Monday, September 12, 2011

An American (Pain In The) Tail

I'd like to tell you all a story, the story of an engineer who just
doesn't quite fit in. The boy does all right, for the most part -
doesn't drool much, cusses only occasionally, is kind to both dogs and
cats, and may even be current on all Federal income least in
the near future.

Still, too much right-brain in that boy. Too literal in some things, too
fanciful in others. Makes other engineers kinda nervous to be around,
like he's the only one in the room with a chartreuse pocket-protector,
or still uses a Texas Instruments calculator.

Now, this boy decided to go to work for a very different
least from his perspective. This company manufactures widgets. More than
that, they manufacture a VAST ARRAY OF WIDGETS. They have over the
course of the last few decades, outsold and outlasted many of their
widget-making competitors, and bought out quite a few of 'em in the
process. So not only to they make all the widgets their founders
invented, but many of the ones they used to compete against, until now
they have your standard four-on-the-floor widgets, widgets that hang
sideways, widgets that hunker from the ceiling, and even widgets whose
particular purpose is to watch out for other widgets.

Our boy has mostly in his life been a structural engineer guy, like all
of you. The widgeting world was new to him...and, he had to admit,
somewhat intriguing for the difference (I told you he didn't quite fit
in; I think you're beginning to see why). Having dealt with beams,
columns, spandrels, purlins, groins, rakes, eaves, capitals, brackets,
joists, copes, shear tabs, castellated beams, and the odd transfer
girder or two, the world of widgets had a beguiling sort of newness to
it that our boy just couldn't resist, particularly at this stage of his
career (his career had gone on long enough to have stages in it, you see).

So he came aboard, with relish, gusto, and a dollop of mustard. The
bosses - few of whom were engineers but whose life in widgets had
brought them into contact with enough of them to think them capital
fellows - were happy. Our boy was happy. Better yet, the young,
wet-behind-the-ears Engineer Interns whom he'd been hired to shepherd,
mentor, oversee and occasionally bathe, seemed to regard his coming with
not a little relief as they'd been unshepherded for long enough that
they were beginning to Go Astray.

Now, this company was not, of course, in the engineering business,
strictly speaking...they made widgets, as I believe I've mentioned. They
spent a lot more time thinking about shop schedules, equipment
maintenance, welder training, material procurement, and general
roundabout manufacturing stuff such as what goes into widget making
generally. They were widgeteers. It defined them.

But...they had found a nice lucrative sideline in providing what they
themselves called "engineering packages" to general and subcontractors -
sold through their network of independent sales representatives - that
featured their widgets quite prominently. But along with the widgets
were widget braces, widget connectors, widget configurators, and other
such widget accessories that, along with the widgets themselves, the
company's engineers (well, to be sure, their EITs) selected and
specified and calculated and put down on drawings for the contractors to
install. And upon these packages, prominently displayed, were the seals
of the engineer who had previously held the position our boy had now
accepted, and his signature. Our boy was not quite so encumbered with
licenses as his predecessor - that worthy had more than forty - but he
was tasked with the task of obtaining as many as he could in accordance
with the various states in which the company was providing engineering

Now, for whatever reason - probably had something to do with overzealous
toilet-training in his youth - our boy (who, you must remember, didn't
tend to fit in all that well. You must remember it because I told you
earlier. Remember?) was quite leery of all this sealing and signing,
particularly as it appeared in the past to have been done without much
due respect to the sealing rules in the given states. And above all, the
company had not seen any necessity of obtaining the Certificates of
Authority (or Firm Registrations, or Firm License, or Certificates of
Authorization, which nomenclature depends on the state in question) in
any of the states for which they were providing these sealed engineering

Now, our boy discovered upon investigation that the company's management
- made up with one exception of non-engineers; and that engineer was
originally from the aerospace field - had only instituted the sealed
engineering packages because contractors began asking for them,
apparently without explanation. One of the non-engineer company officers
went to far as to tell our boy "we sell engineering stamps. It's a nice
part of our business."

You might understand our boy's trepidation at this point. He said "that
sounds a bit crass, but beyond that, it kind of sounds like you're
engaging in a bit of plan-stamping with the engineer consultants you
have sealing these documents." Our boy's protestations seemed rather
absurd to the company, since they'd been doing this for years anyway and
besides, everyone knew that you didn't have to have sealed engineering
documents if you're a manufacturer. They were only doing the sealing
thing because the contractors wanted them. (The notion that building
officials and inspectors might have been lurking in the background
seemed not to have occurred).

So, seals weren't really needed but were provided because they brought
in fees; and therefore the state Certificates of Authority (or...oh, you
know...) were also unnecessary.

Our boy decided he needed to force the issue - his coming upon
descriptions of disciplinary proceedings against engineers at companies
that had failed to secure Certificates of Authority appears to have
given him particular zeal - and stated that unless the company began to
secure the CAs and the like in the states for which engineering packages
were being provided, he would have no choice but to tender his
resignation forthwith.

(I have personally wondered to myself the precise interval between some
point in time, and "forthwith" from that point of time, and have come to
find out from our boy that it consists of one business day. His
resignation was summarily accepted, his keys and Blackberry demanded of
him, and he was escorted from the premises forth... well, actually,

Our boy is left wondering if he did right. First, he disagreed with the
company that the engineering packages did NOT represent "providing
engineering services to the public" since they were being purchased by,
and provided to, construction contractors for the express intent of
installation of the work represented in the packages. Second, he
disagreed that the company could hand out sealed packages willy-nilly as
instruments of commerce, without observing all the rudiments of the
state engineering boards' rules. And finally, he most emphatically
believed that continuing to be complicit in the company's policies would
land his ass in a crack from which he might find it difficult to be
extricated without some loss of blood, tissue, and at the least, his
professional license.

Our boy wonders - through your humble servant - what you, his
colleagues, think of all this, and if you think him a pompous ass who
deserved to be kicked to the curb, or a principled professional who
chose to put professional ethics before expediency.

Noble hound, or hound-dog? What think ye?

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