Tag Archives: priorities

Episode 57 — What Engineers Do

DraftingIn this episode of The Engineering Commons, we discuss engineering skills and duties learned in the workplace, rather than from a textbook.

  • Brian tells young engineers that an engineering degree is a “learner’s permit.” Once in the workplace, engineers have to teach themselves to solve an entirely new class of problems.
  • A gold-fish shaped retention pond, first mentioned by Adam in our episode on engineering pranks, is referenced once again, although your dutiful scribe is still looking for hard evidence of such a structure.
  • An extended discussion related to beer production and consumption breaks out amongst the discussion panel.
  • Jeff describes how the bricks that once covered the entire racing surface at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are now found only at the start/finish line, in what is known as the Yard of Bricks.
  • Lateral loading on racing surfaces, due to the massive grip exerted by race car tires, requires the use of specialized asphalt mixtures.
  • Drivers in the Indianapolis 500 automobile race pull more than 3 lateral g’s while going through the turns.
  • Quotes about the engineering profession:

    “Engineering is the art of organizing and directing men, and of controlling the forces and materials of nature for the benefit of the human race.” — Henry Gordon Stott (1907)

    “”The ideal engineer is a composite … He is not a scientist, he is not a mathematician, he is not a sociologist or a writer; but he may use the knowledge and techniques of any or all of these disciplines in solving engineering problems.” — N. W. Dougherty (1955)

    “Engineering is not merely knowing and being knowledgeable, like a walking encyclopedia; engineering is not merely analysis; engineering is not merely the possession of the capacity to get elegant solutions to non-existent engineering problems; engineering is practicing the art of the organized forcing of technological change… Engineers operate at the interface between science and society…” — Gordon Stanley Brown (1962)

    “Scientists study the world as it is, engineers create the world that never has been.” — Theodore von Kármán

  • Engineers break complex problems into smaller solvable pieces. The “art” of engineering is knowing how big those pieces can be.
  • Whereas textbook problems usually have a definite answer, problems from the workplace are often ill-defined, and may sometimes offer no practicable solution.
  • Problem constraints in industry may seem at times arbitrary, being controlled by economic, political, and organizational powers beyond the engineer’s realm of influence. Additionally, these constraints are not fixed, but vary with time.
  • We reveal our high-tech method of aligning audio tracks in Audacity, the audio editing software used to create this podcast.
  • Obsolescence issues are increasingly important for design engineers as commercially-available components are being manufactured for shorter periods of time.
  • Engineers must avoid the natural urge to over-design products, even when dealing with complex constraints.
  • Making a prototype work once in the lab is far different than making thousands of mass-produced products work reliably in the field.
  • An important part of an engineer’s job is prioritizing where one’s time should be spent.
  • Many times it’s more important to be on the “proper” side of the equation than to be right; that is, one has to make certain assumptions that may be incorrect, but those assumptions need to be made such that the product or service will not fail, even if the assumptions are not perfectly accurate.
  • Jeff’s example of a 500 ksi stress load would have been more realistic at 50 ksi or 500 MPa, at least for steel parts.
  • In examining the meltdown of nuclear reactors at Japan’s Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, recent reports have suggested that a contributing factor was the lowering of a seawall back in 1967.
  • Jeff references a scene from The Big Bang Theory television show where Stuart and Sheldon argue about gradations of being wrong.
  • It’s important for engineers to keep track of the small details, even though the process of doing so may be quite tedious.
  • In his autobiography, test pilot Chuck Yeager recalls the tragic outcome of a line worker’s decision to install bolts “right side up” while assembling a jet plane aileron, even thought the blueprints indicated otherwise.
  • Engineering designs need to account for human factors, as well as technical constraints and specifications.
  • Jeff makes selective use of geometric dimensioning and tolerancing standards, as sometimes a simple callout works better in the prototype machine shop.
  • As an engineer, skepticism is prudent in evaluating information and methods. However, too much skepticism can lead to one being labeled “not a team player.”
  • Engineers are often asked to be “fortune tellers,” predicting future outcomes for processes and designs that have never before been realized.
  • Adam emphasizes the importance of understanding safety factors, and their proper application in the design process.
  • Production and maintenance costs are crucial factors in industry, while such cost issues are often overlooked in textbook problems.

Thanks to Seattle Municipal Archives for the photograph titled “Drafter working in Engineering Department, 1959.” Podcast theme music by Paul Stevenson.

Episode 23 — Priorities

pathsChris and Jeff discuss priorities and burnout, and we learn a thing or two about Chris’ future plans.

  • Chris isn’t sure what he’ll be doing in a month, but says it probably won’t include hosting The Engineering Commons podcast. (A collective gasp rises up from the audience!!)
  • Jeff quizzes Chris for a bit about his career objectives, and the role podcasting plays in advancing his personal and professional interests.
  • Exploring a wide variety of opportunities, and steeling himself for the possibility of massive industry changes, Chris has developed a number of online venues (in addition to this podcast), including The Amp Hour, Engineer Blogs and Chip Report TV.
  • Chris currently considers himself a “starter,” but not a “finisher.” Jeff thinks he’s being too hard on himself.
  • Apparently the human brain loses plasticity as it gets older, making it harder to forget the old information, and thus blocking the absorption of new data.
  • Is Chris suffering burnout, or merely changing priorities? He’s previously written about nearing the burnout stage.
  • An observation about consulting is, “Why work 8 hours/day for someone else when you can work 16 hours/day for yourself?
  • Seth Godin’s book, The Dip, is about when to persevere, and when to quit.
  • Jeff runs through a list of the Top 10 Symptoms of Developer Burnout, just to verify that Chris is making an informed decision.
  • There’s also a list of the Top 10 Tips for Avoiding IT Burnout.
  • Chris reveals that he’s known to do yoga late at night, and recommends the site DoYogaWithMe.com.
  • A program that adjusts the color temperature of your computer screen to match the local time of day is called f.lux.
  • Women engineers report a higher level of burnout than do their male counterparts.
  • According to a recent survey from the ASME, the average male engineer earns $96,000 annually, while the average female engineer earns $77,000.
  • Based upon a recent search of available positions on Indeed.com, the average electrical engineering job is going for $84K. California jobs average $94K, while those in Ohio are averaging $80K.
  • Jeff mentions an old movie, The Seven Year Itch, in noting that it’s not unusual for individuals to grow dissatisfied with their career situation approximately 7 to 10 years after graduation.
  • Our episode on economic value with Professor James Trevelyan highlighted the differences between skills taught at school and those used on the job by practicing engineers.
  • A Money Magazine article about setting priorities appears focused on financial decisions, but has some applicability to career decisions.
  • The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey, is a book that Chris frequently references.
  • Jeff recalls getting stymied by the chore of correctly assigning priorities to all the tasks he listed in his Franklin planner.
  • Jeff and Chris discuss options for the future of this podcast, including the possibility of finding a new co-host. Chris has posted a video about podcast creation.
  • While Amazon lists a book, Philosophy of Technology and Engineering Sciences, for $210, our little podcast remains free of charge!
  • There will be a three week break until the next podcast, due to some scheduling hiccups. However, Chris will still be co-hosting our next episode, which will discuss leadership.
  • Individuals interested in possibly taking a run at co-hosting this podcast with Jeff can send email to admin -=at=- theengineeringcommons.com.

Thanks to Elf Pvke for the photo titled “Bloomington, IN, 5/10.” Podcast theme music provided by Paul Stevenson