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Experience is not always the best teacher

Mike_SheppardMike_Sheppard Member Posts: 276
I just wanted to take a moment to share this from Dan's Lost Art Revisited book. (Picture attached) This story really struck home with me. I was trained by these older guys when I was coming up as a service technician. When I look back on it now, I realize that some were good, but the majority of them had never read a manual or a book in their life. When I started reading and working on my own, it felt almost like I was starting over. I had to relearn what I thought I had already learned. It pains me when I see young guys coming up now who refuse to read anything or seek any form of education other than experience.

What I really find aggravating, being a younger guy, is when an older guy doesn't want to believe what I am saying because I only have 11 years of experience to his 20 or 30. I have to fight this a lot. Project managers, salesmen, supervisors, other techs, not wanting to listen to the solution to a problem they asked to be solved. I have run many many calls behind older "more experienced" technicians who couldn't fix some of the simplest problems, and when you confront them about it they are not pleased. I just felt like I could relate with that story as I have been on the negative side of it, and never want to be that old guy teaching the wrong thing.

Shout out to all the great old guys here and all the guys who love learning! And to all the guys who keep teaching and providing educational material for us who are coming up. This a great community full of wonderful people.
Never stop learning.


  • DanHolohanDanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 14,356
    Thanks, Mike. Well said. The older I get, the more I'm listening and the less I'm talking.
    Retired and loving it.
  • lchmblchmb Member Posts: 2,872
    sometimes a new set of eye's from a younger guy are just what's needed... Ego is the worst thing in this industry...
  • EBEBRATT-EdEBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 4,755
    You never learn enough in this business. 45 years of this and I feel like I have only scratched the surface. On the other hand when you work with someone that is just starting out you realize how much you really know, you just kind of absorb it as you go....if your a person that wants to learn.

    To be able to learn you have to like to read. Some don't like reading. You can also learn by watching someone ...if there doing the job right. For me it's a combination of things.

    The worst is a stubborn old fart who thinks he knows everything. I admit to being that way occasionally....until I screw up and reality sets in.
  • SuperTechSuperTech Member Posts: 549
    @Mike_Sheppard I could have posted the exact same thing, I feel the same way 100%. Reading Dan's books and educating myself with online resources has taught me so much, especially about some of the incorrect teachings that some of the more experienced service techs have taught me. One tech with 30 years in the field tried to tell me that you don't need to do combustion analysis on 80% gas furnaces and boilers! I never listened to any of his teachings after that.

    I still have the same thirst for knowledge that can't be quenched that I had as a green apprentice. I don't ever want to be that stubborn old fart that thinks he knows everything. The only way I will ever become a super tech is if I keep learning every single day.
  • Mike_SheppardMike_Sheppard Member Posts: 276
    edited April 2018
    @RayWohlfarth I remember reading that in your books. And it describes some of the people I have worked with perfectly.

    How, after 25 years, does a tech still not understand how a flame rod works? One year of experience twenty times.

    Edit: I can't remember if I read that in your books or in Al Levi's book.
    Never stop learning.
  • rick in Alaskarick in Alaska Member Posts: 784
    Being mostly self taught, I will listen to anyone. Then I will think it through, and if it makes sense, I will use it. If it doesn't, then I will think it through some more to make sure I am not missing something. I mean, how many times have we been on a job and looked at a problem and said, "this can't happen. Its impossible". But yet all the symptoms you are seeing is saying it is happening. Then you need to step back and look at the whole scenario again and figure out what it is you are missing.
    Personally, I love those moments when I do figure it out. It keeps the brain sharp.
    Anyway, I would never discount anything anyone else says even if they haven't been in the trade. And the ones who have been in for years and refuse to change; Listen to them also with an open mind because they might just have a different way of getting where you need to be that doesn't seem reasonable at the time.
    As a side note. I love seeing ads that companies have out that say they have 50 years of experience there. Is that one guy, or 50? My cynical side says, 50.
  • There's something to be learned from everyone. I've learned to just leave if there's too much useless information. Notice that I'm still here on heatinghelp.

    Often wrong, never in doubt.
  • Mike_SheppardMike_Sheppard Member Posts: 276
    @rick in Alaska my experience with coming up in this trade is the majority of people really have no clue what they’re doing. By trade I’m referring to commercial/industrial heating and cooling. I don’t have experience with much residential work so I can’t speak for that. But those same guys I’ve worked around for the last 11 years are also the ones who will tell you reading and classes don’t matter, on the job experience is all you need.

    I’ll expand on the flame rod story. Commercial atmospheric hot water boiler. About 40 years old. Won’t sense the pilot and locks out. Tech A with 25 years of experience goes to the job. Says pilot assembly is bad and orders a new one. Tech B with 22 years of experience gets sent to install the new pilot assembly. He installs the pilot assembly and it does the same thing. He somehow then comes to the conclusion that the Honeywell reset control on the wall that controls the 3-way valve is causing the problem. He writes up that it needs to be replaced and leaves. The office finds this funny and I get sent out. First thing I notice is there is no ground wire on pilot assembly back to the ignition module. Install ground wire, flame rod senses flame and boiler comes on - after a week of this place having no heat during the winter. I confronted both of them about it and instantly had the “I have 20+ years of experience I know what I’m doing” spiel thrown back at me. One said, and I quote, “I know all about grounding and all kinds of ways to ground, and a pilot assembly doesn’t need to be grounded.”

    Both of these guys are teaching young techs. I haven’t had the luxury of working with many people who know what they’re doing. I’m sure that is not the same experience for everyone. But it’s what inspired me to educate myself and strive for more so I guess I am thankful for it.
    Never stop learning.
  • GroundUpGroundUp Member Posts: 384
    Great information guys! I'm no technician, and know very little in terms of service or control. I'm an installer, and that's what I'm good at. A guy can learn a lot from a book and a guy can learn a lot on site, this goes both ways. Classroom learning was never my thing and I was never a good classroom student through my 5 year apprenticeship, but having worked with hundreds of different pipefitters over my 11 years in the commercial/industrial world I can say there are a lot of classroom geniuses that couldn't solder a joint if their life depended on it, as well as a similar amount that can solder and weld like nobody's business but haven't a clue how to calculate system volume. I started as a foreman at 21 years old, as a 3rd year apprentice. Even now at 29, it's still nearly impossible to talk any sense into a lot of the older guys on my crew because I'm "just a stupid kid" or they were "running pipe before I was born". These are often guys that have the tunnel mentality and only show up for a paycheck. Now, I'll be the first to admit that I'm an idiot and have a LOT to learn about the trade, but unlike most of these fellas I'm willing to listen and learn; weigh our options. Every morning I like to visit each of my crew's work areas and go over the plan for the day. I usually have a "how I'd do it" plan in my head already so I listen to theirs and then tell them mine, and we come together with the most cost and time effective manner in which to complete each project. It tends to work very well, and quite honestly there is more good information coming from the apprentices than the 30 year veterans. There are obviously a few veterans out there that actually do know everything, but those guys are typically few and far between. My shop employs nearly 120 field employees, and when there is a call for radiant floors I am the guy that gets called. The next youngest guy is mid 40's. When it comes to steam however, I'm the last guy they call because I don't have enough experience with it- although I've learned almost everything I know about steam from a few of those old geezers and they know their stuff!

    This can really go both ways, and we need to appreciate both the seasoned guys and the newbies as long as they're willing to cooperate.
  • Solid_Fuel_ManSolid_Fuel_Man Member Posts: 1,289
    edited April 2018
    I was an auto mechanic for 10 years, and now electrician who also does HVAC.

    I went to school many years ago for industrial controls which was great in the auto industry, back when fuel injection was still new-fangled.

    Also as a wood burner, I will tell you it's not just the hvac industry that has techs who don't fully understand what they are doing.

    You can do something wrong for 30 years, a lot of that goes for burning wood.

    It really irks me when someone who is a professional who does not understand what they are doing. All we need to do in this day and age is look up a good book and read it. If we all don't want to keep learning then we will never get any smarter! And I agree that learning from others defiantly has it's merits.

    Having arrogance of "knowing it all" is about the worst thing anyone can be, young or old, regardless of expierence.
    Master electrician specialising in boiler and burner controls, multiple fuel systems, radiant system controls, building controls, and universal refrigeration tech.
  • unclejohnunclejohn Member Posts: 1,346
    I was talking about Hi Eff. boilers a ways back at a supply house and the old crusty boiler guy says to me "sonny I've been puttin boilers in fer 50 years and done of that hi eff stuff is worth a crap every one I installed never works.
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Member Posts: 9,431
    All I can add to all this is that I don't think there's been a day on the Wall when I didn't learn something from all of the pros on here. I've made a lot of mistakes over the years, but I hope I have managed to learn something from each of them as well... but one does have to be willing to learn!

    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England.

    Hoffman Equipped System (all original except boiler), Weil-Mclain 580, 2.75 gph Carlin, Vapourstat 0.5 -- 6.0 ounces per square inch
  • Sal SantamauraSal Santamaura Member Posts: 258 experience with coming up in this trade is the majority of people really have no clue what they’re doing...

    That's far too limiting. The observation is applicable to all trades/professions. :)

  • Mike_SheppardMike_Sheppard Member Posts: 276
    @Sal Santamaura sorry I was trying not to be too harsh lol
    Never stop learning.
  • Big Ed_4Big Ed_4 Member Posts: 1,095
    It's very hard to teach another mechanic unless he wants to listen .... If I bring up something to help one out , and he shoots me down right away . Best off moving on ...

    Every five years a mechanic feels he knows it all , Then bam right to the head ...
    I have enough experience to know , that I dont know it all
  • Mike_SheppardMike_Sheppard Member Posts: 276
    It is hard to teach another mechanic, especially if the mechanic teaching doesn’t know what he’s talking about!!!!

    Luckily the younger guys I’m around seem to like to learn. It’s the older guys who have a real hard time accepting knowledge from a younger guy.
    Never stop learning.
  • HomerJSmithHomerJSmith Member Posts: 477
    edited April 2018
    When you stop learning, you have one foot in the grave.

    I'm reminded of what Mark Twain said, "When I was sixteen, my Dad was so dumb, I could hardly stand to have the old guy around. When I turned twenty, I was surprised at how much the old guy had learned in four years."

    Anyone who's comfortable in this trade has stopped learning!
  • Steve MinnichSteve Minnich Member Posts: 2,143
    @Big Ed "When the student is ready, the teacher appears."

    And not a second before that.
    Steve Minnich
  • HomerJSmithHomerJSmith Member Posts: 477
    edited April 2018
    " A little learning is a dang'rous thing; Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring..."--Alexander Pope's poem!

    "...In Greek mythology, it was believed that drinking from the Pierian Spring would bring you great knowledge and inspiration. Thus, Pope is explaining how if you only learn a little it can "intoxicate" you in such a way that makes you feel as though you know a great deal. However, when "drinking largely sobers" you, you become aware of how little you truly know."--Wikipedia

    A modern take: A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, a lot of knowledge is a sobering thing.

    I'm not the least bit confident in my knowledge, I always suspect that I'm missing something.
  • LeonardLeonard Member Posts: 516
    edited April 2018
    "I confronted both of them about it and instantly had the “I have 20+ years of experience I know what I’m doing” spiel thrown back at me. " ...... sounds like he knows he doesn't know enough and is trying to protect his job.

    Being a MSME I've got a good handle on the basic theory of heat transfer and thermodynamics. But it is humbling to see all the knowledge that the everyday specialists have about specialty cases like house heating systems. So I shut up, read, and learn as much as I can about what goes wrong out in the field. Since it's obvious I don't know it all. There's too many fields out there to be an expert in all of them.

    And this humbling effect happens every time I look into a new area, be it electric generators or other things. There's always quirks and innovative ideas to things that you wouldn't expect.
  • Mike_SheppardMike_Sheppard Member Posts: 276
    @Leonard I agree completely.

    A mentor of mine that I look up to got me to go to one of the Carrier systems design classes. Before that I knew nothing of system design, be it air, water, or whatever. That class was great and it opened my mind to an entire new world I previously had no knowledge of. Since then I have tried to expand in so many ways. It has definitely been a humbling experience.
    Never stop learning.
  • LeonardLeonard Member Posts: 516
    edited April 2018
    My school background is in design engineering not repair. In 80's moved to HOT Connecticut for a job and my car AC didn't work. AC garage said it'ld be a pricey $100 and they couldn't do it for a month, weather would be cold by then!!! I knew themodynamics but not the practical side of recharging ACs. So went to library and read some books on AC recharging to learn the practical side of things. Went to Bradlees and bought a $7 recharge hose , modified it to add a good pressure gauge, shut off valve, and recharged my car. Worked great, ice cold air.

    Eventually I bought the dual gauges, adapters, a few cases of R12 cans and recharged cars after work. Paid for the gauges and beer money in no time. Easy work. R12 cans were 99cents back then.
  • the_donutthe_donut Member Posts: 374
    Just because a guy is dead wrong about something doesn’t mean there isn’t something to learn from him. I am a firm believer that everyone has something to teach us. Sometimes it’s just to teach us not to do it the way they do, but even then they have taught us something.
  • Solid_Fuel_ManSolid_Fuel_Man Member Posts: 1,289
    Wow @Tim McElwain That is pretty neat! A few classes I've taken I've wanted to do the same say "pay attention to this guy he's smarter than you think you are, 'cause I've seen some of your work". I absolutely love learning from this place and hanging around with those who are smarter than I! Learn everyday.
    Master electrician specialising in boiler and burner controls, multiple fuel systems, radiant system controls, building controls, and universal refrigeration tech.
  • DanHolohanDanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 14,356
    Nice memory, Tim. Thanks.
    Retired and loving it.
  • BradHotNColdBradHotNCold Member Posts: 22
    I am not in the trades, but follow Dan and you guys as a homeowner who had steam houses in past. Thought I would pass along this gem — forget where I read it. But it is:

    W hy
    A m
    T alking?
  • DanHolohanDanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 14,356
    Retired and loving it.
  • OldSchoolHVACOldSchoolHVAC Member Posts: 6
    Great comments from both young and "well experienced" on here. This year marks my 26th year in the HVAC/R industry and it amazes me how the learning never ends. I am still learning about yesterdays technology as well as trying my best to keep up with the new ways that are being thrown at us on a daily basis. Even if you know absolutely everything today, tomorrow there will be a new control or process method that you will have to master. If we stop learning for just one day, we will soon get left behind.
    A big thank you to Dan and Erin for helping me to understand technology from yesterday, today and tomorrow.
    Keep selling, keep wrenching, and for heavens sake, KEEP LEARNING!!
  • DanHolohanDanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 14,356
    Thanks for that. Beautifuly said.
    Retired and loving it.
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