The graduates

Wilson’s world

David Wilson is editor of Engineeringtalk and Electronicstalk, and contributing editor to The Engineer

Business at the company, a classic small- to medium-sized enterprise, was booming. And the engineering manager was delighted when the managing director asked him to hire a new graduate to help with the formidable task of developing a rather sophisticated new automated electronic test system.

To set the recruitment wheels in motion, the engineering manager phoned some of his academic friends at one or two prestigious university engineering departments, and it wasn’t long before he had short-listed two promising individuals, who he called in to determine their suitability for the job.

Both of the candidates had excellent credentials. Both had spent four long years obtaining master’s degrees with honours, during which time they had taken part in independent final-year research projects.

The engineering manager was quite familiar with interviewing engineers for his company — and one important criterion that he always used to determine their suitability was to look at all-important final-year project work and the assessment that tutors had made of it.

The first candidate was undoubtedly an engineering whiz kid. For his final-year project he had developed signal-processing system that was capable of downloading and then analysing images from a weather satellite. Although it was a sophisticated system, it had taken him less than six months to develop both the hardware and software, after which he had taken four weeks’ holiday to go fishing in the Solomon Islands.

Alas, the same could not be said for the second candidate that the engineering manager interviewed. For his part, this hapless soul had attempted to create a method for recognising patterns in faulty manufactured parts by using a support vector machine.

Sadly, his attempts to do so had resulted in an extremely frustrating final year in which he had little to show for his efforts. Despite that fact, his passion for the work was obvious — he was clearly an individual that liked a challenge and had worked assiduously to build the analysis system to the best of his abilities.

Now it must be said that although the engineering manger had years of experience in industry, he was not entirely sure that he fully understood the work of the second candidate. And so he asked the younger engineer to explain to him how such a system might be used for the benefit of the company’s own customers.

Based on the lengthy interviews with both graduates, the engineering manager realised immediately where the expertise of the former engineer would fit in with the goals of the company. But it was the second engineer’s work that intrigued him more — far from being an obvious fit, he had a complementary expertise that the company might be able to take advantage of in the development of the new machine.

It didn’t take long for the engineering manager to make up his mind which graduate to hire.

The results of his decision now mean that the company’s customer is getting a whole lot more than it bargained for. As a result of deploying some of the second graduate’s expertise in the design of the new test system, it is now capable of feeding data back quickly to the customer’s manufacturing processes, allowing its engineers to recognise which of manufacturing steps are inducing testing failures.

Dave Wilson

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