Change Leader: Maintain a Mindset of Continuous Learning
These profiles are based on interviews, and the opinions and statements are those of the subject and are not necessarily shared or endorsed by this publication.
To learn more about the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the latest trends in engineering technology, Todd Danielson, the editorial director of Informed Infrastructure, interviewed Babak Beheshti, IEEE senior member and dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Sciences at the New York Institute of Technology. The following are excerpts from that interview:
Danielson: Tell me a little about IEEE.
Beheshti: IEEE was formed in 1963 from the joining of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers and the Institute of Radio Engineers. However, its roots go way back, more than 100 years since its original inception. As of 2018, IEEE is the world’s largest association for technical professionals. We have more than 420,000 members in more than 160 countries around the world with many areas of interest in technical areas across the spectrum. The objectives of IEEE are educational and technical advancements of electrical and electronic engineers, telecommunications, computer engineering and related disciplines.
Danielson: Could you describe some of the most important new technologies used in infrastructure monitoring and use?
Beheshti: I’ll start with one IEEE is involved in: standardization of wireless sensor networks. ZigBee is the commercial name for the IEEE 802.15.4 standard, a low-power radio protocol for connecting sensors wirelessly to one another, and it would be used when monitoring the health of bridges, tunnels, any type of infrastructure.
An upcoming technology that most people think of in terms of mobile wireless is 5G, the fifth-generation cellular standards, which will really enable devices to wirelessly monitor and transmit data through the 5G standard to a central location for processing. The whole concept of smart cities and monitoring the health of infrastructure would be closely tied into the capabilities of 5G.
Danielson: Why is 5G so much of a leap over 4G?
Beheshti: One characteristic is the capability to transmit data at high rates, which is about 100 times faster than what 4G can do. Another is very small latency, by a factor of 10 or more–less than one millisecond.
A third characteristic that makes 5G significantly more advanced than its predecessor is the concept of network slicing. The entire wireless network that we use in our daily lives, using 4G, now can be virtualized. If I’m using, for example, a smart city or infrastructure-monitoring application, I can section off a segment of the network with a certain quality of service, with certain parameters and characteristics, guaranteed to me as the user of this application. This section will be isolated, both for security as well as resource-management purposes, from another segment of the network that, for example, is streaming multimedia, audio or video.
Danielson: The infrastructure industry often gets a lot of criticism for being slow to adopt technology. What might you recommend to increase technology intake?
Beheshti: It should be a concerted effort by trade journals and publications in the specific disciplines, for example infrastructure engineering, to look at the technologies on the horizon and coming into commercial deployment. Look at integrating more with publications and various conferences that are at the “cutting edge” of introducing many of these new technologies. Individual engineers or technical professionals in these areas should become members of technical societies. They also should lead or at least participate in standardization efforts.
Danielson: How can we reach not just engineers, but get more of the stakeholders, owners and decision makers in the infrastructure industry to become more informed about the technology that can help them? Would being more cognizant of the financial benefits of these technologies help?
Beheshti: I think you really hit the point in the latter part of your question. As long as we are focusing–as geeks–on the technological wonders of these new technologies and ignoring the financial aspects, whether cost or cost savings of these technologies, we’re going to be leaving the decision makers out of it. For example, CapEx considerations are rarely discussed in technology news releases, right? There’s this wonderful technology, but we don’t talk about the capital expenditures that are going to be required to deploy that technology: installation costs, training costs, training of your personnel to adopt this new technology, and operations and maintenance considerations and costs.
On the positive side, we need to discuss the operational efficiencies obtained through adapting these new technologies. Then the decision makers will be more informed of the value of these technologies to really make the right decisions for their organizations.
Danielson: What can infrastructure engineers do to better their knowledge and use of new technology?
Beheshti: I recommend a three-pronged approach. Engineers should regularly participate in trade conferences and cross-disciplinary conferences. Participating in these networking opportunities provides engineers access to the “latest and greatest” technologies that are coming up.
I also would recommend joining professional organizations, such as IEEE, because then the publications and resources are available through the members of these professional organizations, providing a regular stream of vetted information. I can’t overemphasize how important it is to have confidence in the reliability of the information one receives.
And the third prong every engineer should be using is the mindset that we all need to be in the mode of lifelong learning. The days that one went to school, got a degree and went to work–and never have to go back to school–are long gone. And I’m not talking about traditional degrees. The concept of micro-credentials is becoming a very hot topic in the industry and academia. The idea being that I, as a professional, should really take charge of my continuous education and participate in workshops, certifications and micro-credentials that will give me a measurable certification of having achieved a certain technical skill.
My advice to young engineers, young professionals, is to constantly be aware of the fast pace of technology evolution and how it impacts how we do business. Stay current and informed about the technology changes coming down the pike, so you can be ready and prepared for them. By the time a technology takes footing in the industry, it may be too late for you in your particular industry or company or business to remain competitive. You may have missed the window of opportunity.