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Robert BoguskiWisdom comes with a charge. Usually by the hour.

I like old things. Old shirts. Or old soft sweaters. Old test engineers recommend themselves. Old explanations. You know what to expect. Like a long-term, happy marriage. There’s a comfort level. Fewer mistakes, more detail. Less bewilderment. General competence. Analog testing. The ability to answer the question, “Why?” in waveform. Experience and familiarity sometimes matter. Some dare call it wisdom.

Why do we still worship youth? Haven’t we learned?

Old cars provide a certain comfort, too. As of this writing, my current model has accompanied me faithfully for 14 years and 417,000 miles with no engine rebuilds. Sure, the leather in the driver’s seat is ripped, but it’s still comfortable, and the ride remains blissfully smooth. So, I keep it. For now. Cognizant that the risk-reward ratio is tipping left toward risk with each succeeding day. Am I pushing my luck? Probably. But it still works. I know what to expect. So much else in life isn’t that way.

Why is Silicon Valley overrun with a******s?

The good test engineers – the few still working – are mostly (still true, unfortunately) old white guys. And more of them retire every year. We need new, diverse, talented blood. We suffer as an industry from not having more women in the technology-related professions. Just look at the headlines from the past two years if you want proof.

What were we thinking when we allowed manufacturing to go to China?

Then there are old relationships. Like that good marriage, old established business relationships provide comfort, establish certainty, and form confidence that problems can be solved, regardless of who does the solving or gets the credit. Ordinariness is good. An anchor to windward in turbulent times. Familiar business colleagues complete each other’s sentences (metaphorically). Preliminaries of a new engagement are kept short, enabling partners to get to the heart of a situation. Fast.

How did we ever manage to convince ourselves that 140 characters or “friending” represents innovative activity?

Speaking of fast, a young man in a pickup nearly killed me while I was driving to work yesterday at 5 a.m. in my comfortable old car. Apropos of being an Old Guy, I was in the slow lane. So was he, except he was a lot faster, and evidently a lot more important, by his own estimation, expressed on his gas pedal. It was 90 mph vs. my 60 mph, it seemed. He came upon me from behind and swerved at the last minute, making his own rules. No law enforcement in sight. I had to take evasive action to prevent my left rear corner from being clipped, sending me into a spin. A shortened workday, or worse, was avoided by what seemed like millimeters. I’m sure the young man was late for work and had vital things to do, obtaining second stage venture funding or the like. Perhaps he was just upset at Mark Zuckerberg’s treatment before Congress. Who in our area wouldn’t be incensed someone so brilliant as he had to be a conformist for a day, don a suit and speak when spoken to? The horror. I know. Outrage needs an outlet. I just wish I wasn’t the designated downrange outlet. I don’t want to die that way. Lest we forget, the Second Amendment does not apply to rogue vehicles. I also dream sometimes that the driving age for males is lifted to 50.

Why are suppliers so afraid of their customers?

I will give the young man credit for one thing: He afforded me the opportunity to review my life in eight nanoseconds. That hasty review made me conclude I still have some work to do. The world is stuck with me for at least one more day. Sorry, we’re open.

How did Silicon Valley acquire its halo? How was the public hoodwinked into believing a bunch of bro coders were something more and worthy of emulating, rather than callous jerks striving to rise to the top of the anthill to strike it rich?

Consider:

Our company does in-circuit, flying probe, JTAG, and functional testing of PCBAs. We confirm stuff works as assembled, or we show why it doesn’t. Every week, certain customers scan our website and ask about capabilities we don’t advertise. Testing is testing, right? They need help, and they don’t know where to turn, figuring we can summon the resources from the Testing Guild. They want extended testing, including ESS, HASS, HALT. Or C-SAM, FTIR, XRF, or ion chromatography. They may want decap, SEM, or HiPot. They also may want bond strength testing or peel strength testing. Or thermal cycling. Throw in reverse engineering or metrology. Nondestructive as well as destructive in some cases. Maybe a functional box to tell them why their subsystem isn’t functioning, ruggedized for the rigors of high-volume production. Some even want us to put together a complete testing program.

Why didn’t Barack Obama have a better comeback in 2010 when Steve Jobs told him manufacturing was gone from the US forever?

What’s funny is many of these requests come from OEMs having their manufacturing done overseas. You’d think the overseas facility would have all the tools to tell them their product is good and works as designed. The evidence we see almost weekly suggests this reputation is exaggerated. More commonplace, our customers confess the manufacturing sources can’t be trusted.

But the price is, or was, right.

How did it come to pass that code writing became an essential part of an educated person’s repertoire, and is it really? Or is this one more passing fad?

There are two kinds of customers in this overseas scenario: those who want to be referred to a source to solve their problem, and those who wish to throw the problem over the wall to someone who will catch it and return it, preferably solved. And don’t bother them with the details. Just make it pass.

If code writing truly is all that matters for a technology career, would vocational schools teaching that trade be more appropriate – and cost-effective – than colleges and universities as a source for new engineering talent?

For the ones who want a source and a name (and the hope of an answer), we give the customer contact information. For the ones who want the simplicity of one-stop shopping, we manage a relationship. For a fee, naturally. The former wants control, as is their right; the latter wants convenience, and has concluded their time is more valuable elsewhere. We let them choose which approach works for them. Everybody’s different. We don’t care. On the one hand, the virtual compensation is goodwill, with longer-term impact, while on the other, actual compensation helps pay the bills.

Do we wish to educate and launch into the world whole persons or technicians? Do we truly understand the difference, and does it matter?

Enter the ecosystem, the home of trusted, time-tested relationships. The power of networking magnifies the effect. No problem lies beyond solving by a well-crafted ecosystem of complementary organizations.

What about ethics and ethical behavior? And whose ethics prevail? Who decides? Are market-driven outcomes the paramount values or something higher?

For every problem, I do not necessarily have the solution. But I have two things on my side: time, which enables me to accumulate a fat Rolodex (remember those?); and the relationships time and experience afford me to match the requirement with the necessary talent. Some of that talent works for me. Some of it works for friends and colleagues. As I like to say to certain customers, I may not have the answer underneath my roof, but chances are I know where the answer lies, and it’s usually a phone call or an email away. Extended networks are powerful things.

Whatever happened to the notion that learning a craft, and mastering it, was praiseworthy? Maybe the Germans have it right with their apprenticeship system. Perhaps we should face the fact that not everybody is college material. Will we?

Networks like that take time to build up. For me, that’s 43 years of buildup, and counting. From teenage vocational awkwardness to the white-haired phase. A generation. A tradition. Guess that makes me an old guy, too. To think some over-amped kid in the pickup truck almost made the venerated line go dead.
Networks can be disrupted in an instant. Hard to rebuild what took a lifetime to construct.

Maybe globalization of the economy isn’t an unalloyed good. But are we willing to accept higher prices to do it here rather than over there? Are we willing to do hard things and train ourselves to do it here? Are we willing to relearn the concepts of “perseverance” and “sacrifice?”

We have ample evidence from CT scans and standard x-rays that PCBAs built in Asia, while cheaper, are not always better, and certainly no more reliable, than what we manufacture in the US. But in those cases, the customer got exactly what they paid for. Plus, our bill.

Wisdom comes with a charge. Usually by the hour.

Maybe we should just talk. And listen a little. Shoot, that sounds like a network. Imagine that!

So much to think about in a multitasking world. But we old, connected, surviving folks are adaptable.

And hey, youth, while I have your attention, how come you begin emails and interviews with the salutation, “Hey”?

We’re still here.

Robert Boguski is president of Datest Corp. (datest.com); rboguski@datest.com. His column runs bimonthly.

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