How to create a successful career in reliability engineering
Fred Schenkelberg, FMS Reliability

Key Words: Career, reliab...
project, or support an entire product development program, or
be engaged across an entire organization. In each case, your...
3.3 Networked
Part of building a career relies on who you know and how
you approach your work and peers. Knowing a lot of ...
engineers and managers working to bring a product to market.
You can provide insight, information, and knowledge that








L. A. Broedling, ―The Uses of the Intrinsic–Extrinsic
Distinction in Explain...
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How to Create a Successful Career in Reliability Engineering


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My RAMS 2014 paper on the seven key traits I have found in those with successful careers in reliability engineering.

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How to Create a Successful Career in Reliability Engineering

  1. 1. How to create a successful career in reliability engineering Fred Schenkelberg, FMS Reliability Key Words: Career, reliability engineering,traits SUMMARY & CONCLUSIONS How does one become a reliability engineer? How does one create a career based on reliability engineering? In my experience I have seen several paths and have observed a number of key traits that make for a successful career. This paper examines the traits of successful reliability professionals from different industries. The combination of those profiles and my experience with coaching dozens as they built their careers has provided a unique insight into the key traits that separate a rewarding from unfulfilling career in reliability engineering. This paper explores the sevenkey traits— talented, professional, networked, positive, valuable, studiousness, and mentoring ability—that lead to a successful career. At the end of a career of work, it may be satisfactory to look back at a record of accomplishment, of milestones, and of friends. We are information workers.When we work in a professional way that conveys our talents in reliability engineering with our peers,the entire organization benefits. We can look back and view camaraderie with colleagues from many fields and across many industries. With a bit or common sense, honest work, and consistent drive we can build a career from our very first encounter with reliability engineering. 1. INTRODUCTION On one occasion I conducted reliability program assessments of two organizations located in the same building. Both designed and manufactured telecommunication equipment with similar complexity and volume. The interview schedule had me going up and down stairs almost every hour for two days. By midday of the first day I enjoyed going upstairs and dreaded heading down. Despite all the organizational and product similarities the two reliability programs were dramatically different—as different as their reliability results. Downstairs the interviews started late and often got interrupted by urgent phone calls or in-person requests. This was firefighting at its best. The team employed a wide range of tools, all of which were listed on a checklist. The tasks, if accomplished, rarely influenced any decision. The reliability goals were not known. A few knew of goals and knew they would not be measured nor would they impede getting the product to market. The people I talked to said that product reliability was very important and that was why they were busy fixing issues discovered late in a program or from field returns. Reliability used to be done by the guy who quit last year. Upstairs the interviews started on time, without interruptions. No one remembered the last time there was an urgent need to resolve a field issue. The team employed reliability tools as needed that would benefit the project. The specific testing was tailored to the risks identified during the design phase. The goals were widely known and current status was also known, both during development and after product launch. The people I talked to stated that reliability was very important and that they knew what to do to meet their reliability objectives. They told me thatthe reliability engineer who left last year taught reliability thinking and skills. This paper explores the key traits that separated these two reliability professionals. The impact these two individuals had on their organizations lasted well after they left. The downstairs reliability engineer left the organization in frustration, while the upstairs engineer continued with another organization in need of an effective reliability program.The traits of the reliability engineers led to the reliability outcomes of the organization and to their career paths. 2. SUCCESS Whether by design or by accident some of us become reliability engineers. Making a career in reliability engineering relies on your ability to make a difference and to add value. Being successful as a reliability engineer, while creating reliable products, permits continuation and growth as a reliability professional. Your career motivation may be intrinsic or extrinsic [1]. If you define success at work as attaining amilestone or accomplishment, working at the best of your abilities, and satisfying a sense of curiosity, then you are intrinsically motivated, whereas if you define success at work as receiving a bonus or reward, achieving honors and accolades, and getting a promotion, then you are extrinsically motivated. Of course, you may define success with some combination. It is what you do and how you perform as a reliability engineer that leads to success however defined. Reliability engineers may work as part of a team on a small portion of a
  2. 2. project, or support an entire product development program, or be engaged across an entire organization. In each case, your success relies on your ability to make a difference and add value. Much of the work of reliability engineering entailsenabling design engineers and managers the ability to make informed decisions. Is the product meeting the stated reliable goals? What are the barriers and risks that would prevent the creation of a reliable product? What is the best (cost-effective and informative) reliability tool to use? Whether you are providing an estimate or performing a detailed failure analysis, if the results influence the decisions that alter the products design, then we have made a difference. The results of reliability engineering are obvious when in the hands of customers. The product either works (is reliable) or does not. Unfortunately, many of the tasks we perform with the development team are investments to discover design weaknesses or to estimate product life. During the development phase these costs are large. Being able to identify and articulate the value of these investments followed by reliable products builds our credibility. It is the combination of providing useful information, recommending solutions or best practices, and achieving reliable products that together means you have added value. One of the most successful reliability engineers I know led an organization through a decade-long warranty expense reduction program, authored papers and books on reliability engineering, volunteered in professional organizations, and mentored hundreds of engineers and managers. Talking to him about a year after retirement, I found him to be happy and proud of the accomplishments of those he helped train or motivate. He set an example for me of a talented professional that selflessly gave his knowledge to those who asked (or needed) his advice. Moreover, he was happy with his career, he had made a difference. 3. KEY TRAITS 3.1 Talented My dictionary says that talented is ―having a natural aptitude or skill for something.‖ [2] We learn reliability engineering and those whounderstand the range of tools and techniques useful for a given situation would be considered talented. Everything is not solved by running a highly accelerated life test (HALT) or only conducting detailed failure analysis. Knowing when and why to apply a particular tool and using the tool effectively (i.e., when to use a Weibull distribution to model lifetime data and how to use the information to make decisions) are critical. There are many ways to achieve the knowledge required: enrolling in university programs,reading papers andbooks, or attending seminars and conferences. The talent shows up in one’s ability to makean astute selection of tools to assist in solving problems, identifying risks, or estimating life. A key element of reliability engineering is reliability statistics, given the emphasis in the American Society for Quality Certified Reliability Engineer body of knowledge. [3] Some have a knack for tackling this information and others struggle. Mastering the statistics is crucial for those considered talented in reliability engineering. Over one’scareer, a reliability engineer hasthe opportunity to work on many projects. The materials, designs, and assembly processes all continue to evolve and change. The basic tools for reliability engineering havenot changed as fast as most engineering disciplines, yet the breadth of knowledge and skill required does call for mastery and talent. Talented reliability engineers apply the right tool to solve the problem in a cost-effective and timely manner. This takes knowledge of the variety of tools at our disposal along with the foresight to minimize risk and maximize useful information. This talent is acquired with experience and enhanced with intelligence. 3.2 Professional The dictionary defines professional as ―a person engaged or qualified in a profession.‖ [2] Our profession is reliability engineering. Our career is in the pursuit of identifying what will fail and determining when will it fail. We work to meet or improve product reliability. Within the profession, there are specialists focused on product testing, risk or life modeling, or on specific industries or types of products. We can work on projects ranging from biocompatible polymers in a medical device to redundant modeling of aircraft flight control systems. I also believe that professional means acting in a professional manner. Professional engineering societies often have a code of conduct or ethics standards to guide professionals in their field. [4,5] It also means not working beyond your area of knowledge or expertise nor working in a deceitful or self-serving manner. Being professional also means behaving with decorum. Listening to others, understanding the situation beyond the immediate reliability engineering task, and working well with others are all professional requirements. Professionals represent the reliability engineering discipline and need to present their discipline well. Whereas being talented implies a mastery of a body of knowledge, beingprofessional suggests that we bring to the team our knowledge and skills in a forthright manner. This is what we do as we apply our skills to solve problems related to reliability engineering. Let us say you are reporting initial results of an experiment to your boss, and he disagrees with the results. He wants a different result to support a proposal and the data do not support that desired outcome. You did the experiment well and trust your findings. Do you alter the results and support your boss, or do you publish the results as found? In any field there are many agendas and desired outcomes. In reliability engineering the final outcome may not become apparent for months or years. It is our professional standards that guide us to work honestly and report our findings accurately.
  3. 3. 3.3 Networked Part of building a career relies on who you know and how you approach your work and peers. Knowing a lot of people, staying in touch, and working to help them solve problems is one part. For professionals knowing enough of the right people, helping them solve issues, and asking them for assistance when needed is essential. This is what I mean by networking. More formally, networking can be explained as follows: Social capital constitutes a valuable resource. Relationships possessed by an individual can provide one with access to new information, resources, and opportunities. This information, resources, and opportunities, both within and outside one's current firm, can result in direct enhancements of one's career, including promotions and compensation. [6] Networking is not the casual and informal chatter of some social media venues; is the sharing of knowledge. You can help those seeking employment with notices of openings you find. You can assist with referenceswhen someone is asking about a particular type of failure. You can join discussions online with your peers for the benefit of any reader. Having knowledge of your peers’ aspirations and strengths permit you to provide career support or ask for assistance as needed. Personally, I like to keep a ration of at least 5 to 10 'good deeds' per request I make. By doing so, I feel that I have contributed to my network and hopefully have generated sufficient good will to garner guidance when requested. As you meet fellow reliability professionals, stay in touch. Learn about their particular constraints related to reliability engineering. Learn about which tools work or donot work in their situation. Learn about better ways to accomplish specific reliability tasks. Most importantly, share what you know with them. The network if just a list of names in an address book is not as useful as a vibrant and constant exchange of ideas, questions, and advice. Yes, it takes work and time. In many situations someone has already solved the issue you are facing. Learn from them while being efficient is your best approach to problem solving. While at Hewlett-Packard I heard that inside the company we were only three phone calls from finding an answer to an engineering question. To test this idea I called a random number in the Hewlett-Packard directory. I asked about a topic knowing that the expert worked across the aisle from me. The first call was to a sales engineer who couldnot help yet thought a colleague in Ft. Collins would know. The Ft. Collins call led me directly to the expert across the aisle. With an established network that first call wouldnot be random and finding the right person with the answer would not take three calls. 3.4 Positive By positive I mean a ―can do‖or passionate attitude toward accomplishing goals, adding value, and helping others. The song, ―When You're Smiling,‖ continues with ―the whole world smiles with you.‖ [7] Starting a conversation with a smile often goes a long way toward being productive, effective, and enjoyable to work with. As reliability engineers we often work to find faults in design, resolve field failures, and identify barriers to achieving reliability objectives. This type of information may create defensiveness that does not encourage further discussion. Yet our approach, with a smile, with a focus on the positive elements of our work, can help the entire team understand the issues, and working together we can solve them. Being positive is one reason I like to use reliability (probability of success) as part of the reliability goal phrase rather than failure rate or percentage failed. While 98% reliable and a 2% failure rate (both over one year) giveessentially the same message, the former focuses on the success whereas the latter on failure. We work with a wide range of talented professionals in the process ofbringing products to market. We work with people from around the world. We work with a team. People want to be around others who are passionate about what they do—it’s infectious. [8] Reliability engineering is not a solitary endeavor. By working with the combined knowledge of your network and finding the enjoyable elements of your work (thus smiling) you may find additional opportunities for career advancement. Of course, talent and professionalism count, too. 3.5 Valuable Value is ―the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something.‖ [2] As a reliability engineer we work across the organization to bring a reliable product to market. The value of meeting the customer’s reliability expectations results in customer satisfactions, increased sales, and in some cases premium pricing. We want a reliable product. Being a pivotal element in the process means you have provided value to the organization and to its customers. Adding value increases your opportunities for career success. Even if the product doesnot succeed in the market, by adding value to the program you still increase your chance of career success. In the business world, value is money. If the return on investment (ROI) is adequate, then it is acceptable to make the investment. For example, if the cost of an accelerated life test (ALT) is $50,000, will the information from the ALT result in a decision related to 10 times $50,000 or half a million? If so, the investment to obtain the knowledge enables the team to make a decision affecting the launch of a product or to the establishment of a warranty policy. If the early prototype highly accelerated life testing reveals three critical design faults, thispermits the design team time to resolve the issues without delaying the product launch. The delay may cost lost sales and depends on your market. In each case, the reliability engineer's task is to recommend and execute tasks that affect decisions, reduce risk, save time, or add value. This extends to every encounter with your fellow
  4. 4. engineers and managers working to bring a product to market. You can provide insight, information, and knowledge that enhance the entire team's ability to create a reliable product. Adding value should be a habit. For the larger tasks that require significant resources to accomplish, you may have to estimate the ROI before being provided with the prototypes and equipment to accomplish the task. In other cases, before starting a task, you may need to determine how and where the resulting information will be used. It is crucial to meet key deadlines since evenperfect information for a key decision a day late is not useful. My former boss and mentor drafted a list of questions that may be useful when you are seeking how a particular reliability activity provides value. The list explores reduced failure rate along with saved engineering time, increased sales, reduced risk to the launch date, and a few more ways to calculate value. My updated version of the value questionnaire can be accessed on my site under the Introduction to Reliability Management presentation. [9] For each activity you start or recommend,you need to understand the cost and return to calculate the ROI; if the activity doesnot havevalue it is time to focus on something that does. A habit of adding value and being able to articulatethe value you have contributed lets you clearly focus on activities that provide the greatest benefit to you and your organization. 3.6 Studiousness Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.[10] Learning never stops. As reliability engineers we constantly have something to learn. For those unfamiliar with reliability engineering, they have a lot to learn from new materials, failure analysis tools, customer expectations, and the latest modeling software packages. We also constantly learn from our peers about their disciplines, tradeoffs, considerations, and inventions. We learn about business systems, customer interactions, and financial systems. We can and should learn as much as we can. Being a valuable member of any team means being able to understand how reliability engineering fits in with all the other elements of the company. To be effective we should know the motivations, concerns, dilemmas, and obstacles for any group in the organization. Moreover, when working to improve reliability of a product, if we can make other groups’ life easier, we should do so. Building a career relies on knowing what motivates the other people in the room. Understanding them and their contribution to the product allowsus to make recommendations that help them and improve product reliability. Self-education is important. You can take online courses;EDX [11], Coursea [12], and others offer a wide range of material for little or no cost. Taking a course in something that interests you, even something not directly related to reliability engineering such ashow to use Adobe Photoshop, may lead to improvement of your presentations or website graphics. Besides just being curious and learning from everyone and anyone you meet, you should deliberately seek out new material in reliability engineering. Attending webinars, workshops, and conferences are also valuable. You should subscribe to at least two professional journals and listen, read, and study to master the material. 3.7 Mentoring ability Explaining how to analyze field data implies mastery. Explaining it clearly and completely is mastery. For each concept in reliability engineering we generally have to teach others how that concept fits within their realm and decisionmaking process. Teaching courses andseminars, leading workshops, and providing one-on-one training are all part of the mentoring process. I find that teaching comprisesapproximately one third of my professional day. Teaching has a number ofbenefits when you are good. Others seek your guidance when considering reliability. Others look to you for help understanding how reliability plays a role in design and business decisions. Being patient, clear, and concise all help to build your credibility as a mentor. Reliability engineers are information workers. We may run experiments and conduct tests, yet it is the information that has value. We gather and share information. As students of reliability engineering,we collect information and, over a career, that should be across many disciplines and interests. As teachers and mentor we disseminate information for the benefit of others. Near the end of my mentor’s career he spent a year traveling around the world to many of his corporation’s product development sites to provide a two-day classes on basic reliability engineering tools. He had taught thousands already and relished the idea of teaching so many again. He brought his years of experience, patience, and mastery of the topics to each class. He imparted knowledge that made a difference as his students applied the ideas and concepts, saving the corporation tens of millions of dollars annually. From our talks after his retirement, I learned that it wasnot the recognition or bonuses (which were nice) that defined success, it was the act of making a difference. 4. CONCLUSION Given the diversity of how we start as reliability engineers, there are a few traits that help you create a successful career. Reliability engineering encompasses a broad field that may touch every element of an organization. We work to improve product reliability or asset availability with constraints that vary owing to market or technical reasons. To be successful we share our knowledge and influence decisions. A career is built one experience and one project at a time. The actions and recommendations we make enable us to advance our career. How we define a successful career is personal, yet a consistent application of the seven traits will aid you in achieving a successful one.
  5. 5. REFERENCES 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. L. A. Broedling, ―The Uses of the Intrinsic–Extrinsic Distinction in Explaining Motivation and Organizational Behavior,‖ The Academy of Management Review, Vol. 2. No. 2 (Apr) 1977, pp. 267–276. New Oxford American Dictionary, 2nd edition, 2005, Oxford University Press. Body of Knowledge, Certified Reliability Engineer, American Society for Quality, 17 October 2009,, accessed 16 July 2013. Code of Ethics, American Society for Quality,, accessed 16 July 2013. NSPE Code of Ethics for Engineers, National Society of Professional Engineers,, accessed 16 July 2013. M. L. Forret and T. W. Daugherty, ―Networking Behaviors and Career Outcomes: Differences for Men and Women?,‖ Journal of Organizational Behavior, Vol. 25, No. 3 (May) 2004, pp. 419–437. L. Armstrong, ―When You're Smiling (The Whole World Smiles With You)‖ [1958 Single Version] lyrics, EMI Music Publishing, The Songwriters Guild of America. D. DiSalvo, ―10 Reasons Why Some People Love What They Do,‖ Psychology Today blog Neuronarrative, (Dec) 2012, 1212/10-reasons-why-some-people-love-what-they-do, accessed 14 July 2013. G. Griffiths and F. Schenkelberg, ―Value Questionnaire,‖, accessed 15 July 2013. 10. J. Rohn, ―John Rohn Quotes.‖ Famous Quotes and Quotations atBrainyQuote, BrainyMedia, j/jimrohn121282.html, accessed 17 July 2013. 11. EDX,, accessed 15 July 2013. 12. Coursea,, accessed 17 July 2013. BIOGRAPHIES Fred Schenkelberg FMS Reliability 15466 Los Gatos Blvd #109-371 Los Gatos, CA 95032 USA e-mail: Fred is a reliability engineering and management consultant with FMS Reliability, with areas of focus including reliability engineering management, training, and accelerated life testing. Fred is able to bring the experience of over 100 design and maintenance programs to your team.He is spearheading the No MTBF movement and encourages you participation. Previously, he co-founded and built the HP corporate reliability program documenting over $100 million in savings. He is a lecturer with the University of Maryland teaching a graduate level course on reliability engineering management. He earned a Master of Science degree in statistics at Stanford University in 1996. He earned his bachelors degrees in Physics at the United State Military Academy in 1983. Fredis an active volunteer with a few reliability focused professional organization and most proud of the ASQ Reliability Division Webinar program and the reliability calendar programs. He is an ASQ CRE and CQE.