ISA Mentor Program: The Key to the Future

This guest post is authored by Greg McMillan.

The original intent of the ISA Mentor Program was to start with four (4) end users with at least two (2) years of plant experience. After reviewing several candidates, I decided to accept more than double the amount of applicants into the program due to their excellent qualifications. I kicked off the program with nine (9) talented and enthusiastic end users from six (6) countries at ISA Automation Week 2011 in Mobile, AL. The inaugural protégés are Bahtiar Abu Bakar, Mohammed Khalifah, Flávio Briguente, Brian Hartman, Luis Icasatti, Danaca Jordan, Madhawa Somasiri, Héctor Torres, and Bill Thomas. We met as a group at ISA Automation Week 2011 to get to know each other and attend the technical sessions. I then met with each individual during that week to determine what type of guidance they would require. There was an instant synergy among the participants from the beginning.

I was fortunate to work with Susan Colwell, ISA publications manager, as the main contact and coordinator for the ISA Mentor Program, as well as Hunter Vegas, engineering manager and lead project engineer at Avid Solutions, Inc., as a resource for questions on project execution. For all of us, the program is an ad hoc and extra curricula activity worth sacrificing free time, including evenings and weekends. We started the program with an open mind. We were learning as well as the protégés.

The communication during the year following the ISA Automation Week technical conference was mostly by email and social media. The discussions avoided proprietary information concerns and did not get bogged down in details of particular automation systems. In keeping the individual discussions on a non-proprietary level, we were able to post 22 questions and answers from our discussions on the ISA Interchange blog site from February to May of 2012 so the whole automation community could benefit.

The questions asked made Hunter and I step back and think about the knowledge we take for granted. I, for one, know how difficult it is to start out as an automation professional. Most of what you need to know is spread out in more than 100,000 pages of articles, books, handbooks, technical papers, and standards. Answers to basic questions are hard to find. When faced with thousands of details in many areas of expertise, the automation professional may find it difficult to see the forest because of the trees.

In an attempt to help address this obvious need for practical, profession-focused knowledge, Hunter and I decided to write a book titled, 101 Tips for a Successful Automation Career. The book offers concise philosophical, career, project execution, and technical guidance. An innovative format gives the essential knowledge in one or two pages for each tip with concepts, details, watch-outs, exceptions, insights, and rules of thumb. While inspired by the ISA Mentor Program, the book should help suppliers and users at all levels to get on the same automation page. Preliminary drafts from the 101 Tips book have been posted to the ISA Interchange site since July.

The automation community needs more publications and presentations written by end users. The protégés were encouraged to learn how to write and present papers that would enable them to share what they have learned. In May and June of this year, preliminary drafts of papers by Danaca, Flávio, Héctor, Luis, and Mohammed were scheduled for ISA Automation Week 2012 in Orlando and were posted on the ISA Interchange site. Susan and I expect these excellent papers will be the subject matter for future feature articles in InTech magazine. In Orlando, we will be welcoming three new protégés; Jimmy Nguyen, Brock Sherman, and Bello Yahaya. Besides the presentations by the protégés, we will have a panel discussion on Thursday, 27 September called “The Best of the ISA Mentor Program,” where we will discuss the present and future of the program.

We are looking forward to our face-to-face meeting at ISA Automation Week 2012, 24 September in Orlando, FL, and to subsequent monthly general discussions using Live Meeting to take advantage of the synergy of the group and on-demand private discussions via web-based meetings initiated by protégés to better meet individual needs.


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