Monday, October 22 , 2018, 7:32 pm | Partly Cloudy with Haze 62º


Paul Burri: Learning Useless Stuff Sometimes Pays Off

You never know when seemingly frivolous knowledge will come in handy

At one time or another I suspect that all of us have found ourselves sitting in some boring class thinking, “Why am I supposed to learn this stuff? I’ll never use it.” To some degree or another, I guess there is some sense to this. If you’re intending to pursue a career in sports, what good will trigonometry ever do for you? If you want to be a nuclear physicist, why do you need to take a music appreciation class?

I guess I should be grateful that, growing up, I was usually interested in whatever class I was required (or forced) to take. Or more accurately, I never totally hated any of them because I was always interested in learning something new. I just never remember asking myself that “What am I doing here?” question.

Around the second year of my high school days, I needed to start making some career decisions. The so-called career counselors were no help at all. Thinking back on it, I don’t think they had more knowledge of career possibilities or career paths than I did. Eventually I chose to become a chemical engineer. To this day I have very little idea what a chemical engineer actually does, so why did I choose that goal? To quote an old cliché, it sounded like a good idea at the time.

After taking numerous courses in engineering over the years and subsequently working in entirely different fields, I finally achieved my college degree — not in engineering but in business administration. But that, as they say, is a whole ‘nother story.

But back to my original idea of learning stuff that “I’ll never use.” At one time, still pursuing my engineering goal, I found myself taking a course titled Chemistry I. That was followed by an even more difficult course titled Chemistry II. I did fairly well in both courses, but I really could not see myself ever using what I was learning.

About 25 years later, I found myself managing a small printed circuit company in Gardena. For this, my growing business skills were vital. But I soon learned that much of the business of making printed circuit boards involved the electroplating of copper, tin, nickel, rhodium and gold. And those electroplating processes were mostly chemical and had to be monitored, controlled and maintained properly for the success of the business. I soon found myself talking to various technical people related to the plating processes, and guess what? Those “useless” classes in chemistry allowed me to at least be able to ask intelligent questions of these experts and to understand their answers.

Another time, many years after working at the printed circuit company when I now owned my own company, we needed a special bronze casting for one of our products. To make a casting requires that a wooden pattern be made that is in the exact size and shape of the final casting. And then, after taking a freshman high school class in pattern making about 55 years earlier (!), I one day found myself making that fairly sophisticated pattern and using what I had learned back then.

Had I wondered all those years earlier, why was I learning this stuff? No, but if I had, 55 years later I would have had my answer.

— Paul Burri is an entrepreneur, inventor, columnist, engineer and iconoclast. He is not in the advertising business, but he is a small-business counselor with the Santa Barbara chapter of Counselors to America’s Small Business-SCORE. The opinions and comments in this column are his alone and do not represent the opinions or policies of any outside organization. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here for previous Paul Burri columns. Follow Paul Burri on Twitter: @BronxPaul

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.