Knowing Where to Tap

Jake, a respected veteran engineer in a power generation plant, retired with great congratulations and accolades. A few months later the plant suffered a major malfunction—a real meltdown with all systems involved. The engineering staff could not quickly diagnose the problem so with due urgency they called Jake for an emergency consultation.

He surveyed the situation, checking the condition of some indicator lights and made a few measurements. He resolutely marched to a bank of gray electrical boxes, opened one and tapped on a relay. Instantly indicator lights signaled a status change and systems sprang back to life.

Jake submitted a bill for this very brief consultation—$500, a seemingly modest amount for the gravity of the situation. But a bean-counter in the office was not so impressed, and questioned the $500 charge for such short work. He asked for an itemized bill. The old-timer resubmitted a hand-written statement that read as follows:

My apologies to whomever I stole this story. I honestly can’t remember. It’s amusing and confirms the status and mystique of the guru with special knowledge and experience. We’d all like to imagine we could be Jake.

But what if he had done a better job of sharing his knowledge during his employment years? What if he had more thoroughly mentored and trained his junior colleagues? They would have known where to tap.

When I joined Burr-Brown 34 years ago after seven years of previous engineering experience, I was drawn to this company where knowledge sharing was so deeply ingrained in the culture. Experts generously shared their time with junior engineers. Everyone helped one another to advance the analog art. The chemistry of design reviews was scintillating. Multiple gurus would challenge and improve on one another’s ideas. It was hard-core analog but always with the best intent and good humor.

A culture of knowledge-sharing and collaboration requires maintenance and tuning. People come and go. It requires real intent to sustain this culture. I hope that your company has it. If so, nurture it. If it’s waning, rebuild it. If it’s missing, start it.

With that, I say goodbye. I have plans for more grandfathering, bicycle riding and, to be honest, cleaning my garage. It’s been a privilege to have this forum over the past 15 months and 65 blogs. It was challenging. I found myself learning more about topics I thought I knew pretty well. It reminds me of what an old mentor told me—if you want to really learn something, teach it!  (Thanks, Jerry.)

The Signal blogs will stay on this site forever (whatever forever may be in the web age). Watch for a new blog, the TI Precision Designs Hub, where you will hear from multiple experts in the area of analog and data conversion.

Thanks for reading and goodbye,

Bruce              email:

     All The Signal blogs are listed here grouped generally by topic.

                                           Thanks Kristina, Aimee. And special thanks to Grace Bauske, RIP.

  • Bruce, I am sure I speak for many when I say thank you for the excellent 'The Signal' blog. I found it both enjoyable and enlightening. Enjoy your retirement.



  • It's been a honor and a pleasure to know you, Bruce. You not only educate and share your vast knowledge in every blog you write, but you share a bit of yourself through humor, storytelling, and a little snarkiness now and then. It's my favorite kind of writing and I believe you resonate so well with your readers because of that unique combination of intelligence and humor.

    I feel incredibly fortunate to have met you and shared this community space with you. I have a feeling I am in good company...

    Cheers and peace,


  • Bruce,

     I know I will surely miss you. You were one of the "know-where-to-tap" guys I got introduced to when I first started at TI almost 8 years ago.  I could depend on you, you were not just helpful, but full of wisdom that you also so graciously passed on.  That "teach a man to fish" attitude was apparent in your interactions, and I'm glad to say I adapted that same style.  I will miss you , my friend.  And I know you will continue to make a difference in the world. . . .  best to you.


  • Bruce,

    I'm sorry to hear that you're leaving and I wish you fun and success with your future plans (I know how difficult it is to clean up a garage that was left unattended for years -  I still have some sealed chests from my last moving, 12 years ago.)

    It was a honor and a pleasure to know you and especially to meet you in person earlier this year in Texas.

    And as usual, you're right: knowing where to tap is more important than being capable of tapping. I know lot sof people how know how to tap, but have no clue where to tap. So they tap everywhere and will eventually find the right spot - or cause more damage before they reach it.

    And I wholeheartedly agree that passing knowledge forward is as important as gathering it. (even though unspread knowledge helps keeping the job). In my own forum posts, I always try not only to tell where to tap, but also why or how I figured out.

    And finally, it is a true and important insight that teaching makes you learn things better. It starts with learning the vocabulary of a foreign language: if someone asks you and you tell him the results, you'll learn faster and better than when you write the questiona nd aswer on two sides of a card and learn by yourself.

    If you are forced to sort your throughts in order to pass them to someone else, you often enough discover where your own knowledge lacks detail or understanding. I learned this when giving private lessons in math, physics and chemistry so many years ago, and I still notice it when explaining my own work progress to the others during our weekly meetings.

    Passing knowledge is a win-win situation.

    Thank you for all the knowledge you passed to us in your blog. I learned a lot by your blog. Not only about analog design. I'll miss it, and I'll miss you. I hope you'll miss us too, at least a little bit :)


  • The origin of this story may be apocryphal, but when I first heard it, c. 1984, It was attributed to General Electric, Schenectady, NY, and the old-timer in question was John Steinmetz. The consulting charge was only $100, but in Steinmetz' day, this was a princely sum. Accounting demanded an itemized bill, and the old SOB responded with, "$1/tap + $99/knowing where to tap".

    Good luck in your retirement. As I near my own, I wonder who will carry the torches in the future. If it is going to be the young engineers in our own communities, then it is up to the old-timers to pass on their knowledge before it becomes lost art.

  • Bruce-san,

    I'm sorry you are leaving even though I knew this day would come… It has been a great privilege for me to work with you for the past 10years. I ‘ll never  forget what you gave us in technical training or customer visit. When I travel in Tucson next time, let me help your garage cleaning !



  • All the best for your retirement! I have enjoyed your column and learned a lot from it. I hope that somebody will continue to address the same broad range of topics. "Precision Designs Hub" sounds a lot more specialised and I wonder whether they will trouble with little things like bypass capacitors.


  • hey Bruce T. I am staggered and amazed you would exit with so much left to do!!

    occasionally I get asked to comment/correct on various articles and authors. Recently someone asked me about one and gave me the title - I asked who wrote and when he said Bruce Trump I immediately said "well then it is almost certainly correct and useful" What I didn't say was correct and useful on more levels than most folks can imagine.

    Yes the BB and TI design and test reviews operated at a rarified level of open discussion and challenge to move the state of the art forward and protect what were often the most critical path customers in the world from mistakes. You certainly were a big part of that culture and contribution and I am sure the youngin's are going to feel a bit set adrift.

    Enjoy organizing your garage, something I to sorely need to attend to.

  • Bruce,

    You are absolutely one of those Guru's who passed along the knowledge.  I know I have learned a lot from reading your stuff before and after my time at TI and I gained a boatload of knowledge from you, Bill, and many others of the old BB guys while I was at TI.  I sincerely hope you the best in your grandfathering and bike riding.  If you ever get the itch to write some, please do.  There is an army of us out there who would love to see more.

    Mark Fortunato

  • Hi Bruce, I really will be missing your new posts on "The Signal". I wish you a lot of happy hours while working on your current plans.

    best regards