Systems Integrators; Hollering Harry and Comatose Cal

Systems Integrators

I don’t know that there is another job in automation that could be as thrilling and also as terrifying as being a systems integrator. Systems Integrators are regularly tossed into unknown environments, under the direct scrutiny of the end customer and are asked to quickly make poorly documented systems and devices they are unfamiliar with work.

For a bit of added excitement, they are often surrounded by high voltage power lines, caustic chemicals and mechanical devices that could dismember or squash a man without missing a beat. This physical peril alone would not be enough stress on the psyche so integrators are constantly reminded that the machines they work on are valued at many times their yearly earnings. Don’t break it!

Do you suppose that is all mentioned in the job posting?

Ready for the Thrill

It’s certainly not an occupation for everyone but the thrill and variety is an appeal to many. I couldn’t think of a job that would give you a broader scope of automation knowledge than integration. We deal often with integrators using our gateways and I thoroughly appreciate the job they do. The good ones are worth their weight in gold. Like most high-stress jobs, the personality types that thrive are distinct. I’d classify most of the best integrators I know into two categories.

Cantankerous vs. Calm:

Hollering Harry would be the persona of the first group. These are boisterous integrators. The nervous energy and excitement of the job seem to fuel them. You can argue that promoting a healthy, inviting and encompassing work environment is a good idea. These guys do not resemble that, but you can’t argue with their results.

I walked a line once with a hollering Harry. We had successfully worked together in the past so I had earned some level of understood competence. As we walked, a gentleman approached in distress and spoke quickly about an issue involving a drive. Harry immediately broke into an expletive-laced roar and contradicted the information being presented. As the man stormed away. I asked, “What was that about?” Returning to a normal tone Harry said, “I have no idea but I know that horse’s a$$ didn’t bother to verify any of the information about the problem. He felt a problem alone is something to be self-righteous about. I called him out and now he will do his due diligence just to spite me.” A big grin covered his face.

NOTE: Harry was a 3rd party integrator and the gentleman was the in house control engineer. Harry still does business at that factory and the event I witnessed took place years ago.

Comatose Cal would be the second persona. These are guys with an almost unsettling level of calm and seeming lack of human emotions. Spock-like. If Cal were in front of a nuclear reactor on the verge of a meltdown he wouldn’t bat an eye. The countdown timer would be approaching zero as sirens ring overhead and bosses bellowed out commands. Cal would slowly take a sip of his tea. The countdown timer, like his need to hydrate, are simply inputs in the task at hand. The sirens and the rest of the world are ignored. Fractions of seconds before failure, Cal calmly stops the meltdown.

Cal’s are hard birds to identify. The disinterest in any details outside of their modus operandi often make them seem aloof or disinterested but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

What Can We Learn from Harry and Cal?

While they are on opposite ends of the social interaction spectrum, their vastly different personalities actually accomplish the same very and important goal. They force information filtering and discourage distraction.

In integration, you are playing politics between device vendors, resellers, customers and support. You are also working on systems and devices that sport 1000’s of possible features. Distilling all the hot air and possibility down into the actual task at hand is a real skill. The scare & silence treatments are different ways that allow Harry and Cal to find clarity. They don’t let other people problems become their problems. And they don’t let outside distractions own their time.

How to Apply the Lesson:

I certainly wouldn’t advocate you try to be anything or anyone you are not. That doesn’t end well. You also don’t have to move to the extremes of Harry or Cal.

What you should embrace is their results based action. More importantly, embrace their immunity to criticism and disinterest in being the norm. I guarantee you when they go in for their year end reviews Harry gets scolded for being a hot head and Cal is told be more assertive. But because of their proven record of results those “shortcomings” are always overlooked.

You don’t have to be a jerk or recluse to be successful but if you let your time and energy be hijacked by the problems and prerogatives of others you are going to be pulled under.

Find a tactic in line with your personality that allows you to shut out noise now and again.

To all of our integrator friends out there, thank you for the job you do!