True Experts Can Cite Their Sources

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We’ve heard a lot lately about the need to identify tribal knowledge within our organizations. How do you know whether an “expert” is sharing documented knowledge or it’s just something they learned at their first job during the Carter administration?

We asked IPC design instructor Kris Moyer to explain his process for separating the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, in design knowledge. As he points out, a true expert will not be afraid to cite the sources and data sets behind their arguments. Ask questions; maybe there is a reason why they “always did it this way.”

Barry Matties: Kris, what are the signs when you think someone is presenting tribal knowledge?

When someone says to me, “This is the way I was told to do it,” I say “Why?” If their only answer is, “That's the way we've always done it,” I say, “Do some research and understand what the history was.”

It is always important to have a history of the rationale behind decisions that were made on the design so that we don't lose that knowledge. We may have done things a certain way at one point in history, but we must back everything up with rationale and quantified engineering data. That's the biggest problem with tribal knowledge: “This is how we've always done it. The company way is fine.” If you can answer why and have a technical rationale of why it's still valid, I'm all for it. Otherwise, I will push until you sit there and give me a technical rationale for why it's still necessary. Can you prove you’re right?

But when you're sitting in the classroom listening to a PCB design instructor, how do you validate whether that's just tribal knowledge? Do you accept that as the truth?

First, is the instructor a well-respected PCB design instructor? They should be current on their data and able to cite and show their data sources. The best teachers in the world love to be challenged. When a student says to me, “I came up with X, Y, and Z for that,” I'm always willing to look at their data, and see if it fits. If necessary, I’ll update my information. 

Colleges and organizations love to be challenged on their data. You name it: IPC, IEEE, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab. Any organization that does engineering, data engineering, or research engineering white papers is usually more than happy to answer your questions. 

To read this entire conversation, which appeared in the March 2023 issue of Design007 Magazine, click here.


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