RE: This is not encouraging…

I keep reading about the current collapse of education (make no mistake, I agree completely) but something I always fail to see is any kind of identification of the “point of inflection” that created this. In pondering this recently it occurred to me that I know exactly when that flipped.

Being an old guy, I grew up like most every other kid I knew- not consciously ambitious about anything and fundamentally wandering through life expecting that destiny would eventually make those decisions for me. I graduated from high school and promptly went to college. Not because of any striving ambition, but because Dad liked the idea and could float the note.

7 years later, I graduated with an English degree (don’t ask) and went to work doing what an English major was qualified to do- writing service manuals for the automotive industry. In 1989 I went to work at Ford still involved with service manuals. After a year or so a boss noticed a general capability for computer programming (he claimed my background in music seemed to help with the ability to comprehend multidimensional systems operating in real time) and I became an engineer like a lot of guys around me at that point without any kind of engineering degree, just a demonstrated ability to do it. And, as it turned out, teach it to “real” engineers.

The primary inflection point occurred in 1995. Somewhere along the way ISO 9000 quality control became a thing with it’s kind of bumper stickered summary of, “say what you’ll do, do what you say, and be able to prove it”. Note that ISO 9000 doesn’t actually say anything about “quality”, at least in the sense of making objectively good stuff. As long as you can prove that you set out to build shit and can prove you did indeed build shit, you’re good to go.

This had the unintended consequence of making Ford evaluate how they determined that thier employees were qualified to do their jobs. The simple answer of, “my boss thinks so” was not deemed good enough. It had to be proven somehow. The gobsmacking answer, it turned out, was that you had to have some kind of piece of paper from some kind of accredited authority that said you were. Folks who were already doing what they were doing were grandfathered in, but only as long as they stayed employed by Ford and could put up with the fact that you’d just been rendered persona non grata in terms of useful career ambitions.

There you go- off to the races. Competence shed for certification.

I’ve managed to slide my way through a pretty good career by minimizing my degree unless asked directly and kind of working on the fringes of engineering-like stuff like government regulation, but even now I’m having trouble convincing my current employer to let me work on PLCs in the factory (very similar in concept to engine controllers) since I’m not technically an engineer.

And these days the certifying authorities have decided that Critical Race Theory, wokeness, and equity are the all important metrics for good quality work. As long as you can prove you’re producing shit.

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