Monday, June 14, 2010

Experience and perspective

An engineer in the late thirties told me that tehcnology is changing so fast in this field that it is difficult for him to keep up and compete with the young engineers that are trained in the new technology.

I asked him to focus on his strenghs, which are the experience and perspective that he has gained over the years, rather than to compete in his areas of weakness.

I posed him a problem of how to write an algorithm to compare one image with another image and see if they fit. The images are formed from the tangram pieces. We discussed several options, including comparing pixels by pixels, but he pointed out that this would take too much power and would drain the battery of the mobile phone.

He then suggested an approach, taken from a previous project. Instead of comparing every pixel, the program could compare every 10th pixel across and down. This would reduce the comparison by the factor of 100 to 1, and would still produce the same answer. It was an excellent solution to a problem that had bugged me for a long time.

I wish to quote this example to encourage the older people that your experience and perspective is valuable, but you have to use it effectively. Instead of competing with younger people in new technology, the older people can use their experience and perspective to guide the young, and can continue to play a useful role in the business.

Tan Kin Lian


Anonymous said...

But this is not the Singapore way.

You are asking us to assess job performance based upon the actual output or quality of work done.

The Singapore way is to assess only the inputs for example:
a. must be young
b. good academic record
c. preferably a scholar

Anonymous said...

@anon 8:13am
Not only that, he must be a foreigner too.

Yes, older people's experience and perspective are valuable but many employers do not think so. The older folks can't even get past the interview stage.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Late 30s is considered old. If that's the case, then there is no hope for those in their 40s and beyond.

Anonymous said...

two cents worth. certain engineering fields are now considered as sunset industries - semiconductor (wafer, packaging, PCBs, Harddisk), manufacturing (quality assurance, production, etc); main and supporting fields e.g. sales and marketing, administration etc, will dry out in the very near future. With companies moving from labor intensive to capital intensive, and now value intensive, older employees are just not likely to keep up with the pace of technology and cost revolution. The longer one stays in a job in such sunset industries, while though may rise to principal engineer (technical) or manager (management) would just be totally reliant on the job (and the industries). So, it's not really about learning new things, looking out for promotion opportunties to move up the corporate ladder, but to identify certain industries which are more resilient than others. For young graduates, these industries would probably be petrol-chemical, financial, education, services (insurance / properties) and of course the civil / public service. many of my university peers had switched to service industry (insurance / property), went overseas to work (in mfg), and some unfortunate ones were were retenched since the since recession and still in and out of contract jobs (but draw miserable pay).

Frankly, the fortunate few who went into the civil service are the ones laughing to the banks, with the last recession, earning themselves extra bonus (speculative in stock markets becos of their ability to invest and hold), upgrading to new condo and private properties, and new cars.

Anonymous said...

civil service job is the best but hard to convince my sons to take them as they view them as jobs with limited upside.

Anonymous said...

Does this mean copying from a previous project? What innovation is involved?

If people just need copying, the Japanese or Chinese can do better. WE must continue to innovative to ensure survival. This is why he find it difficult to keep up. The young people are more innovative.

The engineer should change focus and move into management and do it quick. The old school thinking about utilising your existing experience and competing with changing technology is primitive and uncompetitive. He may still struggle to survive for a while based on your suggestion but he is experiencing a slow and painful death.

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