get and can relay to readers and others is more than worth it.

About the author: Jim Montague
About the Author

Jim Montague | Executive Editor

Jim Montague is executive editor of Control. 

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