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Top 10 Things I Learned From Engineers

Nazita Saye

Nazita Saye

Posted May 15, 2012

I admire mechanical engineers. I really mean it. If the world ever implodes, then I want to be hanging out with you guys. You know how to build and fix things. I on the other hand can probably contribute to the betterment of future society by picking berries (so long as I don’t have to deal with any creepy crawlies) or by spreading good cheer – I can’t help it I’ve got a sunny disposition (that is after 9 AM). Yup, that’s about as helpful as I’ll be in say a zombie apocalypse.

Anyway, I’ve learned a lot from you guys. So I thought it would be fun to talk about that today. The top 10 things I learned from y’all.

10.  Anything and everything mechanical is fascinating. By now you know that I drive a convertible. On the few days of the year when the weather is nice enough to drive with the car top down in England, I usually get an audience when it’s time to put the top up or down. The guys marvel at the mechanics of the roof rising at the touch of a button and talk about all the systems moving the roof. I admit in the past I never paid much attention to such things. I just took them for granted until the day they didn’t work. Now, thanks to you I am more curious. I look at all things electronic and wonder if FloTHERM was used at some point to ensure effective cooling.

9.  Choose your words carefully. You are very precise with your language. It took me a while to learn this but I finally realized that I needed to pick my words carefully in order to communicate effectively with you. Case in point. I usually ask for extra ice in my coke glass whenever I order a drink – it’s an American habit that is hard to break in the land of little or no ice cubes. I also always wrap my glass in a napkin. After the first month or so of tagging along with the guys to lunch, one of them asked me why I always wrap-up my glass. I said “the glass sweats and becomes slippery so this way I’m not likely to drop the glass”. After considering my answer for a moment, the engineer said I think the word you’re looking for is condensation. And the whole table started discussing this at length. At that moment I realized that I needed to pick my words more carefully. Months later, we were working on a presentation for a press tour. One slide just kept getting flagged by the review team as being wrong. After asking a series of questions I realized that the problem wasn’t with the whole slide but with just one word – I think the problematic word was “cause” so we changed it to “contribute” and all was fine. Someone complained that the team was being pedantic but I knew that they weren’t trying to be difficult. They were just being factually accurate. And there ain’t nothing wrong with that.

8.  When taking an engineer out on a sales call, be prepared to have them tell the truth –warts and all. In sales the golden rule is to never say no. If someone asks you about some functionality which your software doesn’t have, you just keep asking questions to find out whether that feature is important to the sale or whether it is a “nice to have”. Engineers on the other hand don’t have any problems with saying no.  I think that’s probably why engineers feel comfortable buying stuff from other engineers. It’s because they know they’re getting a straight answer.

7.  Engineers test you. When engineers meet you, they always ask you a question to gauge your technical level. They’re not being difficult … they are just trying to see where you fit on the technical spectrum so they’d know how to answer you. I learned this the hard way because I now know enough about things to be dangerous. So now whenever I meet an engineer I always start the conversation with “I am not an engineer”. In response I usually get a smile and detailed explanations that even I can understand. We both walk away happy having communicated effectively.

6.  There is always room for improvement. By nature engineers like to tinker with things because there is always room for improvement. Sometimes I feel like a 5 year-old kid who keeps repeating “are we there yet?” when working on a presentation or a brochure. So I have learned to be patient because invariably the end product is always better.

5.  My definition of a cool picture is different than yours.  Another thing that I admire about engineers is that you are practical and “smoke and mirrors” don’t really hold much value for you. When you look at simulation results, you are perfectly happy looking at the basic plot lines and charts. I on the other hand need to communicate with managers who like pretty pictures and colors. So my definition of a cool picture is probably way different than yours. That’s why some of the guys in our building run the other way when they see me trolling the hallways looking for a volunteer to do a couple of screen grabs. But the handful who still brave the elements do turn out some brilliant images (yeah, you know who you are and to you I am eternally grateful).

4.  Engineers are nice people. Just so that we are clear, when I say “nice” I am using the American definition which is “pleasant, agreeable, and delightful”. By nature most engineers are introverts so as an extrovert it would be really easy to just roll on by. But I tell you, as a group, engineers are the nicest bunch of folks I have ever met. That’s why whenever I meet one I make sure to get to know them well. And in this world, you can never have enough nice people around you.

3.  Physical testing is expensive. I’ve been in the simulation market for more years than I dare to admit out loud. However, I am still astounded at how much companies spend on physical testing. I heard that Bentley crash tests hundreds of cars every year. Gulp. That is a lot of money (not to mention lovely cars being destroyed) in the name of safety. But then again, if I ever could afford to buy one of those bad boys, I’d want to know that I’d be safe.

2.  Not doing physical tests can be even more expensive. Funny… you didn’t expect me a simulation-junkie to say this but it’s true. Sometimes you do need to do physical tests. For example, a new customer decided to invest in our T3Ster product for thermal characterization testing because their largest customer told them that their product specs were not worth the paper they were printed on. Ouch! It’s a good thing their customer told them _before_ they decided to take their business elsewhere.

1.  Simulation is meaningful. I remember the very first whitepaper I ever read on the topic of simulation. The subject was about meshing and it was during an interview. I read the opening paragraph a couple of times before admitting defeat. At that point, the CEO of the company (who also happened to be a respected engineering professor) gave me a quick lecture on what it all meant and before I knew it I was a part of this fascinating world. Since then I’ve learned a lot about engineering. I also know that some still believe that simulation is hocus pocus. But I am a believer especially when I hear from experienced engineers who say that simulation gives them new insight into the performance of their products. One of my favorite engineers, Mr. Guus Bertels with Bronswerk Heat Transfer, has an extensive background in the field of aerodynamics. Mr. Bertels was involved in the design of one of the most beautiful flying machines, the Concord, so you would be right to think that he has seen it all but even he has this to say about simulation: “The information generated by FloEFD especially for the taxing complexity of cooler aerodynamics is far beyond data obtainable through physical measurement and experimentation”.

So thank you engineers everywhere! You have made this a better world for the rest of us and thank you for letting me be a part of your world.

Until next time,

Design Engineer, CFD

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About Nazita Saye

Nazita SayeI have been involved with the CFD user community in one shape or another since 1999 -- when the NIKA team first introduced FloWorks to the engineering community. Over the years I've seen the market evolve and I still marvel at the wide range of products that are being designed with our tools. As the Manager of External Communications for the Mechanical Analysis Division at Mentor, it is my privilege to bring some of our customer stories to you. Visit CFD doesn’t mean Color For Directors

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Comments 2

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Hello Nazita, you make so many interesting points about engineers that it's impossible to respond usefully in this small space. I am curious to know, though, do you see any difference between engineers from different countries e.g. the USA and UK? ps On your point 7), I once worked with someone who we thought "Knows enough to be dangerous, but not enough to be useful".

Chris Hill
9:41 AM May 16, 2012

That's funny Chris - I'm definitely in the "not enough to be useful" category especially when it comes to a zombie apocalypse! Now that's a very interesting question - all of what I've said is a massive generalization. I'd say these are universal "truths as I see them"; however, we are all individuals so you'd expect subtle differences depending on the region. For example, I find that the American style of selling doesn't work in Europe. European engineers tend to want to do their own testing -- in other words, I can give you facts about features and functionality until I'm blue in the face but until you verify them personally you take them with a grain of salt. That is not to say that American engineers are not as diligent but on the other side of the pond comparative selling happens a lot so I guess they are just used to seeing data provided in that manner. In Germany and Japan engineers are more formal than other regions so you always address them formally until invited to use a more familiar tone. So yeah, lots of differences. And Chris you are more than welcome to hijack this blog any time with a guest appearance to respond to this post!

Nazita Saye
11:04 AM May 16, 2012

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