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Not selling ourselves short - Engineering is an honorable profession

06/25/2010 3:52 PM

Hello everyone,

I work with Kleinfelder, a nationwide engineering consulting firm. Our CEO, Bill Siegel recently wrote an article for GeoPrac.net that I think should be brought to everyone's attention.

It's all too often that engineers become so mired in their daily tasks that they forget what a profound impact their work makes on the world. This article serves as a reminder of why we all got into this industry in the first place and is certainly enouraging to those just entering the field. It would do us all good to take a step back and look at the bigger picture once in a while. I promise you'll feel better about going into work every day if you do.

Please take a look: http://www.geoprac.net/articles-mainmenu-31/132-miscellaneous/732-we-must-not-sell-ourselves-short-engineering-is-an-honorable-profession

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#1

Re: Not selling ourselves short - Engineering is an honorable profession

06/25/2010 9:41 PM

That was a nice article, very brief and to the point.

It reminds me of the book The Existential Pleasures of Engineering, by Samuel C. Florman, which I have recommended before in a CR4 comment.

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#2

Re: Not selling ourselves short - Engineering is an honorable profession

06/25/2010 11:08 PM

ya I like that. ga

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#3

Re: Not selling ourselves short - Engineering is an honorable profession

06/26/2010 12:51 AM

You civil engineers (and aeronautical engineers) are in a way lucky. While much of your creativity is supressed by the numerous codes and design protocols that you must work under your accomplishments are long lasting and have a profound effect on human life. Personaly I think your side of engineering is the hot area for this new century; although you're having a slow time of it in the face of current economic slowdowns.

On the other hand electrical and mechanical engineers in the world of product development can be much more creative; but our accomplishments are short lived and soon forgotten. When they do stand out it is usually some CEO, usually an MBA, marketing type or an accountant that gets the credit. Of course when they flop the quality folks usually get the bad name.

Biomedical and materials engineers? There's usually some phD scientist raising a hand when the cheering starts.

As for chemical engineers? I almost followed that path in engineering school; but I quickly switched to mechanical engineering in no small measure because I had little idea that the ChE's actually did. It took me most of a career to realize that all that stuff we use that comes in bottles, cans, jugs, barrels and tanks needs more than a test tube to get made in a form for us to buy and use.

So is engineering an honorable profession? To me it is and always has been so. The massive technological achievements that we see today that often involve the combined work of hundreds or thousands of engineers does not diminish the value and honor of their contributions. But sadly the scope of these huge accomplishments and the rapid pace of technology make it difficult for the average person to distinguish the accomplishments of individuals. And when something goes wrong it is all to easy to demonize the science and technology that created it and the people who designed it all.

Ed Weldon

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#8
In reply to #3

Re: Not selling ourselves short - Engineering is an honorable profession

06/26/2010 12:32 PM

I agree, what you say is pretty obvious; I would only change the designation of "average person" to maybe "non-technologically oriented person", or even "uneducated person" because psysicists or mathematicians or biologists, chemists, doctors, teachers, physchiatrists or any other professionals would feel tempted to consider themselves elite members, and just label everybody else (engineers included) as "average persons"; I think this ussage of the term, confers it even more ambiguity than it already has, to the point of not knowing who is an average person: Nobody is, or we all are?

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#4

Re: Not selling ourselves short - Engineering is an honorable profession

06/26/2010 1:50 AM

oy

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#5

Re: Not selling ourselves short - Engineering is an honorable profession

06/26/2010 4:32 AM

In the past engineering companies were lead by engineers and those got help from other professionals.

This situation changed when the share holders aimed at short range benefits and engineering became only a tool for success and the marketing and accountants became the rulers. Interesting is the fact that an analysis done about 20 years ago came to the result that from the new products marketing asked for and got developed only 50% became a market accepted product! How would be engineers estimated if only 50% of their projects will work?

I consider that even if engineering is not the goal it is the base of all evolution and new goods (which ever kind) cannot be generated without engineering. More than that there is no possibility to develop an engineering direction without the participation of other specialities. Engineering is not any more a series of parallel running paths but an interlaced activity. Civil engineering as per today cannot be efficient without mechanical engineering and mechanical engineering cannot be efficient without electronic controls or hydraulic servos and the electro-hydraulic servo or proportional valves cannot reach the level of today without the evolution of permanent magnets! And the whole cannot be safe and reliable without a correct soft. I took the example of civil engineering but this is valid for all directions either space or heating or any other.

All our world appreciate today is the result of engineering efforts but we live in a world where money is the unit to appreciate value.

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#6

Re: Not selling ourselves short - Engineering is an honorable profession

06/26/2010 10:56 AM

Not so interesting article.May be you are trying seem nice to your boss.-

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#9
In reply to #6

Re: Not selling ourselves short - Engineering is an honorable profession

06/26/2010 2:03 PM

And what's wrong with being nice to your boss? Even if he/she is best described by resemblence to certain human body parts?

Professionalism has a very large component of "respect for the chain of command" when the work involves a large enough group of individuals to require a leadership structure. For most engineers this is the nature of their working environment.

We have a very current public example of one (not an engineer) who was indeed unprofessional in his respect for the chain of command and suffered appropriate consequences.

Yes, the subject of professional ethics is a bit of a bore compared to a lot of the neat stuff that excites most engineers. But it's an essential part of our biz. And to be crassly materialistic I will tell you it is very important to the size of the compensation we receive.

So if you don't like this then go ahead and mimic the juvenile role models you see in the media and put yourself on the same level as the hired gunslinger who services the company network. Just remember who your customer is.

Ed Weldon

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#12
In reply to #9

Re: Not selling ourselves short - Engineering is an honorable profession

06/26/2010 4:52 PM

Ed - You sound like a professional of a type I would not care to be associated with!

The article is about some one needing praise - nothing more.

The comment seems to mean you should kiss a** to be a professional - some kind of low life thinking. I spent foruty years trying to help people do their best and you seek the lowest common denominator!

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#14
In reply to #12

Re: Not selling ourselves short - Engineering is an honorable profession

06/26/2010 8:21 PM

OK, Russ......... Looks like your opinion of engineers and engineering is different from mine. This is the making of a good healthy debate.

I am not going to try and change your way of thinking because I have enough respect for you to know your positions are probably well taken. And I know from my own recent experience that you have a lot of company.

What I would ask is that you flush out your position so I and maybe a few others like myself can see where you are coming from and why. This is important because our world faces a big problem, albeit one of many, of increasing population and the resulting increase of demand for stuff and a decreasing amount of natural resources to fill that demand. Usually we look to scientists to discover and engineers to develop ways to meet the demand. Sadly,we are sometimes confronted by their massive failures.

While many hope to find a method, perhaps through a philosophy of life, that reduces demand experience seems to show that approach as not producing significant numbers to solve the demand problem. So I have trouble seeing how we can do without the large projects driven to such scope by economies of scale and the engineers needed to make them happen.

So do we need engineers? Can they do the job operating in individually or in small groups driven by a personal ethic of excellence and search for perfection? Or do we need large engineering organizations and the necessary combination of control and ethics that they bring to the picture? Which is more likely to produce the best results.

And realistically, there will be a mix of engineering efforts with teams of various sizes depending on the challenge to be faced. The type of engineer and attitude toward leadership will vary with the scope of the project. Where are we weak on engineering resources? Why the weaknesses? We may need more of the perfectionist folks like Russ. We may need more of the team players like me who are willing to put up with the BS and incompetence.

There's a lot of work to be done and woefully few young engineers in the educational pipeline compared with the future needs for new widely needed technologies.

Ed Weldon

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#16
In reply to #14

Re: Not selling ourselves short - Engineering is an honorable profession

06/26/2010 9:16 PM

I know what the problem is...

the subject of Political Science is taught in schools... but there are no Political Engineers. If there were, we wouldn't have these conversations. I've heard of political architects.. but that usually means a lawmaker who is not averse to armtwisting. In the army, the engineer's corp usually just blows sh*t up.. or enable others to blow sh*t up and kill.

If the problems of the global civilization are to be solved, we truly need Political Engineers to create proper functioning political systems that create appropriate and continuously improving (measured) outputs for the citizens thereof.

so basically Ed, I think you are right. If the world's problems were going to be solved by money, power or force, it would have happened already. (the Nazis surely have tried) The problem is... it only works for a few at the top.

Chris

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#18
In reply to #16

Re: Not selling ourselves short - Engineering is an honorable profession

06/26/2010 10:05 PM

Chris -- You've given me an opening; but it's a bit of a divergence.

We've had engineers that were politicians. Jimmy Carter and Herbert Hoover come to mind. Both good men; but not up to the task of the US presidency as measured by their accomplishments while in office. What we need is people with true leadership talent who understand and appreciate the scientific method and what it means to the human race. The sooner we introduce this way of thinking in their education the better. (There are religious people that will be bothered by this idea, at least the ones who feel the need to compete with science as just another belief system.)

Early in the education process nobody knows who will turn out in adulthood to be part of the political leadership. So just teach basic scientific thinking to everybody. You don't need algebra to buy into the logic of the scientific method. Indeed I believe trying to cram algebra down the throats of all students including the ones whose brains are just not wired that way (two examples in my own family) is likely counter productive. It's silly to try to turn everyone in the population into an engineer. But..... some of our most notable politicians are showing signs of such silliness. ........ OOPs....going OT here.

No, politics is about leading people with all their needs, wants and abilities. Science and engineering are just a couple of vital foundation stones. There are many other foundation stones. The most critical talent is the ability to understand and lead people. The greatest leaders have all the stones working for them and know how to load them properly and evenly.

Ed Weldon

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#19
In reply to #18

Re: Not selling ourselves short - Engineering is an honorable profession

06/26/2010 10:48 PM

we have had good leadership in the past. but when those original leaders are replaced, they are replaced by lesser leaders. and eventually, we end up where we are now.. as shown by this image.

The founding fathers of the US created a system which was not supposed be able to be corrupted or morphed back into a power-mongering system of the few controlling the many. It has been perverted over the years. They were trying to prevent it, but it has happened anyway, and needs to be corrected.

Everywhere I look; banking, elections, business, health & pharmaceuticals, food, police, military... etc. everything is madness, power, greed, deception and force.

Yes there are many millions of good souls out there, and it is for those that I care, and wish to protect. Organizations that were created to benefit the people do not. These need to be replaced, and the systems improved.

Chris

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#20
In reply to #19

Re: Not selling ourselves short - Engineering is an honorable profession

06/26/2010 11:44 PM

Chris -- You are right and the picture is quite illustrative. But you're going OT here into an area that we can discuss til we are blue in the face to only serve to illustrate our political differences.

It does us no credit for our engineering community to sit back and say the people problems are to big for use to make any headway against. Giving up and retiring into our little make believe worlds is not the answer. The essence of our being is to be champions of logic, truth and enlightenment. That we are drowning in a sea of self serving corruption and darkness is no excuse.

One of the first orders of business should be the public relations effort to gain us some credibility. Publicly entertaining the soreheads who for one reason or another didn't grab the brass ring and must tell their sad stories here is probably a waste of everyone's time. I'm willing to hear them out for whatever knowledge can be gained; but better we try to build something good than cry over something that was bad.

Ed Weldon

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#21
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Re: Not selling ourselves short - Engineering is an honorable profession

06/27/2010 12:17 AM

True.

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#23
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Re: Not selling ourselves short - Engineering is an honorable profession

06/27/2010 1:14 AM

I have seen organizations go to the conformist model, slowly wilt and perish - due to the model. The process of one of my old employers was the brainchild of a slightly wild genius. Over the years after he passed away the HR model for new employees placed 'team' over brilliance - meaning they could never hire one like the original brain.

When IBM wanted the PC they split out a separate group from their conformist model.

Engineering is team work as in most cases several different disciplines are required. The team leader has to be a capable people manager to push to get the best out of each individual.

Am I impressed by an organization where you get ahead by being PC? Not at all and that is the model of too many large companies.

Someone claimed you only have to be 'right' 50% of the time - in engineering you need to be 'right' 99 plus% of the time. I would hate to buy a process designed by someone who was correct 50% of the time.

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#24
In reply to #23

Re: Not selling ourselves short - Engineering is an honorable profession

06/27/2010 12:20 PM

Russ -- I think your observations are real; but I suspect they are based on the necessarily small sample size of your own personal experience.

The "conformist model" term is new to me. Much of the world, not just industry, tries to operate that way with varying degrees of success. Volumes have been written on the subject of why they fail or succeed. Not all are bad although one must be ready to adapt to that culture if one wants to profit from their success.

IBM had a major presence right here in Silicon Valley where I have 35 years of experience and connections. The influence of ex-IBM people continues today. Their idea of spinning off separate goups has been widely immitated. The results have been mixed in no small measure due to the remaining threads that connect them to the mother plant. These spinoffs initially escape the procedural constraints of existing engineering structures like documentation and engineering change control as well as central purchasing and the priorities of a volume production activity. Harder to escape are the connections to Sales and Marketing as well as the competitive position of other senior managers in the corporation and the cost pressures the new development activity puts on the company's bottom line.

Much more successful have been the companies formed by brilliant expats from existing large corporations who form new companies. They sever their ties completely and use their resources and skills to build new orcganizations. Holes in their own skill portfolios are often filled in by sophisticated investors such as venture capitalists. But as they grow they are forced into a conformist model guided by rules and procedures in order to gain economies of scale and be manageable. Eventually growth and complexity beyond what a single monolithic manager can handle produce a need for a political structure to keep the organization functional. Most engineers I know dislike what they are not good at and politics is right near the top of that list. We have a special place in our dislike list for company deadwood that stands in the way of us getting our work done.

When you talk about percentage of failure you really have to qualify the issue much further. There are all kinds of modifiers that must be considered. We can say that a failure consists of the airliner not getting airborne on schedule. But was the failure due to an engine falling off the plane or was it due to boarding being postponed 2 minutes to accomodate passengers from a connecting flight? In engineering the failure of a major structure built only once is a whole lot different from a test failure in the long sequence of a product development schedule that allows for multiple design iterations.

Ed Weldon

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#25
In reply to #24

Re: Not selling ourselves short - Engineering is an honorable profession

06/27/2010 12:29 PM

Ed,

I think you could put some of that to music...

sing along with me

"Most engineers I know dislike what they are not good at
and politics is right near the top of that list.

We have a special place in our dislike list for company deadwood
that stands in the way of us getting our work done."

hee hee hee

GA

Chris

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#7

Re: Not selling ourselves short - Engineering is an honorable profession

06/26/2010 12:23 PM

This sort of article makes my eyes roll. Gosh aren't we wonderful.

It's fun to look at the Wikipedia category, "Engineering Failures." There are so many, that you have to drill down through several layers to get to the failure of interest.

We engineer spacecraft that miss the planet entirely because we can't remember to use the right units. We engineer motorcycles that are 38 times as likely to kill you as a car. We engineer cars that kill thousands every day, worldwide. We engineer bridges that collapse.

Without farmers, we'd all starve. Without undertakers, people would be rotting in the streets. The article clumsily and naively compares engineering to drug discovery and development. If engineers can make drugs without side effects, then how irresponsible of us is it to fail to step in and take over from the nutcases in the drug biz, right? How sleazy of us not to have stepped in and stopped the flow of oil in the Gulf.

George Carlin talked about drivers. The one ahead, going slightly slower: "Idiot!" The one who passes you: "Maniac!"

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#10
In reply to #7

Re: Not selling ourselves short - Engineering is an honorable profession

06/26/2010 3:41 PM

I would separate the engineering failures in several categories.

One is due either to "dare devil" approach many times consequence of lack of knowledge (for instance lack of practical experience in the assembly plant among others) and minimisation of system complexity (oh it's simple you only have to do so...) another is due to the "push fast forwards" of the non technical operators in the company. I had some experiences with the second approach and if it was not a failure it is only because my team worked in such a way on spot that we could avoid accidents.

We are, as engineers, asked to develop new systems but many times the specification on which we are OBLIGED to work and which we MUST respect is incomplete and does not contain some important aspects about the usage of the product, an engineer cannot know only based on good sense all aspects related to the field. Unfortunately marketing people are not (not always but many times) technically oriented and do not think what input the engineers need. For some important projects I insisted to participate at the market research and even make pert of it on my own, not every body was happy but I was able to gather the information I needed to define my goals and avoid misunderstandings and errors. At the end even the guy from marketing recognized that he would not put the questions as I did.

There are also situations when the engineer in charge is in fact not the right person to lead the project or even to work for the project.

A last but not least aspect is the lack of coordination and control procedures.

It is well known that every control can only find ≤ 95% of errors present before the control is made. Again unfortunately too many times control, being the last phase of the project, is made under pressure and in a hurry, the project MUST be ready the customer expects it and no delay is possible!

But any way the success ratio is over 50% so that with all those "failures" we are still better than the marketing experts.

I do not try to find an excuse for engineering failures but I think that as ENGINEERS we have to be pragmatic and not react in a non technical way!

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#13
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Re: Not selling ourselves short - Engineering is an honorable profession

06/26/2010 4:54 PM

50% success rate is a total failure!

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#29
In reply to #10

Re: Not selling ourselves short - Engineering is an honorable profession

06/30/2010 3:36 PM

I have a very new statistics result which I want to share with you: "Every major report indicates that innovation is a key focus in 2010, and developing new products, services and processes ranks very high on their corporate agenda. Yet, studies show that for every successful product launched, there are 12 failures, a statistic that costs Fortune 1000 companies nearly $60 billion annually in wasted development efforts." Quite interesting.

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#11
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Re: Not selling ourselves short - Engineering is an honorable profession

06/26/2010 4:48 PM

loser!

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#15
In reply to #11

Re: Not selling ourselves short - Engineering is an honorable profession

06/26/2010 9:07 PM

self-impressed twit!

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#17
In reply to #15

Re: Not selling ourselves short - Engineering is an honorable profession

06/26/2010 9:19 PM

OK, kiddies. Please knock off the flaming and contribute something well thought out no matter how controversial your position might be.

Ed Weldon

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#22
In reply to #7

Re: Not selling ourselves short - Engineering is an honorable profession

06/27/2010 12:58 AM

"look at the Wikipedia category, "Engineering Failures."

OK, now look at the subheading under that Wikipedia topic:

"Engineered systems that failed in a spectacular, historic or edifying way."

Seems to me that the title and the subheading have two entirely different meanings. In fact go read some of the 42 stories and you will find a wide ranging variation in the relative contribution of the actual process of enginering design to the failure of the structure, system or whatever.

This is like saying every airliner crash is an engineering failure because airliners are all designed by engineers.

This kind of thing is precisely the reason why engineers have to be their own advocates.

Ed Weldon (I kind of wish I knew enough about contributing to Wikipedia to take on and try to correct this obvious injustice.)

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#26
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Re: Not selling ourselves short - Engineering is an honorable profession

06/28/2010 5:41 AM

Hit the "edit" link at the bottom right hand of any section on any wikipedia page, follow the instructions that follow, which include registering.

I did this recently and made my first wiki-edit. Ooooh the excitement...

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#27

Re: Not selling ourselves short - Engineering is an honorable profession

06/28/2010 9:59 AM

I'm not trying to be a wet blanket here, but isn't the article a rebuttal looking for an argument? Is there a problem with engineers being discredited or discriminated against by society at large? Do engineers as a class have a self-esteem problem that I'm not aware of?

My reaction: "Of course engineering is an honorable profession, even the software kind of engineering that I do. What idiot suggested otherwise?"

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#28
In reply to #27

Re: Not selling ourselves short - Engineering is an honorable profession

06/28/2010 1:20 PM

no but I think that there have been mentioned reports of declining enrollment in engineering fields. I know it has been discussed here before.. (somewhere on cr4)

but otherwise you are right.

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