Some Things About Project Engineering

It's never been a "fair" career in my opinion. I guess it's much like any other industry where 20-30% of the people do 70-80% of the work and many of the rest are simply along for the ride. I read this somewhere decades ago, but that's not what makes project engineering biz unfair.

It's the deadlines.

I've often said that all architects lie. Now, that does not make them all liars. Regardless, I don't care if you ever worked with Frank Lloyd Wright, I. M. Pei or Louis Khan. Somewhere along the course of the project, the project deadline was discussed and then later at some point, the real deadline is revealed.

Architects have a hellish position in projects. They are the ultimate traffic cop, the judge, jury, etc. Most all project decisions land at his feet. The electrical engineer's job is just as hellish, but different. Many decisions are critical with regard to code safety, project cost and end user appeal. The hellish part of the electrical set has more to do with the inability to really begin the process until all other disciplines are near completion. Of course, we all share the same deadline, so the big push is always within the last few hours prior to submitting final drawings.

During the last two or three days of a project, information is being finalized and 80% of the electrical drawings are completed. The last day of the project brings last minute changes. This is a given. I think in the construction side, the only guys that really have it worse is the painter and flooring guys. Neither of them can finish until all the other tradesmen are done.

Maybe the only worse problem to add is that we rarely are able to work on one project at a time - it's usually more like five or six. I remember once about ten years ago, I resigned from a company. Upon my departure, I submitted a list of my projects with project status, project contacts, etc. My superior had a look of shock on his face. There were 26 projects on the list in various stages of design, jurisdictional review, construction, etc.

He simply said, "I had no idea." It happens like that. The snowball effect. I had been employed there for five years. During that time, I became sort of isolated from management due to direct contact with the clients. Yes, they knew about the projects, because they did the billing, but outside that, I was my own manager and production staff.

Most career stops that I've made have left me in the position of working extended hours. I remember a construction meeting some years ago. The contractors had a beef with the design or some such. They can be assholes at times. The client and end user were all in the meeting and they all (with the exception of the contractors) were aware that I had not slept in 36 straight hours in order to produce final drawing revisions.

I was well defended in my design defense arguments and the final blow was dealt by the end user. "Mr, Contractor, if you and your crew had the tenacity and ethics of this man, then this meeting would not be necessary." I'll never forget that.

Incidentally, during the same seven building project, the power company delivered the wrong voltage to the project. The architect called and wanted someone's head on a platter. I had met with the power company on site no less than three times to sort out such issues, but I never sent a letter confirming the discussions of our meetings. I told the architect that I was to blame for not putting in writing all of our decisions and understandings. It was unfathomable to me how the power company could have missed this one, but I took the hit straight on. The end user, who happened to be a large city independent school district superintendent, was the gallows henchman. Fifteen minutes after taking the blame, the architect called back and said, "This is a non-issue." I was confused, but he went on to say that the superintendent is surrounded by finger pointers and he was simply pleased that someone stood up with integrity and accountability.

See, the 20-80% rule that I heard years ago has been the fuel for my work ethic. I never wanted to find myself in the group that is simply along for the ride. Working 20-40 hours straight, without sleep, without a shower, many times without decent meals, to me, is part of the job - not the case with many of whom I have worked.

When people work on a fixed salary, it is generally accept that the salary fits 2080 hours per year. I never looked at that way. To me, I get paid to complete deadlines. The time involved to do so always extends beyond the 2080 hours. In fact, I am usually good for 300-400 extra hours per year and during busy years, closer to 500 hours over time per calender year.

I've been called a war horse. The reliable steed that can and will do everything from project management to the most mundane and menial tasks. I remember when I was younger, the engineers that I worked for who I liked and respected most where the ones who would shuck the coat and tie, roll up their sleeves and dig in with the production troops. Many are not like this. Me? I stay with the staff and do what I can.

Work ethic has always been important to me.

Many companies have strict dress codes, which for me, has always been a problem of sorts. Weekly runs to the cleaners for starched shirts and pressed slacks is an unnecessary burden and never mind the extra $200 per month in cleaning bills. Yes, it's important to maintain a clean a professional appearance, but its over kill in a lot of ways. I have settled into a position where appearances are less important than production. I showed up the first day three years ago in slacks and a tie. The first three co-workers that I saw that day were all wearing tee shirts and bluejeans. I was good with that...really.

I'm reaching a point in my career, I think, when all the effort, the deadline stress, the extra hours, the on going fight of deciding which horizontal or parallel deadline is most important, etc. is catching up with me.

I feel mentally spent and just plain tired. The weekend was a long work weekend with a few home chores and a family picnic mixed in. I hit my deadline of 9am yesterday. It was overall a good weekend of accomplishment. I am fortunate in having what I have.

I have always had a job - even during the economically slow years. For that, I am thankful.

Having said all that, I guess, I better get moving. There are more deadlines to slay.

Note: This wasn't supposed to be a "personal" blog. I guess it is what it is. Perhaps, I'll settle into a final direction and and focus at some point, but for now, I'll just meander along.