Episode 139 — Estimation

Adam, Brian, Carmen, and Jeff discuss the importance of accurately estimating time and budget as a practicing engineer.

  • Brian frequently makes estimates as part of his professional duties.
  • Detrimental effects of our anchoring bias are noted by Jeff.
  • We reference lecture notes from Francine Warner of Kennesaw State University in this episode.
  • In making estimates, one has to remember that people don’t like negative surprises. Thus, it is important to manage expectations.
  • Carmen reminds us to quickly and clearly share work-related problems with managers and co-workers.
  • It’s easier to sort out problems face-to-face than doing so via email, says Jeff.
  • Even though life’s events may break for us, as well as against us, Brian notes we always notice headwinds, but rarely appreciate an assisting tailwind.
  • Collecting opinions from multiple team members (with relevant experience) can help identify inaccurate estimates.
  • Estimates can be generated with a top down methodology, in which the cost and scope of project details are approximated from past experience.
  • When a bottom up methodology is used, estimates are generated from a close examination of many project details.
  • If a sufficient number of topic experts are available, another means for producing an estimate is the Delphi method.
  • Back in 2006, Jeff Atwood wrote a series of blog posts titled “How Good an Estimator Are You?”
  • Brian suggests our optimism bias allows us to undertake difficult projects.
  • Samsung made some inaccurate estimates of battery performance for their Galaxy Note 7 phone, recalls Jeff.
  • Several corporations have made rather bad business decisions.
  • Previously discussed in Episode 47, we mention Donald Rumsfeld’s Unknown Unknowns.
  • Jeff describes the problems of “feature creep,” which was also discussed in Episode 109.

Thanks to Robert Couse-Baker for use of the photo titled “summer maths.” Opening music by John Trimble, and concluding theme by Paul Stevenson.

Episode 138 — Still Awkward

We catch up with Sam Feller (who previously joined us in Episode 70), discussing his interests, projects, and latest entrepreneurial ventures.

  • Having left industry to pursue an academic career, Jeff isn’t chomping at the bit to move back into the entrepreneurial world.
  • Our guest for this episode is Sam Feller, a mechanical engineer who may be better known to our listeners as the “Awkward Engineer” from Episode 70.
  • Sam continues to run his Awkward Engineer website as a side project, selling widgets and gadgets that are designed to fascinate and entertain the engineering mind.
  • More recently, Sam has been working with WrightGrid in designing and producing solar-powered charging stations.
  • Skills acquired from pursuing his hobbies have helped Sam in his more recent entrepreneurial efforts.
  • Having “fried” his BeagleBone, Sam has been developing his bus stop sign using the Particle device platform.
  • The Python package Beautiful Soup is handy for parsing HTML and XML feeds.
  • Sam accesses bus arrival times using the NextBus API.
  • Our guest was kind enough to spend time with us in the middle of his family vacation near Cape Canaveral, Florida.
  • Those interested in learning to program micro-controllers will find a lot of online support for the Arduino platform, says Sam.
  • Listeners wishing to reach Sam can do so through the contact page on the Awkward Engineer website.

Thanks to Sam Feller for use of his untitled bus sign photo. Opening music by John Trimble, and concluding theme by Paul Stevenson.

Episode 137 — Late Summer

In an episode that was recorded in early October, Adam, Carmen, and Jeff reflect on their summer activities, and on plans for the remaining months of 2017.

  • Carmen spent a lot of his summer traveling, both domestically and internationally.
  • Although he spends a good deal of time dealing with marketing people, Carmen claims that he’s not gone over to the “dark side.”
  • Entering his second year of full-time employment with a Midwestern university, Jeff finds his time is frequently relegated to administrative duties.
  • We learn that Carmen is an advocate of xeriscaping, a landscaping style that seeks to reduce the need for irrigation. Jeff, on the other hand, is a fan of letting native weeds influence his landscaping efforts.
  • For over a century, a tree has been growing atop the roof of the Decatur County Courthouse in Greensburg, Indiana.
  • Adam has been quite busy at work, as the legislature in his state decided to allocate additional monies for road construction.
  • In his rare free moments, Adam has been constructing a deck for his house.
  • Jeff suggests that engineering projects are “messy” due to their complexity, as well as the uncertainty of creating new methods, processes and products.
  • Many engineering projects involve complex sales, in which the sale of a good or service involves many steps and requires the approval of multiple individuals.
  • Mention is made of Dr. James Trevelyan, who made guest appearances on Episode 19 and Episode 68 of The Engineering Commons.
  • Jeff inquires if Adam manages his professional projects proactively, or “by exception.”
  • Engineers are often asked to deal with “edge cases,” claims Jeff, rather than “middle-of-the-road” issues.
  • Somehow the conversation devolves into a discussion of plowing roads with vertical loops (loop-de-loops).
  • Jeff, Carmen, and Adam take turns talking about seasonality in the engineering profession.
  • Carmen recently appeared on the podcast Embedded.fm, in an episode titled Bavarian Folk Metal. One of Embedded’s co-hosts, Elecia White, previously appeared on Episode 77 of The Engineering Commons.

Thanks to Kenny Louie for use of the photo titled “It’s fall, really.” Opening music by John Trimble, and concluding theme by Paul Stevenson.

Practical insights for the engineering crowd