engineering dogma

Successful engineering is all about understanding how things break or fail.
– Henry Petroski, Duke University

 One of the roles I perform for my company is small-quantity production of a data protection device.  Since I executed the qualification test of the prototype, and developed the initial and Production test procedures, I inadvertently became the Subject Matter Expert (SME) for both its predecessor products and a subsequent product based on this design.   Among my peers we note “No good deed goes unpunished.”

One of the purposes of any successful company is to build a product and then create a demand for it.   Those who focus on the reverse, will have tremendous competition in that niche.   It is also a fact of corporate life that any design has to compete for resources: engineers who have specializations in mechanical, software, circuit design, test, and manufacturing, logisticians, planners, and technicians.   Often these people are on multiple project teams with fixed schedules and budgets.  Corporate politics are not overlooked.  A product that leverages additional business from a customer can be forgiven its technical flaws or scheduling delays.   At the time a more profitable product (often forecasts can be misleading) is under contract, a shuffling of personnel and priorities can leave a product high and dry.   This is considered good management of labor, and keeping under budget projections makes managers eligible for advancement, while the corporate culture keeps the best, brightest, and freshest talent eager for the work.

Sometimes, a product languishes for years until a particular application creates a demand.   When a customer surprises the product management team with a large order and multi-year contract,  it is the technical personnel in the “trenches”, including the customer-support staff, and the “product sustainment” team who find the omissions when in-house assembly and test then competes for space with other programs; deals with part obsolescence (an ongoing issue);  continues integration, particularly with new information systems ( operating systems and hardware);  and when new customers adapt your product for use in ways the original requirements, test criteria, and support framework had not planned.

All of these complex engineering problems may not have a simple answer, but I have – after years of “herding cats”  – a simple coping mechanism.   Since Management is responsible for prioritizing, developing schedules and the life cycle of our products   – I do not presently hold a management role – as the one executing the tests and reporting failure and success, I only need to execute my role efficiently and effectively.  Management copes with the other issues.

Away from work, in the mornings and again in the evenings, I look forward to my walks with Dexter and Comet.   And I periodically review my financial statements, which both encourage me and drive me to work and home.  To paraphrase an old idiom,  “Mama can buy her own new shoes”; Comet and Dexter love their Duck Jerky and daily treats, walks, and a cool place to snooze during the summers in San Diego.


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