Engineers

Today I was invited to be the Chief Guest (or Guest of Honor in other parts of the world) for a function held at my Engineering college. I graduated from Goa Engineering College in 1997 and have never interacted directly with students or the faculty since then. So this was a good opportunity for me to visit my alma mater and spend some time with my professors and meet the students. One of the jobs of the Chief Guest is to deliver a speech. So I thought of sharing something I learned the hard way after graduating from college, which I wish someone had taught me when I was studying there. For those who are interested here is part of the speech.

“I’d like to make a point which I believe is very important. But first let me give you a couple of examples that will help me illustrate that point.

I am sure most of you have heard about the Mars rovers. The day the rovers landed on Mars and began exploring the planet, it struck me that a few months back someone from the Jet Propulsion Lab at NASA had placed an order for one of my products. Out of curiosity I sent an email to the person who had placed the order asking whether my software was used, in some way, in Mars Rover project. I received a reply saying that my product was indeed used in the project and that it had saved one particular engineer a great deal of time.

A while ago I received an email from a prospect saying that my STL file import add-in for SolidWorks was crashing. I asked the prospect to send me the concerned file. When I opened it in a mesh viewer I was shocked to see that the 3D model was anything but a mechanical part or assembly. It looked like a bunch of roots or threads all twisted around randomly. I told the customer that his model was not in a condition to be imported into SolidWorks. But out of curiosity I asked him what exactly was the model about. His reply shocked me even more. He told me that the STL file contained a 3D scan of the arteries of his boss’ heart. The doctors were having a problem deciding exactly how to conduct an operation on the heart and he wanted to do some analysis on the model in SolidWorks. He tried explaining to me what he wanted to do. But frankly it all went over my head. Sensing his urgency, I decided to try and solve his problem. I used another of our tools to split the mesh into smaller more manageable parts and imported them into SolidWorks individually. I sent the SolidWorks files over to him and wished him luck in whatever he was trying to achieve. A few days later, I received an email from this person telling me that he showed the doctors something they hadn’t seen which resulted in them altering their procedure. The operation was a success and his boss was recovering well.

In the above two examples, when I was writing these software products I had absolutely no idea that they would be used in such a way. I had no idea that one of my products would be used to help design a vehicle that would roam on another planet. I had no idea that the output of a couple of my products would be responsible in altering the way doctors would slit open someone’s heart. The point that I’m trying to make is actually quite a simple one, but very profound. As engineers we simply have no idea about the kind of effect that our actions can have on people.

For example, when you graduate from this college and get your Engineering degree, suppose you are given the task of designing a machine tool or a particular component of it. You come up with the model, validate it using various analysis tools, build prototypes, test them and then finally sign off on the design so that manufacturing can go ahead and build thousands of them. When operators start using them in production some failures are reported. You accumulate the failure data, analyze it, draw up some charts and graphs showing mean time to failure and all kinds of stuff and then start the process of rectifying your mistakes. But somewhere in all this do you realize that when your machine tool failed, an operator may have actually injured himself? Do you know what kind of effect that could have on him and his family?

A common perception is that doctors affect people the most. True, the work of doctor directly affects an individual and maybe his family. Similarly the work of an architect or a building contractor will probably affect the home owner and his family. The decision of a bank manager will affect the person taking a loan and his family. But the stuff that engineers do has the potential of affecting people in masses. Doctors perform complex operations and save lives. But what enables them to do that is the work of engineers who design and build the sophisticated equipment that they use to perform those operations. Remember one thing. In today’s world, everything under the Sun that is not made by God is probably designed by an engineer. And one day in the near future all of you are going to be engineers.

Thirteen years ago when I was sitting on the benches that you are now sitting on, I was taught that if I wanted this to happen I needed to do that. If I tweaked this parameter the output would change that way. For four years I was taught how to do my job. I don’t remember anyone telling me anything about the kind of effect my actions could have on people if I didn’t do my job properly. I learned that the hard way after I graduated from here.

I write CAD software for a living. As you know, all software has bugs. There are two ways of fixing bugs – the easy way and the hard way. The easy way involves patching the code with a work around. It’s like covering a wound with a bandage as opposed to applying medicine on it. The hard way involves picking apart the code and locating the root cause of the problem. It can also mean that you need to re-architect a portion of your code, tweak the algorithm or even create a new one. That takes time and often involves a lot of work. When I first started programming I often used the easy way to fix bugs. I soon realized that I was merely covering my problems, not solving them. Almost always they came back to haunt me, often with a vengeance.

Remember that although your actions may seem small and insignificant to you, as engineers they can have huge consequences, both positive and negative, that too collectively on a large number of people. For example, take the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. In all the blame games and accusations flying around, we simply cannot hide from the fact that some engineer somewhere did not do his job properly. I don’t need to tell you what kind of an effect the oil spill has had in the region and how many people it has affected.

The world does not need engineers who can do their job. The world needs engineers who can do the best job they possibly can. There is a world of a difference between the two.”

  • http://twitter.com/CADkid Marijn

    I think the most important thing is doing what your good at and have fun with doing.

  • http://www.deelip.com Deelip Menezes

    Agree 200%. During the Q&A session that followed I joked that if I was given a life sentence in prison but was allowed to keep my computer and internet connection, I would lead a very happy life. That's how much I love programming. When your hobby becomes your profession, you have essentially hit the jackpot.

  • http://johnevansdesign.net John Evans

    Thanks Deelip, that's actually encouraging. My boy keeps asking me to write an article from a growing discussion we have on Machinery, design, and humanity. I keep saying no, but your article makes me want to reconsider.

  • http://www.deelip.com Deelip Menezes

    Glad that you are reconsidering. At that age I was as lost as the kids I was speaking to today. If we don't do our part in helping them appreciate what they are learning, then who will?

  • http://www.cadfanatic.com Brian

    Wow, how cool is that to find out how your tools are being used in such unsuspected ways?

    Sounds like it was a great, moving speech, Deelip.

    In the engineering program at my university, all engineers were required to take a class, Engineering Ethics, that touched on the ideas in your last two paragraphs above.

    It is very eye-opening to realize the potential power one has in this profession, and it is good to be reminded of it every so often…

  • http://www.cadfanatic.com Brian

    That sounds like an interesting article John! I hope you do decide to write it!

  • http://www.twitter.com/ptc_analysis Mark Levitt

    Great speech Deelip. By sharing innovative and interesting uses by real customers of your CAD software, you demonstrated the critical role that engineers play in a world that is full of engineered products, yet focuses too little appreciation for engineering as a career. In your speech, you showed honor to your college and your occupation, which reflected honor back on you. Congratulations.

  • Sunil Bosco Rodrigues

    Deelip,

    Re-discovered you again recently, very cool to see you do such an incredible job in your field. Inspiring speech, you nailed the work ethics part which is so incredibly important Engineer or not, all jobs are important, point taken that engineering jobs can have massive impact, but other jobs can just as much devastate people. Reminds me of a quote I learnt from a work related message @ Church the pastor quote ~some folks desperately look for a job and the moment they find one quit looking for work~ unquote. Anyways Kudos to ya!

    S

  • http://www.deelip.com Deelip Menezes

    Good to hear from you, Sunil. BTW, nothing much has changed at GEC. ;-)

  • Gary

    Very Nice talk Deelip. :) its great to hear about the different ways your products are being used!! Your speech may not have gone through them now, but I'm sure it will filter in eventually…Great job dude :)

  • http://www.deelip.com Deelip Menezes

    Thanks man. It was really nice to spend some time with the boys. BTW, they now have about 3 or 4 girls in the Mechanical Engineering stream as well.

  • http://twitter.com/dailycadcam DailyCADCAM

    Really inspirational, encouraging speech for engg students/engineers, I remembered the debates we use to have with our friends during college days (Doctors vs Engineers: who serves better) one thing I can remind them is that “stuff that engineers do has the potential of affecting people in masses”
    thanks

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Hardi-Meybaum/100000800287660 Hardi Meybaum

    Truly great peace Deelip! Here in Estonia mechanical engineering isn't very popular and I think your story will change that. I think we have to arrange you here.

  • http://sfericalcube.blogspot.com Sagar kamat

    I was lucky enough to be a part of that audience u addressed in GEC yest. Was indeed very inspiring.Entrepreneurship is something i look forward to, so it was real great listening to both of u. Thanks a lot.

    I checked out Sycode.com after returning home. impressed. Never knew this kinda stuff was going on in goa, let alone by an engico.

    Jus one question though, how did u reproduce the entire speech here? because as far as i remember, it matches word-to-word to what u spoke there yest.

  • http://www.deelip.com Deelip Menezes

    It was nice to speak to you students yesterday. I wrote this piece from memory in the evening after I spoke to you at GEC. I think I got most of it right. ;-)

  • http://twitter.com/surendrajain Surendra Jain

    Great article. very inspiring & encouraging..

  • Vladimir

    < I don’t remember anyone telling me anything about the kind of effect my actions could have on people if I didn’t do my job properly.>
    The USSR was a cartoon “There Lessons Unlearned” in which a boy, done your homework somehow got the magical land in which collided with the consequence of their erroneous calculations (the boy believed that the polar bear lives in the south, and the problem about people digging the ground, received a fractional result). It is instructive to the younger generation. Sam cartoon here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rI6qrPOB49E

  • http://twitter.com/Techsabs SabahS.

    Well said, wise words.
    thanks for the share, will help the future engineers, hopefully




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