October 12, 2022
At the risk of permanently cementing my curmudgeon status, today’s blog is a defense of scut work as a necessary tool for training young engineers. Yes, I am fully aware that we are many years into the twenty-first century and that computers are perfect for that sort of repetitive activity. I also remember writing my own computer programs and still develop my own spreadsheets. The phrase that springs to mind from those activities is “Garbage In Garbage Out.” If all you are doing is entering data in a prepackaged bit of code you run the risk of falling into the garbage production business and no one needs that. It is hardly necessary for the Internet to go out or for your software to be corrupted in order to be harmed by the ease with which your engineering skills can be stunted. Nothing quite teaches the fundamentals like scut work. When you fully internalize the many influence factors in a design problem you’ll be much better equipped to streamline the decision-making process and to avoid those embarrassing moments when the computer printout is nothing but garbage. This blog was inspired by a discussion with a client about the easiest way to update a catalog last worked on 30 years ago. None of the computers used back then are still around, all the people involved are long since retired, and whatever documentation left behind is cryptic at best. Having personally “written” two catalogs, I appreciate their problem. Engineers are taught to think of problems as opportunities. If an opportunity only comes around every thirty years you are wise to make the most of it. This is a once in a generation chance to truly understand what makes the product “tick” and to improve the way its features are presented to your customers. Better documentation of the methods employed will make future product development less expensive. So, skip the shortcuts; do not off load the boring tasks on underlings -or even a consultant. Treat “scut work” like a professional athlete treats practice. That way, when the “game” is on the line you will have confidence in your ability to read the “signs” and make the play.