I once had a professor, Dr. Shaban, that at some point during every class, asked his students, "So you want to be an Engineer"? He would then look at us with this piercing stare as if he could see our future and every obstacle that we would encounter in our careers. We use to make jokes at this rhetorical question, but it did not take me long to understand why he asked us this. Fast forward to my first engineering job post graduation....
I had to go deep into the archives for this story but in my first engineering job at an air conditioning plant I had a situation in where several "Pilot" units were failing the quality control test. The superintendent came down from the management office upstairs and requested that I adjust the parameters to get the units to pass the test. Even though I was a young engineer, the engineering ethics I learned from Dr. Shaban would not allow me not be dishonest in changing my calculated specifications. He said he’d give me 15 mins “to get my damn run test machines working”. I wasn’t upset at the time because I was more focused on the problem and not his ignorance. I also knew the criticality of the situation because the units that were failing were new pilot units and if we didn't get the test parameters correct, then that could cause warranty issues later on in the life cycle of the product.
He eventually came back to check on the status but I still hadn’t found the root cause to the failures. Keep in mind that I had planned months for these new units and had validated my calculations, I even performed cross reference checks to similar products. This time he came back with a vengeance, “if you don’t change the f**king parameters I’m gonna run your ass out of this plant...damn new engineers don’t know what the hell they’re doing”. He said much more but I think you get the point. I felt disrespected, embarrassed, and confused but what hurt the most was that all of the operators and some of my other colleagues were there to witness this situation. I told him that he could do whatever he wanted to with his production line but if he wanted some passing units he’d have to find another engineer. I was not going leave there until I found the root cause.
Five minutes later my manager (also an ally) comes on the scene and asked if I had everything under control and he encouraged me to take as long as I needed. I told him about the condescending comments and he said don’t worry about it I got your back. Long story short, my mentor and I investigated the failures over the next hour and discovered that thirty units had the wrong motors and capacitors installed in them because the design engineer made a typo in the bill of materials. These 30 units were a small sample set of the new product line and if I would have “made them pass” then it’s anticipated that all of the future units would have passed too but also would have experienced premature failures in the field. This could have caused millions of dollars in warranty repairs, and would have been tracked back to me as the responsible engineer over the test parameters. We made the corrections and all of the units passed the test. I also received some recognition from one of the Vice Presidents.
I learned a valuable lesson that day, no matter what obstacles are thrown in your way, trust your gut, trust your training and trust your education.
To Dr. Shaban, Yes I want to be an Engineer!