2020 - The Year Of The Engineer

If we could have a “Year of the Engineer”, then I am firmly of the opinion that 2020 would be it. Lockdown has demonstrated unprecedented imagination, ingenuity and tenacity, especially for our engineering community.

When I first joined television some thirty-odd years ago as a trainee broadcast engineer, there were four engineers to every studio. By the time I left night shifts and 4am breakfast television crew calls, this had reduced to four studios per engineer.

The simple fact is that in recent years equipment has become much more reliable, thanks to all the vendors burning the midnight oil to improve technology. There are no camera tubes to register, head azimuths to align, or monitors to calibrate. Everything just seems to work. But with this reliability has come greater complexity as program makers demand more from the technology.

IP is delivering some fantastic opportunities for broadcasters and especially those that have decided to embrace and learn this new technology. Data logging has become as important as the waveform monitor and Python scripts have replaced the soldering iron.

Broadcast engineers have had to learn our craft from first principles and due to the need for television to maintain backwards compatibility, we must still understand inherently important and historical concepts such as interlace and 30/1.001 frame rates. Yes, they’re technically obsolete and if we could start television all over again then nobody would mention them, and who knows, we might not even have video frames?

But the point is, we have to constantly remember where we’ve come from, and I think this helps us enormously when embarking on curve-ball problem solving.

When working with broadcast infrastructures we’re constantly switching our mindset between high-level systems and low-level electronics and software. I think it’s this skill that has empowered us to shine over the past year. As a profession, a group, and a community, we’ve all played our part in making sure the show goes on by both applying our knowledge, and by employing a unique method of problem solving.

We constantly adapt and anybody who’s swapped the waveform monitor and soldering iron for a Linux command line prompt and Python script will know this. Learning and expanding knowledge is at the core of our being and there is no greater achievement than taking seemingly disparate components and making them work harmoniously, as so many have done through lockdown with outstanding and unprecedented success.

Maybe you could look back at your achievements this year and reflect on your success? You might even want to tell us about it, and if you do, please contact me so we can help others learn from your accomplishments.

Congratulations to every engineer!

Happy New Year.

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