ISA Interchange

Welcome to the official blog of the International Society of Automation (ISA).

This blog covers numerous topics on industrial automation such as operations & management, continuous & batch processing, connectivity, manufacturing & machine control, and Industry 4.0.

The material and information contained on this website is for general information purposes only. ISA blog posts may be authored by ISA staff and guest authors from the automation community. Views and opinions expressed by a guest author are solely their own, and do not necessarily represent those of ISA. Posts made by guest authors have been subject to peer review.

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How to Achieve Career Success in Process Automation

It's your mission. Know yourself. Seek self-improvement, set the example in all things, care, communicate, Stand for your values and duties. Dreaming makes it seem possible, but doing it makes it real. Wishing and even believing do not make it so, and they detract from the insight and effort that make it happen.

In process automation and its related endeavors, success requires a lot of knowledge, insight, skill, and effort. Focus is important. As practitioners, we concentrate a lot on technology, and many of us spend hours lost in thought about the science that forms the basis of what we do. At the same time, large or interdisciplinary projects need not only cooperation, but teamwork. 

Success in our early stages involves getting it right. As our experience grows, it involves continuously "making it work" ever better. As our insight deepens, it involves optimization of the practice we know and the vision of new frontiers beyond the horizon.

Our computers only do what they are told—at least for now. It is the people in any process who move it forward. This is why any given project involves you. Remember that you were selected for some part of an important project because someone responsible felt you could provide some needed result better than the alternatives. That result might relate to science, engineering, technology, or the inspiration and leadership needed to drive the success of the project team. This spawns thinking about personal capabilities and motivations that are always a component of accomplishmentand especially notable success.

The cover of the first book on leadership the Army handed me, back in 1966, was illustrated by a soldier swinging his arm forward. The caption said, "Follow me!" Leadership is a key ingredient in success, and it appears in the strangest ways in the strangest places. I recall a nerdy friend who had difficulty having a pleasant lunch with co-workers, but in technical aspects, he had so many ways to motivate a team to not only correct conclusions but to more optimal and insightful ones. A common comment became, “Brad wouldn’t stop yet,” or “Brad would do it better,” or “It isn’t 'Brad-optimal' yet.” Brad provided valuable leadership, just by being Brad. While he seemed to love his work, it's hard to imagine he ever appreciated his full impact on those who worked with him.

detecting leaks

If you would like more information on how to purchase the author's book, Detecting Leaks in Pipelinesclick this link.

Leadership, the ability to motivate it, and the path to results it provides is important in any human venture, especially those requiring the broad diversity of skills that many of our projects do. With that in mind, it is worth reflecting for a moment on some key concepts about the you in your work.

  • Know yourself, your preferences, strengths, weaknesses, desires, interests, and ambitions that are part of who you are. No matter how great you might presently be, you can be better. Seek self-improvement. Strive to expand and improve your skills, attitude, and dedicationbe all you can be. When I was in high school, the Harlem Globetrotters played at our school. In a discussion with students, one of the players at the time talked about how to become great. He said that when he was in high school, his coach asked him what basketball skills he was going to improve over the summer. He was shocked by the comment, and responded that he led the league in scoring now, and played the game as well as anyone he had played with or against. The coach said, "Yes, but you could be better." That triggered a thought process for the high schoolerthere was a long shot in that championship game, there was the one-step defensive move that stopped a drive, and so on. He walked out on the court and took a long shot and watched the ball arc toward the basket and thought, "Yes! I could do this betterfaster and from farther away." It became part of his life to think about not only success, but also improvement. Be all you can be, but keep trying to be better!
  • Care about your people, and care about your mission. Put you into it. The mission is your assignment and purpose, and it cannot happen without your peopleyour team. Keep that firmly in mind. Communication with your team is an important means of conveying information and paying attention to their needs, concerns, and expectations. It also helps the team focus.
  • Stand for your values and duties. Your team will respect consistent and logical application of principles. They will admire a leader who commits to and spares no effort in doing what is ethical, proper, and required.
  • Set the example in all things. People love to see success, and tend to shun and reject failure or things that look like it. Exemplify what you want your team to be, and how you want them to act. A leader is endowed with privilege and authority, but that only works when you do the right things the right way. Become the best example for everything you advocate.

Finally, one important concept seems to distract many upcoming people. There is a pertinent and important quote that suggests, "If you can dream it, you can make it so." That is absolutely a true statement. The modern perversion of it, though, removes the you and substitutes some amorphous god-like societal purpose, claiming this force will somehow make your life what you dream it will be. Dreaming will not make it so. You will.

Once upon a time, I was reviewing the program for training new soldiers associated with a force expansion. The senior soldier leader involved in the project observed that success was possiblehundreds of soldiers had proven thatbut achieving success required desire. He went on to point out we could teach them, develop them, provide opportunities for experience, and fine-tune results, but individual success depended on each of them. They had to want it.

Dreams help create vision, and vision helps translate desire into reality. This translation into reality involves the focused manifestation of your available and necessary desire, ideas, and other fundamentals. In my experience, there is no shortcut for that path. The psychiatrist Carl Jung observed, "Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes." The you on the path to making a dream "so" is a very important part.

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Edward J. Farmer
Edward J. Farmer
Edward J. Farmer, PE, ISA Fellow, is the author of the ISA book "Detecting Leaks in Pipelines." He has more than 40 years of experience in the "high tech" part of the oil industry.

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