Don’t Be a Nothingman

April 8th just passed…the official “funeral” date for Windows XP®. Now, I’m not going to post about the technical ins and outs of XP dying...or throw a bunch of fear, uncertainty and doubt at you…you can find that with a quick Google search. This post will rather focus on you taking action.

Right now, I’m writing this at 30,000 feet on a plane. Away from my own family…thinking of them and I’m in this retro mood so I’ve got my 90’s band playlist running random with my headphones on. The song “Nothingman” by Pearl Jam came on…and the title made me think about what it means to spark things…what it means to make an impact…what it means be a somethingman vs. a nothingman.

Over the years, I’ve met a ton of great controls engineers from a wide variety of backgrounds, countries and market verticals, and many spend their time firefighting issues putting band-aids on problems. It’s my opinion that the more you get on in years as a controls person, taking up a new project or sparking huge changes becomes a chore and ushers in new headaches that you simply don’t have time for. A chore that only adds to the mountain of work you already have, adds to the huge stress you carry because you can fix most anything with your lines or process -- and new challenging projects really just keep you from your family/partner even more.

idaThe song made me think of one of my first controls engineering mentors, Levi Mezei. Levi and I got to know each other rather well back in the early 2000’s on a project that he sparked, led, and delivered. He upgraded an old mid-80’s controller & HMI system for a ~800 I/O sand recovery system at an aluminum foundry that makes engine blocks. He sparked the project, fought for the funding, did a bid spec, hired the integrator (that I worked for), and we worked together to design, build, and commission a replacement for the sand recovery system.

It wasn’t easy, but we planned, tested and prepped the electrical & maintenance teams as we had a 10-day window to install and commission over the Christmas holidays. I specifically remember doing a ~23-hour shift on a Sunday for that production starting at 7 a.m. Monday morning, and the system had to be running. It was 6:15 a.m. Monday morning and we finally got it all working; we were dead tired and exhausted. Plant management was breathing down our necks. It was stressful…both Levi and I were near giving up many times …but the electricians and us persevered, got it working and production started. I actually remember hugging it out when production started…one of those emotional moments of accomplishments I guess.

Fast forward almost 15 years, and the lesson I learned was that all of it could’ve been avoided if Levi didn’t spark it and see it through. Of course, there was a need to upgrade due to obsolete parts, the HMI ran on MSDOS, etc…but he could’ve let it slide for another five or so years…he could’ve waited until something broke and fire-fought it…he could’ve turned a blind eye. Yet, he tackled it and he ended up setting the standard for every other modernization upgrade in the entire plant. Levi’s been there ever since and done many more upgrades…and he’s retiring this spring. Kudos to a legend at that plant and one of the best mentors I’ve had.

Now Levi is almost old enough to be my father, but he came to my wedding because of the bond that was created on that project. I still call him every so often for advice, and we meet up for lunch from time to time. He actually convinced me to get married during that project…because ”you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, Kyle”—something I cherish to this day.  I now have a family with two children and a wonderful wife.

Levi wasn’t a nothingman. Levi spit in the face of the status quo. Levi was a somethingman.

If you’re a controls engineer, a maintenance person, an electrician, or a production manager reading this – or if you know someone in these roles…share this story because there is no pride in being a nothingman…and you have a window with XP dying which makes it easier to spark a project…now’s your chance to be a somethingman.

Want to further understand the risk you’re facing with the elimination of XP support?  GE and qualified partners are offering risk assessment tools and information for your HMI/SCADA systems.  Be a somethingman and check it out:

Kyle Reissner

Kyle believes that we’re on the cusp of an industrial mobile revolution. As a member of the Global Product Management team at GE, Kyle focuses on mobile real-time operational intelligence (RtOI) solutions that enable all levels of the industrial workforce to be connected anywhere with the right information at the right time.

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