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Nurture Your Personal Network

To build knowledge, build relationships. Great sources of information are all around you

Conversation on show floow
Trade show conversations, like this one between Mark Goins and Stephen Denny in the GatesAir booth at the 2019 NAB Show, are an important part of building your personal knowledge network. Manufacturer salespeople and designers can be valuable sources of technical and career info. (Photo by Jim Peck)

When you’re an engineer, the employer judges you by your skills and knowledge. Let’s talk about knowledge.

A good engineer does not need to know everything, just how to find the answer. In the old days we had tons of books to refer to (I still have editions of the “Audio Cyclopedia” and “Radio Handbook” on the shelves). Manuals from companies like Ampex and Scully explained the principles of how the products worked. Today we have the search engines — but who can really rely on the unedited and curated database?

The best answers will come from your teammates in arms: other engineers. This is why organizations like the Society of Broadcast Engineers, Audio Engineering Society, IEEE Broadcast Technology Society and Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers are important.

At local meetings, engineers gather and learn from headline speakers on new and innovative topics. Then the magic happens. Groups form and the engineers start to trade war stories. During these discussions you will hear about the idiosyncrasies of various equipment, how non-ordinary scenarios were solved and where the job openings are.

Unfortunately, online Zoom meetings are not the best for this, but it is still happening.

PREC group with Jeff Welton 2019
Associations and societies bring you together with people who have common career interests. Here, colleagues teased Nautel’s Jeff Welton, right, as he was honored at the 2019 Public Radio Engineering Conference.

Trade publications are fabulous when you can determine the difference between a good user report and sales hype. Learn which authors are good; you will eventually meet them throughout your career. Trade publications also let you know about current technologies and products, where to obtain the items and sometimes who is using them.

School is a great start for the engineer, but you should also take advantage of industry conferences and conventions.

Someday soon we’ll be able to attend major events in person again, where you’ll be greeted by huge exhibition halls. Yes, you get to see all the new and exciting equipment available for the right price. But you also get to meet salespeople and (if lucky) the designers of the gear you will depend on.

One thing to ask, because it is never obvious, is whether you can join their online user group. Sometimes the company hosts it, or it may be found on a common social media platform like Facebook. That’s a great place to read, ask questions, trade experiences.

Beyond the exhibit hall there are gatherings, technical sessions and standards meetings. The gatherings will be very broad and you can usually hear some notable speakers. The technical sessions will teach you about new technologies and techniques. Standards meetings will allow you to be part of the evolution of the technology.

Being a member of the organized technical community is essential. Going to conferences and conventions is great. Don’t be arrogant and think, “I don’t need to do this because I know everything.” (Yes, I have met such people.) You are never too old to learn, and technology is always changing. Don’t be ashamed to ask others questions; this is the only way to learn (Socrates agreed with this).

Remember: An engineer does not have to know everything, just how to find the answer.

David Bialik is a consultant who has held technical broadcast and streaming positions for companies like Entercom, CBS Radio, Bloomberg and Bonneville. He is co-chair of the AES Technical Committee for Broadcast and Online Delivery and a Senior Member of the SBE. Reach him at [email protected] or 845-634-6595.

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