Engineered to Death

What would this world be like if we didn’t have those uber book smart people taking someone’s idea and designing it for use in the real world, specifically, the engineer.

Of course, the majority of engineers are not going to build these ideas or designs, they are expressing on paper in theory as how a devise should work. The actual task of building it, and making it work, falls into the hands of the working man, the machinists, technicians, laborers, repairmen or the neighborhood handyman.

Having worked in the communications industry, the automotive industry, and with photovoltaic power, I have experienced engineers behind the desk as well as displaced engineers learning a new field.

In my experience, as a norm, I have found an abnormally high frequency of engineers who cannot build or repair anything without an eraser, weeks or months of discussion, and long rambling dissertations restating their qualifications. Often times, that is still not enough.

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center via photopincc

An example of over engineering regards NASA and the space race during the 1960s, when the United States and Russia were each reaching towards the stars.

When the US sent their first man into space they quickly discovered ballpoint pens would not work in zero gravity. They commissioned engineers to remedy this challenge, these engineers came up with a pen that could write upside down, in temperatures ranging from -30°F to over 300°F, in space or underwater. At a cost of $12 billion and 10 years of efforts.

The Russians in the meantime took approximately 90 seconds and gave all of their cosmonauts pencils, problem solved, how did our engineers miss that?

No surprise that the USSR leapt ahead in the early years of that race, that and after WWII the US took the German scientists, and gave Russia the German materials.

My personal experience with engineers may be best defined from my time in the automotive industry as a business development manager, where I was involved with advertising, and the training of sales personnel.

photo credit: Marcel Felbor via photopin cc

The rule in sales is 20% of your staff does 80% of your business. Meaning four out of five of your sales people are transitional, creating a constant turnover, and often the hiring of an individual just to have a warm body. It’s what once was referred to as a crap-shoot.

One such warm body that was hired at at a dealership I was with laid claim to at one time have been an engineer for that automotive companies design team. After his training period, I would visit the floor and talk with the sales manager while watching the staff interact with dealership customers. During his first couple of weeks, our ex-engineer had yet to sell a vehicle. As much as he was trained to ask questions and listen, he could not help but but to give a data dump download to each of his perspective clients. From the office above the floor I could see as couples would stare at each other in amazement as he rambled on and on, watching as they literally would check their watches, and excuse themselves. Daily for two weeks I met with him regarding his practices not being what he was being taught, spewing out technical data that had no bearing on the vehicles interest.

I remember the evening I told the sales manager that our engineer would “talk somebody to death before he ever sells a car”. He showed up every day and over educated the buyers on the most inane aspects of the vehicle before they could escape him, and also, our dealership.

One Saturday he corralled an older gentleman for the entire afternoon, and came into the office to “pencil a deal”. We worked the vehicle, a used car, as hard and as long as we could, nearly giving the car away. Until finally we got our engineer his first sale, and his first grease mark on the sales board for rolling out a car. Total for month, and career, 1.

At the end of his shift, he proudly proclaimed he was going to take Sunday off as he now was, after two weeks of effort, now a salesman!

The next morning I opened up the dealership, and 10 minutes after unlocking the doors two middle-aged men entered through the front double doors,  each on one side of an elderly woman who obviously had been crying, and was still in the mode.

They shared with me that her husband, their father,  had bought a car from us the day before, and passed away later that evening, they inquired what was the process to return the vehicle to us. I took back the vehicle, voided the deal, expressed my sorrow for their loss and watched the three leave.

The salesman on the deal, was of course, was our former engineer. I turned to face the sales board, grabbed the eraser, and wiped off his 1 deal.

Monday morning I again opened the facility, I remember the bounce to our engineers step, almost skipping through the parking lot to come into the dealership that morning. He entered my office and his smile disappeared when he looked up at the sales board and saw he was back to zero.

I explained to him the situation, and tried again to instill some confidence in him, but could see he had nothing left. He resigned days later without ever selling a car.

While no charges were ever brought up against him, or the dealership, I am still reminded of my earlier comment of him, only missing by a few hours.

If you have got to go, being engineered to death, from my experience, would not be a pleasant end.

Leave a Reply