Broadcast engineers, do you want to enhance your stature and your value to employers? If so, augment your technical skills with a better understanding of people.
That’s a key message of Barry Blesser, who will deliver the keynote at the opening of the Broadcast Engineering Conference of the NAB Show.
Blesser is director of engineering for 25-Seven Systems and may be familiar to you from his column on the last inside page of Radio World Engineering Extra. I’m delighted that NAB officials cited his articles in Radio World as one of the reasons they were aware of Blesser’s talents, and I’m pleased you will have a chance to hear from this affable, deep-thinking man in person if you attend the convention.
Barry says he learned early in life that the best predictor of career success “isn’t their smarts but how well they play in a group.” Unfortunately, the personality type most common in our part of the radio business doesn’t always do so well at this.
“Engineers tend to relate to their colleagues and managers as if logic trumps emotion, psychology and self-interest. People assume other people are logical and rational, and don’t take into account other aspect of humanity.”
The title of his keynote is “A Path for Restoring the Lofty Status of Broadcast Engineers.”
Barry argues that the broadcast “systems” in which we work are collections of elements that interact with each other, “such that the personality of the system cannot be found in any of the individual pieces.”
In other words, you are one cog, one piece of the puzzle, one slice of the radio pizza pie. The system also includes “investors, managers, listeners, colleagues, advertisers, competitors, journalists and of course, technology.”
Yet while systems have become more complex, technology has become more of a commodity. As a result, broadcast engineers have found themselves bumped off their former perches as “brilliant wizards.”
To succeed in today’s environment, he says, engineers must understand that technology, while necessary, is not enough — a lesson he learned in his own career.
“When I started my career, I thought I’d be a pro audio designer using transistors. I then moved to digital, then signal processing, then systems. I kept going — it became clear that the technology was becoming easier. More people can do it; it has elements of becoming a commodity whereas at one time it was a rarefied skill.
“Designing a transistor amplifier was a unique skill, as was digital processing. They had very high added value, stature and compensation. We were considered whizzes. But that situation doesn’t last long because stuff spreads rapidly. With so many people, the competition gets very steep if you want to be a wizard.
“What makes high added value is combining different disciplines and skill sets.”
Blesser is an unassuming man whose gentle nature and intelligence are obvious when you meet him. What’s less immediately apparent is the depth of his fascinating experiences.
He was a professor of electrical engineering and computer science for 10 years at his alma mater MIT; he then founded his own consultancy in 1978. He was an unpaid consultant to the Department of Justice during Watergate (when DOJ had some little matter of audio tapes to deal with), and he has been an expert witness on many audio cases.
Blesser developed the first commercial digital audio concert hall simulation, a reverberation system, in 1976 for German manufacturer EMT, and was recently hired by another company to reproduce that earlier product in software. He was the president of the Audio Engineering Society in 1980–81 and has received several prominent AES awards; he organized the first AES conference on digital audio.
He has had a hand in products or companies you know, and holds numerous patents.
He was director of engineering at Orban and principle engineer for its Audicy DAW in the 1990s; he designed the DSP in some Lexicon reverbs. He was chief technology officer for Studer and co-founder of Pencept Inc. The latter company explored the idea of “pen computing” and handwriting and gesture recognition algorithms in the 1980s. In 2006 he co-authored the book “Spaces Speak, Are You Listening?” which introduced the concept of “aural architecture,” how what we hear affects our experience of a space.
Barry Blesser with granddaughter Rebecca He offers management consulting, executive coaching and career development services, and he remains director of engineering for 25-Seven Systems, an audio technology company he co-founded with Geoff Steadman and Derek Pilkington seven years ago. You can read more about his career and download his audio presentations at blesser.net.
How you think
Through four decades he has been fascinated by how technology and people interact and sometimes collide, wondering about “how to glue people together into a system. It’s common sense, but there’s no place in our culture where you can be exposed to that.” His study leads him to believe that lifelong learning is essential to staying psychologically young. Many broadcast engineers “don’t have a clue about psychology, what drives managers or themselves. It’s a critical step. They need to learn new ways of looking at things, rather than just learning concrete facts.”
So take a course in economics or psychology. Subscribe to BusinessWeek to learn how other types of managers think. Rather than learning yet another programming language, learn the psychology of software.
“In this day and age, when you drown in information, in hundreds of thousands of books, you’d never be able to keep up if you were just absorbing content. It’s how to think about yourself and your situation.”
Blesser speaks at the Broadcast Engineering Conference on Sunday April 11 at 9 a.m.