common time-management mistake: rack & stack

Lamar Owen lowen at
Thu Feb 23 18:59:18 UTC 2012

On Wednesday, February 22, 2012 03:37:57 PM Dan Golding wrote:
> I disagree. The best model is - gasp - engineering, a profession which
> many in "networking" claim to be a part of, but few actually are. In the
> engineering world (not CS, not development - think ME and EE), there is
> a strongly defined relationship between junior and senior engineers, and
> real mentorship. 

My degree is in EE, and I spent over a decade in the field as a 'broadcast engineer' Now, a 'broadcast engineer' is not a PE, and is not currently licensed as such, although many of the best consulting broadcast engineers do take the extra step and expense to get the PE license; technically, in many states, you're not even supposed to use the word 'engineer' in your title without having a PE license.

By way of background, my specialty was phased array directional AM broadcast systems in the 5-50KW range, doing 'technician' things like phasor rocking, transmitter retubing and retuning, monitor point and radial measurements, transmitter installation, and tower climbing, in addition to more mathematical and engineering sorts of things like initial coverage and protection studies for pattern/power changes, measured radial ground conductivity/dielectric constant curve fitting/prediction contour overlap studies and models, as well as keeping up with FCC regulations and such.   

I left broadcasting full-time in 2003 for an IT position, as a stress-reducer (and it worked.).  So I say this with some experience. 

Mentoring in broadcast is still practiced by associations like the Society of Broadcast Engineers and others.  These days, much of this sort of thing is online with websites like and mailing lists like those hosted by; in this regard the network ops community isn't too dissimilar from the broadcast community.

Now, while in the broadcast role I had the distinct honor of having three fantastic personal mentors, two of whom still stay in touch, and one who died twenty years ago, a few years after I got started in the field.  RIP W4QA.  He taught me more in half an hour about phased arrays and the way they worked in practice than ten hours of class time could have.  Likewise, I know some old hands here, even if I've not physically met them, whose opinions I trust, even if I don't agree with them. 

> The problem with "networking" is that TOO MANY skills
> are learned on the job (poorly), rather than folks coming in with solid
> fundamentals. 

This is not limited to networking. 

The parallels between broadcast engineering and IT/networking are a little too close for comfort, since there are more potential mentors with weak teaching skills and bad misconceptions that were valid 'back in the day' than there are who will teach practical, working, correct ways of doing things 'today' and why they are done the way they are done (which can involve some history, one of my favorite things). 

A mentor who will teach how to think about why you are doing what you are doing is priceless.  A mentor who will honestly go over the pros and cons of his or her favorite technique and admit that is isn't the single 'correct' way to do something, and a mentor who will teach you how to think sideways, especially when things are broken, are beyond priceless.  I especially like it when a mentor has told me 'now, this isn't necessarily the way I'd do it, and I'm not really fond of it, but you *can* do this to get this result if you need to do so...just don't ask me to fix it later.'

And the recent thread on common misconceptions has been priceless, in my book.  Especially due to some of the respectful disagreements.

> I blame our higher education system for being ineffectual
> in this regard. Most of the "book learning" that you refer to is not
> true theory - it's a mix of vendor prescriptions and
> overgeneralizations. In "networking", you don't learn real theory until
> you're very senior - you learn practice, first. 

Vendor-specific certifications don't help much, either, really, in the 'why' department.

> They also lack real licensing, which
> is a separate problem. 

Now you've stirred the pot!  In the broadcast field, SBE offers some good things in the line of vendor-neutral certification; in the networking field there are some vendor-neutral avenues, such as BiCSI for general stuff and SANS for security stuff.

Having said that, and going back to the broadcast example, not too long ago you had to have an FCC 'First Phone' to even be qualified to read a transmitter's meters, and every broadcast licensee (holding the station's operating license, that is) had to employ 'operators' holding an active First Phone to keep an eye on the transmitter during all operating hours, with the First Phone of every operator posted at the site, and even the DJ's had to have a Third Class Permit to run the audio board, and periodic FCC inspections were frequent.  So that's the extreme situation in terms of licensing, just for reference....

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