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CopperTop 17th December 2012 06:13 PM

Does practical ability limit your career?
I'm guessing that many people here are technical types with a practical bent, but also with some serious brainpower. Your practical abilities probably started early: when you were a child or teenager you were already handy with a hacksaw, electric drill and soldering iron. My question is, has it ultimately limited your career, and subtly changed your personality?

Putting ideas into practice gives a great creative buzz, and stimulates new ideas but... while you're spending time browsing catalogues to find the best connector, you're not doing those things that high flying management types are doing. Worse, you're seen as a person who is 'good with their hands', a naturally subordinate person. You may be the most innovative person in your company, but the very fact that people walk past you every day and see you absorbed in PCB design or other 'practical' activities allows them to label you as only one step up from a worker drone. The better your practical skills, the more valuable you become out of your central role, being asked to spend time away from R&D (say) and simply getting stuff produced which you can't help but be good at, though it isn't what you really want to do. Even if you start off known as a respected, creative person within the company, managers new to the company only know what they see: a 'practical' person.

Perversely, your creative flair can end up locking you into the least creative jobs imaginable, without any influence on how you spend your time. Maybe quite early on, your personality changes to match the way others see you, and your early talent dissipates to nothing. Or maybe, if you're lucky, you become the servant of high flying 'innovators' within the company management who have no practical abilities themselves, but feed off your skills.

...Or that's how I could imagine it could be! (I'm quite lucky where I work at the moment.) However, looking back, if I had my time again, I might not have promoted my practical skills quite as much as I did, and saved it for my spare time at home...

DF96 17th December 2012 07:52 PM

I'm not certain that it is practical skils as such, unless you extend 'practical' to mean 'getting the actual job done'. My experience in IT was that promotion, beyond a certain point, went to people who were good in meetings and 'positive' (i.e. they either never noticed, or kept quiet about, snags in the project which the rest of us could see coming). I was once told I was 'negative' - I spotted problems and alerted management to them.

In a software development team, advancement did not seem to depend on ability or success in developing software. Latterly, even recruitment of 'experienced' people did not seem to be strongly influenced by competence at the actual job.

At first our managers were ex-programmers so they understood what we did. Later, we had 'real managers' who thought that writing code was a mundane job for junior staff; they had no idea why we had previously employed some of the brightest science and engineering graduates in the UK and paid them accordingly.

Bigun 18th December 2012 02:11 AM

Steve Jobs and his buddy started in a garage and used their practical skills to build things. Didn't seem to hold them back. And what about Dyson, Sinclair etc.

I think it's got more to do with your willingness to take risks, to be willing to give up something (such as a regular income, interesting project work, comfortable environment with little conflict, time for hobbies and family, etc.) in order to gain something else that you want more.

Pano 18th December 2012 03:27 AM

I'll stick to my practical skills, such as they are. If I didn't have them I'd have to go into management, and that would be awful!!

(Sales would be even worse)

jcx 18th December 2012 03:43 AM

depends on setting, expectations - but employers just love salaried "hands on" engineers

there's the incident in Soul of a New Machine where managers are going around snatching the tech's pay stubs from the wastebaskets so the engineers wouldn't rebel at the techs out earning them with overtime

coworkers were shocked at one fairly large company when I successfully negotiated for even straight hourly pay/1:1 comp time as an engineer

gmphadte 18th December 2012 03:46 AM

In certain cases when the deciding superiors think they know everything, your knowledge becomes useless for the surrounding as u do not have the authority to persue/prove what u r saying.

Such happening is very common in my case as I think out-of-the box.

As Prof. R. Finnman said in one of his quotes
'A scientist looking at non scientific problems is as dumb as the next guy'

Gajanan Phadte

tvrgeek 19th December 2012 01:29 AM

We have the modern syndrome: To know more and more about less and less until we are the only ones who know what we are talking about. ( credit due to the French philosopher for that) and we have those of us who are generalists. We know a little about a lot and have practical skills to apply. Both are useful. I make a living as a systems engineer in technologies that change quickly, so the generalist approach is invaluable. I work with folks who are so single topic focused the can't find the restroom. They solve very hard problems. I make it work. We need both. One is only held back if they do not recognize their skills and try to do something else.

I went a lecture by James Burke a little ago. One of his main points is that the real breakthroughs are made by the generalists who know the narrow focus people. You know, CONNECTIONS. That is his bag after all.

What I find most frustrating is when the narrow focus expert needs to make a decision that has factors outside their focus, they almost always seem unwilling to listen about those factors, so the make a decision on very incomplete information. The result is quite predictable.

evanc 19th December 2012 02:32 AM

Looking back at my work experience I believe practical ability does limit your advancement IF you work for someone else. I spent about 17 years as an auto mechanic. I was very good at it. My jobs most often got done in much less then "book" time. Yes, there are set times that are charged for most jobs regardless of how long the work actually takes. There was no incentive to move me to management...I made too much money for the shop working on the floor. I now work for my self as a cabinet/furniture maker. I get the jobs done well and don't take too long. Now my practical ability Benefits me instead of someone else.

M Gregg 19th December 2012 11:55 AM

Does practical ability limit your career?


It depends on what you think a career is..if its building something to sell then No its an asset..

If its in a company and you can get things working that others struggle with then yes you will be stuck for ever mending the machine. If you can do something that keeps the boss in less stress because you keep production on the move yes your stuck again. And you will be activley blocked from moving on.

If you want to be a manager then you need to go into training to be one and apply for a job(ie be a member of the cult)when you have done it you see things in a different light and its not as much fun as you might think!..or you network then its not what you know its who you know.
I have even seen managers take the hands on guy with them when they move because they think they will be better off with the guy mending the machines.

And I have seen people promised all sorts of things to keep them thinking they have a chance to move on..Here was one simple thing I saw...give a janitor a walkie talkie and suddenly he feels important.. Its all bull to keep you where they want you! If you want to climb the ladder then you have to go and get it..not wait for some guy in the company to take pity..he will laugh and go home on days while he gives you even more of the same stuff to do after hours.

We have a major problem I need you to go and fix it there is no one else I can think of that can do it....Blah blah....then as you go and think OK I'm going to get this the boss turns away and his mind trips to wonder whats for dinner at home..because his stress is now your stress...Oh see you in the morning..its got to be running at 4.00 night shift or we are in real trouble...Been there done that! To many times. And seen the other side of the fence...that isn't pretty either.

M. Gregg

M Gregg 19th December 2012 12:51 PM

On reflection,

When I moved "Up the ladder"<<wrong terminology..Its not always better (Stress is a major factor)

My first day on a management Degree (Tutor name is Mr blah blah I don't expect to see it incorrectly spelt do I?)..Tutor what do you know about this he put a phrase in Latin on the board (You have all seen it before)..I hadn't got a clue what it was so I wrote down as much as I could from the lesson (struggling to keep up)and looked to my side with everyone else writing in short hand all relaxed(I don't know short hand)..Then went to get the first 6 of 10 books required for the assignment..oh well I thought ..then the guy next to me said," great this isn't it we will have the same amount of work for the next three tutorials" heart sank..then exchange Emails with your group and I want each person to be responsible for their part of the I got up off nights to find 10 Emails with 4 pages of assignments from different people in my group all asking for my part of the assignment.

I was not well prepared and got though with difficulty..the next time it was different after getting things like ECDL clait IBT etc etc Lean manufacturing SCP..all the things a practical guy tries to avoid, the culture was very different it looks great from the outside..I want a presentation for tomorrows meeting with all the Ideas for the improvements and costing shown in interactive charts in excel linked to powerpoint..The "who you know" won't cut it either if you don't have the tools to live in the (New world of up the ladder)all many years ago...Its not what you do on the shop floor with more money It can be a PITA..Just a reflection..:D..The next day the prime mover has broken down get a team sorted I want it running in less than 3 hours..but the main gear box has split (have we got any spares?)..I don't care you get it sorted..:eek:(We have three engineers off sick!)

M. Gregg

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