Continuous Development in our careers and life

30 years ago, there was limited use for email. When I ask older colleagues on how correspondence was done in the past, they tell me that an internal memo or letter was written using typewriters and this information was posted to either internal or external parties. Information used to travel at much slower pace just 30 years ago. Fast forward to 2019, the email tool that took over the role of these memos is now an essential form of communication that is crucial for correspondence between multiple parties. We don’t print or create carbon copies to send to people for information anymore. Rather, we just keep them in the “cc” loop in emails. The information is also received by all parties almost instantaneously.

Looking back at my first real job, which I embarked on to save up for further studies and support myself at the age of 16 in 2002 was in sales. It involved explaining to customers on technical specification of mobile phones. The job also involved testing and setting up the phones for those who bought them. This was during the time when the legendary Nokia 3310 was at its peak. The Nokia 3310 became a staple phone during that time. At the same time, models with colored screen were just emerging, and I still vividly remember the XDA O2, one of the first PDA to have a touchscreen. It was touch screen, but you need to hold and wait for the system to respond unlike the way we swipe our smart phones nowadays. Nevertheless, it was a novel idea at that time. Fast forward to 2019, 17 years later, we reply emails on the go using a slightly heavier than 100g device called the smartphone. In the smartphone industry, the next model is launched as soon as there is incremental improvement to the existing version. Thing move very fast in 2019 compared to the life in 2002 and I am very sure life was much slower back in the 1980’s or 1990’s.

So, what has gadgets and emails have to do with continuous development and growth? A lot. We need to move with time and embrace the use of emails and smartphones. There is tremendous amount of changes even within just the last 10 years. If someone resisted the use of email 30 years ago and continued to stick to typewritten memo, they would have long been replaced by others whom were willing to move with time and use emails. Having said that, we have met some rare individuals who does not know how to use a computer and still manage to be in a position of power and authority, but they are usually rare.

Moving together with time requires continuous development and it does not stop at the classroom.  Of course, getting a diploma, degree or masters or even a doctorate is a great way to learn but continuous development is much more than studying material for exams. When new technology comes on board, no matter how resistant we humans are to change, the least we should do is give new technology a chance and see if things could be done more efficiently and effectively. Digitization for example forces the user to use a computer, tablet and in today’s context an application on a mobile phone. The least we could do is give it a try. Gone are also the days of compactors to document paper files. Today, the compactors of past have evolved into data centers. The “cloud” that we speak about are actually data centers handling large amount of data.

Continuous Development is also about learning valuable knowledge from everyone. Recently, I came across a meme saying that everyone hates millennial till they have to convert a PDF to document format. That is so true as many complain about millennial and it is simple to convert a word document to PDF especially with newer versions of Microsoft Office Word. But, it is not always easy to covert the PDF document back to word especially if we don’t have the original software. But the conversion from PDF to word can still be done and if you cannot figure it out yourself, do ask a millennial around you if you need help.

Learning from people of different cultures, races and from all ages have always been beneficial to me. I personally love listening to different cultures as it adds colors to the world, I live in. I have also been trained by strict technical staff who were groomed in the 1970’s and I still remember my first building project as a technical officer with a mentor who forced me to read hundreds of 2D drawings on my first day on the job. That was the first time I have seen a 2D construction drawing and it gave me a headache. He asked me to trace the building services on the drawing and brought me to the actual construction site and told me to explain how the building services would run. Trust me, it was not a residential or factory project which are usually much simpler but rather a rail project. Rail projects, especially underground ones can be very complex.

Ten years ago, in such complex projects, we will have a bunch of engineers (of different trades) and project managers cooped in a site office with consultants arguing over whose building and engineering services would be installed first. The leveling is very important so that services are accessible and installed without clashes. This discussion is also crucial as works must be staged according to installation level. It was also a negotiation and time-consuming coordination process on 2D drawings and could sometimes take months to agree on installation details for large projects.  Today, we have something called Building Information Modelling (BIM) where the design is seen in 3D. The services can be coordinated and simulated in 3D. This reduces the time spent on coordination and the system is smart enough to tell us that there will be clashes with different services, structure on site based on the input. BIM is the future and it is a factor to improve productivity for the construction sector. Today, if a construction engineer refuses to get onto the BIM bandwagon, he/she will soon be replaced by much younger engineers for the same coordination and site work. This brings to the important point that we can learn from young colleagues who just graduated from their polytechnics and colleges/universities and might have been taught productivity tools in schools. That in my opinion is one source of knowledge we should tap from the younger generation, especially for those of us who have been out of school and out of touch with improvements in the industry for a while. There is something to learn from everyone and keeping up with change is important to continuous improvement.

Continuous development through traditional sources such as going back to school to do further studies never goes old. A formal education in a school setting not only develops a person’s professional development in a controlled environment, it is also done in a staged manner where the courses get increasingly more difficult building on foundation. Professional certification and other short courses also build on existing foundation to hone our skills. But care must be taken to not purely chase after paper qualification and spend the time understanding the knowledge shared. When we memorize information, we can recite it but when we understand something, we can solve real problems using the knowledge.

Let us continue to learn and develop ourselves!

Syed M. Subukutheen MSc (Mech Engineering), B.Eng(Mech Engineering), PMP

Ps: Penning my thoughts on continuous development and you may drop your comments below. What do you think can be other means to learn? Continue the discussion in my linkedIn page

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