The Last Act of Defiance

Ever see that cartoon of the mouse standing tall with its middle finger stuck out from his hand (I said it was a cartoon) while a large vulture-like bird swoops in, talons bared and the caption reads: The Last Act of Defiance? Co-workers shared that cartoon with me a long time ago. Even as a young engineer I got its meaning.

When things overwhelm and it appears you are about to get run over, the last thing you can do is stand your ground, believe in yourself. Right before…

But wait; don’t we have a duty to sound the alarm when things look to be going wrong? Isn’t that part of what we are paid to do?

Engineering catastrophes happen everyday. Some are caused by engineers who convince their management that they are the expert and know what they are doing; they have investigated their options and for sure, this will work, no way it won’t work. I’ve experienced a lot of these situations. Just last week, as a matter of fact.

Some are caused by management choosing to listen to the beat of their own drum and the rewards spearheading a cause will bring to them. These people use the word ‘I’ a lot. They order their engineers to charge down a blind alley, never suspecting the price they may have to pay. I’ve also recently experienced this.

The Tacoma Narrow Bridge in Washington state was originally designed by a Washington engineer. His design was rejected by the Federal government who funded the project. They required a consultant from New York to modify the original designs and voila, Galloping Gertie was born. Accusations that there were politics involved in rejecting the original design, which some engineers say would still be in place today, in favor of hiring the New York consultant began after the bridge’s failure. That would be a last act of defiance. ( )

How much more did it cost to remove the old bridge and replace with a stable one? A lot.

On a smaller scale, I’ve seen managers, too many in fact, who choose to ignore their senior staff’s advice in favor of what they deem to be the ‘truth’. On one project, this decision has cost millions of dollars and four years later is still dragging on, after five engineers with a combined experience of close to one hundred years advised otherwise.

On another project, a manager forced an interface design that was recommended by his senior engineers to not pursue. The customer hated this design and the software was modified to take out the ‘feature’. Cost was somewhere around a thousand dollars and design time to remove the code. It was a small cost, but still a cost.

And I’ve recently witnessed an engineer who single-handedly forced his ‘bright idea’ into the software (a repeat performance, I might add). Hundreds of man-hours have been spent trying to get this idea to work. Implementation is easy; it’s the rework that’s expensive.

These are just three examples from my little spot in the world. I’m sure that’s not unique. Why don’t we work smarter and lean on the people who have experience? Consensus can be a great thing and everyone brings his or her own background into the mix. Listen and take defiance out of the equation.

Celebratory Starbucks and high-fives make for a much better environment anyway.


About stemzandroses

I'm an engineer and writer with a built-in need to share my nearly 40 years of experience working in a male-dominated field with the rest of the world.
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One Response to The Last Act of Defiance

  1. Vicki says:

    Worked with a design consultant one time that sold a digital system to a customer based on the benefit it would “make coffee” which translates that the outlet could be wired to the phone system.
    What he forgot to add was that the customer still had analog telephone equipment. He left that for me to explain along with a $6,000 digital telephone system. After it was installed, all he wanted was that outlet that would turn on the coffee maker in the morning.

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