The following tip is from the ISA book by Greg McMillan and Hunter Vegas titled 101 Tips for a Successful Automation Career, inspired by the ISA Mentor Program. This is Tip #7, and was written by Hunter.
I have met many people who were infinitely smarter than I, and their intelligence was obvious to me within a few sentences of conversation. Conversely, I have met other people who were quick to inform me of their supposedly advanced intellect, and in most cases they were not very bright at all. If you have to tell people how smart you are, then you probably aren’t; and if you ARE smart, everyone will know it regardless of what you say.
Do not get hung up on showy displays of college degrees, awards, etc. because they may not be a good indication of a person’s ability. I know a great many people who never received a degree of any kind, yet they are some of the most knowledgeable and respected engineers in the field. Similarly, I know too many people who have advanced college degrees and have awards and recognition plaques all over their office walls, yet they are incapable of doing the simplest engineering designs. Like most people, I have tremendous respect for a person who is obviously brilliant yet downplays it.
Concept: If a person is extremely intelligent, it will be obvious to everyone after a casual conversation. However, the people who brag about their own intelligence are rarely as smart as they want you to think they are. The most talented and brilliant people will often say the least and listen the most.
Details: We have all encountered the type of person who feels obligated to display every award or plaque they ever owned, highlight their superior intelligence at every opportunity, and talk down to “the little man” whom they consider to be beneath them. Ironically, people like that are often not very gifted at all, but carry on the show to make themselves look that way. Do not ever allow yourself to be counted in that number.
On the other hand, it is quite impressive to meet individuals who do not have anything on their wall, constantly downplay themselves and their accomplishments, and yet are true geniuses. These people ask for others’ opinions and seek help from everybody, never put down others who are less educated or less knowledgeable, and are generally well liked and respected by all. Within moments of meeting and talking to a person like that, you know that he or she IS a genius, and yet they will never make mention of it. That is the person you want to emulate.
Never, EVER look down on a person because they lack the education or position that you have achieved. From the CEO to the lowest level employee, everyone knows something that you do not and they can often be valuable sources of information and new ideas. Treat them with respect, as you would want to be treated, and you will be amazed what they can teach you.
Watch-Outs: Such things as diplomas on the wall, awards prominently displayed on the shelves, early and frequent mentions of advanced degrees, insistence of being referred to as “Doctor.” Such a person is hard to miss. Do not be one of them.
Exceptions: Occasionally you will encounter a person who acts like a “know-it-all” and actually is a know-it-all. These people are fairly rare, but they do exist. They typically have strong, aggressive personalities and are smart enough to adapt their personality style to the situation. Dealing with such a person can be trying at times, but at least they have intelligence to back their bravado and their knowledge can be extremely helpful when you are faced with a technical dilemma.
Insight: Even though many technicians and operators may lack higher education, they are usually extremely knowledgeable of the plant and its operation. Their knowledge of the process and its hidden interactions and problems as well as the effort it takes to keep the plant running is invaluable to an engineer. Foster a strong relationship with them and listen when they offer information. They can be an excellent audience for evaluating new automation ideas and will often tell you what problems or pitfalls you might encounter. What is more, once they realize that they are being heard, they will provide new ideas and suggestions that might never have occurred to you. Cultivate those relationships, and you will reap rewards throughout your career.
Rule of Thumb: The smartest person in the room rarely has to prove it − everyone knows who he or she is. Learn to be that person.
About the Author
Gregory K. McMillan, CAP, is a retired Senior Fellow from Solutia/Monsanto where he worked in engineering technology on process control improvement. Greg was also an affiliate professor for Washington University in Saint Louis. Greg is an ISA Fellow and received the ISA Kermit Fischer Environmental Award for pH control in 1991, the Control magazine Engineer of the Year award for the process industry in 1994, was inducted into the Control magazine Process Automation Hall of Fame in 2001, was honored by InTech magazine in 2003 as one of the most influential innovators in automation, and received the ISA Life Achievement Award in 2010. Greg is the author of numerous books on process control, including Advances in Reactor Measurement and Control and Essentials of Modern Measurements and Final Elements in the Process Industry. Greg has been the monthly "Control Talk" columnist for Control magazine since 2002. Presently, Greg is a part time modeling and control consultant in Technology for Process Simulation for Emerson Automation Solutions specializing in the use of the virtual plant for exploring new opportunities. He spends most of his time writing, teaching and leading the ISA Mentor Program he founded in 2011.
Hunter Vegas, P.E., holds a B.S.E.E. degree from Tulane University and an M.B.A. from Wake Forest University. His job titles have included instrument engineer, production engineer, instrumentation group leader, principal automation engineer, and unit production manager. In 2001, he joined Avid Solutions, Inc., as an engineering manager and lead project engineer, where he works today. Hunter has executed nearly 2,000 instrumentation and control projects over his career, with budgets ranging from a few thousand to millions of dollars. He is proficient in field instrumentation sizing and selection, safety interlock design, electrical design, advanced control strategy, and numerous control system hardware and software platforms.