The worst part about being an engi­neer, is that a lot of your calls are because some­thing has gone wrong. Peo­ple are already upset due to the fact they are hav­ing to hire you and the very best out­come if that you can make every­thing as good as it was before. This was espe­cial­ly true when I worked for Bell­South. Then, by the time any­one reached me as the engi­neer, they were already real­ly pissed.

In my new job, we get a lot of clients for new con­struc­tion, and they just want things done as cheap as pos­si­ble. That’s under­stand­able; it’s a major part of my job to make a build­ing stand for as lit­tle as mon­ey as pos­si­ble. No, safe­ty is nev­er know­ing­ly sac­ri­ficed. That’s also a part of my job. How­ev­er, we engi­neers are taught that if we are just over-design­ing every­thing then we aren’t doing our due dili­gence to look out for our clients, and that is the same thing as steal­ing from them.

We’ve been work­ing on a espe­cial­ly dif­fi­cult job here in Rich­mond. This is one of those dream/nightmare jobs (depends on if it’s an even or odd day of the year) that has just about every twist and turn a struc­tur­al engi­neer can imag­ine. It is a very old build­ing (over 100 years). Fur­ther, it is made of wood and mason­ry, but will have steel, con­crete, and rein­forced mason­ry added to it as part of the re-use. It has been extreme­ly time-con­sum­ing and dif­fi­cult work to plan with our client to make this build­ing meet the cur­rent build­ing codes with the absolute min­i­mum amount of work to be added. There were times when I would feel com­plete­ly ridicu­lous show­ing the results of my labor to my boss, know­ing how much we were ask­ing the client to add to the struc­ture of this building.

Now, with all that back­ground in mind, let me tell you about the phone call my boss received yes­ter­day. The client had hired two dif­fer­ent engi­neers to take a look, both in the phys­i­cal and analy­sis sens­es, at the build­ing in ques­tion. Not only did they both agree with what we had rec­om­mend­ed was required, they had also con­clud­ed that what we had come deter­mined we had done it with about the min­i­mum amount of work that could be done. Now, it was very pos­si­ble the client might have found some­one who would have said that none of this was need­ed and we were wast­ing time and mon­ey. There are peo­ple who believe that because build­ings stood under exist­ing laws and codes, that it is a waste to try and meet mod­ern laws. Of course, that is, by def­i­n­i­tion, not prac­tic­ing our pro­fes­sion under the law. For­tu­nate­ly, these two groups or indi­vid­u­als (I don’t know who they are) and our com­pa­ny made a con­sen­sus that this is need­ed and it feels great to know that what I was doing was good work. My boss was ecsta­t­ic, as was I.

By Jason Coleman

Structural engineer and technical content manager Bentley Systems by day. Geeky father and husband all the rest of time.


  1. I know your feel­ings exact­ly. When I’m redesign­ing an exist­ing cus­tomer’s routes and come back with an answer it is always great to see it run cor­rect­ly and pass the real world test.

  2. Well, I was very intrigued with your “My Alt Machine” entry. As I would much pre­fer some­one smarter than me do the research, what would your next “store-bought” com­put­er be? I am still search­ing for that “yet-to-be-pur­chased” Decem­ber 1st birth­day present for myself. Any ideas?

  3. Zane: Yes. There’s know­ing you did a good job and know­ing you did a good job.

    Wiz­ard: Well, I’m hard­ly smarter than any­one. How­ev­er, I think I’d go with a lap­top unless you real­ly need some expand­abil­i­ty. Most folks do just fine with a com­put­er out-of-the-box, even if they don’t think the would. If you’re throw­ing your­self a real­ly lav­ish birth­day par­ty, go for a new iBook. Too many peo­ple are wait­ing for Intel chips in them and I say why wait? They’re already nice machines (the Power­books are a lit­tle over-the-top, in my opinion).

    If you don’t want to spend that much, or just can’t part with Win­dows, then Dell and HP some nice but afford­able lap­tops. Don’t skimp on mem­o­ry or a DVD burn­er; you’ll want them. Oh, and with an Intel machine, you can just burn your­self a Knop­pix disc and use that as well since you men­tioned my Lin­ux desktop/ Franken­stein’s monster.

  4. HP Lap­tops = bad, in my expe­ri­ence. We had sev­er­al where I worked. Always had problems. 

    IBMs, even though they might not be the slick­est-look­ing, are (from what I under­stand*) great lap­tops. That would prob­a­bly be my choice if I were doing the Win­dows thing. 

    * I haven’t actu­al­ly owned one recent­ly, but evey­one I’ve talked to late­ly speaks high­ly of them.

  5. Thanks so much, Jason and Jason! What a dear. I was just think­ing yes­ter­day, “I won­der about the iBook…” I have always want­ed to switch from my IBM. I am a writer, artist, and in gen­er­al “cre­ative” type and have come to some under­stand­ing that Apple might ben­e­fit me more than the IBMs I have used my whole life. I am SO not opposed to change. I am in the process of writ­ing a screen­play and a book of poet­ry and think that I will go today to the Apple store and see about that birth­day acqui­si­tion. I think my work will great­ly ben­e­fit from the change. Not only that, but I think I might feel a great sense of sat­is­fac­tion around fin­ish­ing my work on a new “set of wheels.”

    Thanks again for shar­ing your wis­dom with me.

  6. Wiz­ard Grrl: My wife, Angela, recent­ly made the big “switch” to an iBook her­self. She’ll nev­er go back. Jason J also failed to men­tion that both he and his sig­nifi­gant oth­er use macs as well (an iMac for him and an iBook for her). They’re great for cre­ative and tech­ni­cal types as well.

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