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Re: [TowerTalk] Experts

Subject: Re: [TowerTalk] Experts
From: Jim Lux <>
Date: Fri, 19 Oct 2012 05:10:11 -0700
List-post: <">>
On 10/18/12 10:41 PM, Jim Brown wrote:
On 10/18/2012 7:08 AM, Howard Hoyt wrote:

I think by our very presence here we are all amateurs.

Some more so than others.  W4EF and Jim Lux are design engineers at JPL.
W4EF worked on that robot that landed a few months ago on Mars.  N0AX is
principal technical editor of the ARRL Handbook and Antenna Book. There
are some pretty sharp guys around here.

73, Jim K9YC

The amateur and pro distinction has to do with getting paid, more than skills. And, a bit about the consequences of not delivering or failing.

As a pro, you typically get paid to deliver something, and if the something isn't of high enough quality or useful enough, eventually, you stop getting paid. That said, there are plenty of people who are paid for distinctly mediocre work, and even defective work; but, if you take the entire class of "professional" people, in general, they are competent. Professionals, because there's a business relationship involved, also sometimes have larger consequences for a mistake. Call it a duty of care standard. When it gets into wet stamping drawings, that's even more so.

As an amateur, you aren't getting paid (in money terms). Typically, you do it because you're interested in it, or it meets some other personal need (in the F/OSS software biz, it's called "scratching the itch"). Since the compensation is sometimes internal, quality or competence might be a driver, but might not. One might still do something, even if you're not good at it. As an amateur, you might also be the world's best at whatever it is, because you've spent so much time doing it, you have a knack for it, etc

So I think the overall net is that amateurs have a wider spread of ability, knowledge and competence than professionals do. To a certain extent the top tail of the distribution will be a bit different: for most activities, spending time doing the activity leads to better performance, and if you are paid to do it, you can "afford" to spend more time on it. WHile it's not exactly that 10,000 hour thing, it's close.

COmpare it to playing golf. To actually make a living at playing golf, you have to have some minimum level of ability and skill, and the vast majority of professionals play fairly well, some play extremely well. The spread on amateurs is much wider, from duffers like me who think it's nice when 1 drive out of 9 is reasonably straight and I break 120, to incredibly talented people like some of my relatives who are scratch golfers (i.e. they go around in par).

There are some amateurs who are literally the best in the world at some actvities: Someone like W5UN or K1FO probably knows more about big moonbounce arrays and amateur EME than anyone else. I don't think they came by that knowledge because they were paid to do EME. There are professional planetary radar specialists who are pretty knowledgeable about bouncing signals off the moon, but I doubt they know all the ins and outs of large Yagi arrays, etc.

For myself, I'm lucky.. I like radio stuff, I've been doing it since I was a little kid (it helps to have a grandfather who was a ham and father who was a ham and a EE professor). I got started on the 10,000 hours pretty early. And, over the past 30 or so years, for about half that time, I've been paid to do radio stuff, and fortunately, interesting state of the art radio stuff (from electronic warfare to deep space telecom to radars to detect victims buried in rubble). The other half the time, I was still doing engineering or software, but just not doing radio (at least in a paid sense).

I work with a lot of young engineers, and from a skills and competence thing, it's easy to tell the ones who have a childhood background with the area. By the time you get to folks with 10 years experience, it's harder to tell. Probably that hours in the saddle thing, again. You have to have built an amplifier that oscillates, or a system with terrible parasitic problems, or that was as deaf as a post, or that exploded in a flash of light.

One thing I have noticed though.. people who are paid to do something often don't do that exact thing as a hobby or avocation. The longest wavelength W4EF works with at JPL is probably 20cm or so, and mostly he's up at 1 cm or shorter. At home, though, he's working topband, at 1000 times the wavelength. Courtney, N5BF, used to do GPS receiver development at JPL, but he just has an off the shelf GPS receiver for his APRS rig, he works HF and does things like trying to do moonbounce with a 5 Watt transmitter. He's doing nano/small-sat stuff now at work, harkening back to his AMSAT days, but I'll bet he's not out putting together an satellite station at home. I find that my ham radio activity tends to be orthogonal to what I'm doing at work as well. I did a lot more ham stuff when I was doing a pure software development job. SO maybe there is somewhat of a "scratch the itch" thing

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