Where engineers can turn for help, without the commercial interruptions

Noncommercial, online engineering forums help with problem-solving.

By JIM MURPHY

At some point, nearly every electrical or computer engineer has been stopped dead in his or her tracks by a complex technical issue at work. But the job must be completed on time, and the engineer's career is on the line. Where can professionals go to get good answers to work-related problems?

Traditional sources are not always convenient or reliable. The stumped worker may not want to ask a boss or colleagues for political reasons, and co-workers may not have any more experience on the subject than the questioner. After extensive telephone hold time, querying equipment or material suppliers may yield a biased answer and result in marketing pitches for additional products. Product documentation and manuals are another source, but answers to specific questions are not always evident in instructive materials. Finally, the engineer can transport himself to a conference or training program, pay a lot of money, be away from family for several days, and miss work. Although that may be good for networking purposes, it does not solve the immediate problem in a timely manner.

A new Internet site gives engineers access to one of the largest pools of en gineering talent where they can get answers to work-related problems conveniently and with no commercial intrusions. Eng-Tips Forums, www.eng - tips.com, are free and confidential discussions on any subject, product, or strategy within the engineering discipline. Membership in the forums is in the thousands, with new members signing on daily.

"Engineers, like other professionals, need a 'safe,' non-political place to go to solve technical issues that arise daily at work," says Dave Murphy, president of Tecumseh Group. "On Eng-Tips, you can post a question within a particular discipline, and members respond with their collective experience to solve the problem. It's like having your own staff of qualified experts on call. Posts are confidential, so no one ever gets fired for seeking advice on our site.

"Also, members aren't bothered by unsolicited posts from marketers, since vendors and recruiters must identify themselves, and forums are member-policed. Selling and recruiting are prohibited within these forums," Murphy adds.

Eng-Tips comprises hundreds of forums categorized by every engineering discipline and by topic. Currently, the 10 most popular forums are listed under mechanical engineers, structural engineers, storm/flood engineering, underwriter laboratories, electrical/electronic engineers, circuit engineering, piping and fluid mechanics, ACI (concrete), engine and fuel engineering, and chemical engineering. New forums on fiber-optic, optoelectronics, and computer and communications technologies were recently added and are now building membership.

Eng-Tips Forums make discussion easy for members and visitors. An engineer interested in a particular topic can either search for a forum by topic or keyword from the home page or follow the path within the professional category.

Members can remain anonymous, which sets Eng-Tips apart from newsgroups and other online forums. Professionals who want to customize forum selections and be instantly notified of posts to their forums can register by simply submitting their e-mail address. Unlike other online forums that have a high "noise level" from extraneous chatter, marketer intrusions, or "flaming" (criticizing) other people, Eng-Tips members enjoy a very focused and responsible level of discussion. Members can "red-flag" posts from vendor companies and recruiters, and site administrators are diligent in taking action.

Several Eng-Tips features make posting and monitoring responses easy. Members can request instant notification by e-mail of new questions or responses within selected forums. So an engineer who posts a question on a laser application knows immediately when a response is submitted and can access that forum. In addition, members receive on request weekly activity summaries of posts to forums in which they are interested. Other unique features include optional personal profiles by members and a Link Library of useful Websites arranged by topic.

Eng-Tips Forums are run by the Tecumseh Group, the largest independent forum management company on the Internet. Tecumseh Group forums also include Tek-Tips Forums for information-technology professionals.

Jim Murphy PE, RLS, is forum manager at the Eng-Tips Forums site. He can be contacted at forummanager@eng-tips.com.

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