Monday, May 12, 2008

Duty Calls

. Monday, May 12, 2008

I've been a mechanical engineer for 13 years now and have been a professional engineer for the past 8 years. I was made an Associate by my company last August which afforded me the duty and responsibility of signing drawings. Today, I'll be signing about 100 drawings for a $100,000,000 prison. It got me thinking lately about "duty" and "responsibility" in my job. It also made me think about how these terms apply to other jobs and people I know, especially those in Yada land.

I think most everybody tries to do a good job whether they're designing prisons or flipping hamburgers. Looking back, one thing I've noticed in my attitude about my job is a growing sense of duty and responsibility. I always strive to provide the best design I can for the Owner and to meet his requirements. I give lots of thought to what will be the most cost effective system, a system that can easily be maintained, and (given the fact that I primarily design prisons and courthouses) a system that keeps people safe and helps protect lives. I find it amazing how instilled this desire is in good engineers. For example, reviewing product submittals from Contractors is something I enjoy doing. With all due respect to Contractors, they are trying to build things as inexpensive as possible. Sometimes (willfully or not) they submit products for review that are inferior to what I have designed. Would a chrome-plated ball valve be sufficient even though I specified a stainless steel one? Probably yes. But that's not what I designed, and I want the best for the Owner. That's why it's in the specifications. The Owner paid for it. He better damn will be getting it.

I also feel a sense of duty to the integrity of the design. Sometimes the Architect wants me to modify my design because it results in something not aesthetically pleasing. Having a large duct or a large pipe passing under a beam and causing the need for a lower ceiling height is a common example. I might be able to go with a smaller duct and maintain the ceiling height, but then the system will be louder and not perform as well. Getting enough space in mechanical rooms is another constant battle. I have gained a lot of respect for the "maintenace guy" who has to maintain my system after the building gets built. I really strive to design a well functioning and easily maintainable system to make these guys' lives easier. They certainly complain about "the last guy" if the engineer that designed the previous building did a shitty job.

Safety and security is very important when designing prisons and courthouses. I have great respect for the Architects and the countless unseen measures they go through and the Public never sees to keep the occupants of these building safe. One area that I put lots of thought into is when designing mechanical equipment intended for inmate areas. Can an inmate abuse this item, break off a piece of metal, and use it as a weapon? Can someone thread a shoelace through this air register and hang themselves? Will the maintenance guy still be able to maintain this equipment properly if I locate it above the ceiling in the prison library?

I've been thinking about how my friend in Yada must feel similar senses of duty and responsibility. My friend, Z, is a therapist at a clinic. I'm sure that she feels a great sense of duty and responsibility to her clients. I'm sure that the respect of a patient's privacy is very important to her. Another Yada buddy, Doboy, is a union representative. He represents many people that rely on him to protect their livelihood, benefits, and working conditions. I'm certain that he feels a great sense of duty and responsibility as well.

It makes me feel good that there are a lot of people out there that still take pride in their work and are doing so not to simply get a paycheck but because of their sense of duty and responsibility.