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10 things you should know about engineering standards

03 Feb 2015  | Suzanne Deffree

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The standards process is as daunting before as it is now. Nevertheless, the need for technological standards has never been more relevant.

Not every engineer looks forward to the standards process. Karen Bartleson, Synopsys senior director of corporate programs and initiatives and the 2013 and 2014 president of the IEEE Standards Association, however, celebrates them.

Bartleson, also a candidate running for president of the IEEE and up for election this fall, highlighted her 10 commandments for effective standards.

Bartleson revealed why she believes standards are crucial to the everyday work of an engineer, how she sees them as fuel for innovation and how they can benefit an engineer's career.

Bartleson's 10 commandments for effective standards

1. Cooperate on standards; compete on products: Bartleson calls this "the golden rule" of the standards process. She describes it as being mature enough to cooperate to create a standard, yet savvy enough to later use the standard in competing products.

2. Use caution when mixing patents and standards: Patents and standards are contentious and powerful. Mix them with care.

3. Know when to stop: There are things that should not be standardised.

4. Be truly open: "'Open' can mean different things to different people," Bartleson said. It does not necessarily mean free. But if a standard is truly a standard, participation in its standard process should be available to all and its technologies should be available to all.

5. Realise there is no neutral party: Recognise that "everyone who participates in a standard committee has a reason for being there," she noted.

6. Leverage existing organisations and proven processes: Modelling a new standard's process off of the successful procedures of an existing group can save time and effort.

7. Think relevance: "The biggest measure of a standard is its adoption," Bartleson said.

8. Recognise there is more than one way to create a standard: Different groups have different needs. Processes must be adjusted.

9. Start with contributions, not from scratch: Do not create a situation that lends itself toward dominance by any contributor to the standard who may build up from a sole perspective.

10. Know that standards have technical and business aspects: This can be a big struggle, but don't forget that there's a business side to what happens in a standard process.

Bartleson is encouraging designers and engineers to become involved in the standard process relevant to their work.

At minimum, she said, "Respect the standards that are around you and the people who created them."

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