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My challenges supporting simulation engineers

My challenges supporting simulation engineers

(OP)
I was recently laid off after 17 years as an FEA support person for a large automotive OEM. The company had several hundred simulation analysts performing FEA ( structural, fatigue, CFD etc). My role was to help the analysts use the structural simulation software as well as manage the High performance computing environment . Last I was also involved with software development and assisted developers with writing their custom code to execute on our high performance computing environment.

The role was more a support role. Looking back I faced many challenges trying to gain respect from the large group of users. There would always be a group of users who were not satisfied with my support and would complain to my manager. Typically they wanted someone with deeper expertise in FEA. It is impossible to expect me to be an expert in FEA since it encompasses so many complex disciplines. My background was a MS in Structural Engineering. So I had no PhD. Even with PhD, no one person can be a master in all areas of FEA. Unfortunately, I had a very hard time explaining this to my bosses. They just saw the complaint and would assume it was due to my incompetence.

Another group of users expected lots of hand-holding due to their inexperience with FEA. Unfortunately, I simply did not have the time to do that. With hundreds of users to support I can not spent my whole day teaching someone how to do FEA. I would be very honest with these users and tell them they have to learn on their own by reading the documentation. Again, this created some unhappy users who would complain to my boss.

Last, there was another type of user who would use overly aggressive tactics to get immediate support to their issue. They would CC managers about any minor issue and expect me to "send the army" to fix their issue. They take full advantage of the fact that in corporate culture "the squeaky wheel gets the oil". Unfortunately my personality is such that I do not respond to this type of nagging. In fact I sometimes would drag my feet so they get the message that is not the way to communicate issues to me. They have to be respectful of my time and not expect me just to drop everything I am doing. So some of these folks would complain to my boss.

While most of the users I supported were happy, it was those tiny few who caused me a lot of issues. What should I have done to improve how I handled those folks?

RE: My challenges supporting simulation engineers

If you did the job your boss asked you to do, regardless of what else you were doing at the moment, that would satisfy the squeaky wheel types.

Holding hands with the folks who needed it may be a time drain, but that would be obvious to your boss when you're constantly pulled away from their jobs to do the squeaky wheel jobs. So that's two problems resolved.

Explaining to the first group that your calculations are based upon non-specific details that you cannot fathom without their input, well, that should resolve remaining group issues.

Dan - Owner
http://www.Hi-TecDesigns.com

RE: My challenges supporting simulation engineers

"Unfortunately my personality is such that I do not respond to this type of nagging. "

In that case you were in the wrong job. I don't respond to that sort of nagging, but I have a different job. From a user's perspective you are stopping them from doing their jobs, and if they are on pay for performance, or have any sort of pride in their work, being unable to do their job because the main tool is broken and the guy who can fix it, won't, is not acceptable. I'm a bit surprised a large organisation doesn't have direct vendor support as a first line of attack.

If 20% of your several hundred users were disgruntled I'm not surprised you weren't the golden boy.


Cheers

Greg Locock


New here? Try reading these, they might help FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies http://eng-tips.com/market.cfm?

RE: My challenges supporting simulation engineers

Call your former boss and ask.

Also find kindred spirits on Tek-Tips.com.

Mike Halloran
Pembroke Pines, FL, USA

RE: My challenges supporting simulation engineers

ParabolicTet,

Were you laid off, or fired? I like to think there is a difference.

--
JHG

RE: My challenges supporting simulation engineers

We often lay people off instead of firing them. There's less paperwork required and less likelihood of being sued for wrongful termination. The added cost on our unemployment insurance is negligible compared to the cost of even a single lawsuit.

Most of the time I've seen people actually get fired was when they were watching or doing porn during work, but I wasn't watching them winky smile We've had a few occasions where massive beheadings occurred at the corporate level, but those are rather unusual.

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies forum1529: Translation Assistance for Engineers Entire Forum list http://www.eng-tips.com/forumlist.cfm

RE: My challenges supporting simulation engineers

(OP)

Quote (drawoh)

Were you laid off, or fired? I like to think there is a difference.

Laid off. There were many let go so it was nothing personal.

RE: My challenges supporting simulation engineers

(OP)

Quote (GregLocock)

In that case you were in the wrong job. I don't respond to that sort of nagging, but I have a different job. From a user's perspective you are stopping them from doing their jobs, and if they are on pay for performance, or have any sort of pride in their work, being unable to do their job because the main tool is broken and the guy who can fix it, won't, is not acceptable. I'm a bit surprised a large organisation doesn't have direct vendor support as a first line of attack.

When I have to support many users I need one policy and apply it consistently. Just because someone is aggressive it doesn't get their issue to become my priority. When I was laid off we were in the middle of launching a "ticketing" system. That would have helped a lot. But the damage to my reputation was done .

I know the simple answer is just to never say "no or wait" to anyone asking for your help in corporate culture.

RE: My challenges supporting simulation engineers

Actually, I'd think the answer is make sure your manager either sets your prioritization or is aware and consciously delegates this responsibility to you.

Never saying no just isn't realistic, getting your manager to say no for you or at least back you in your 'no' responses is better.

However, still imperfect because you can't keep all the people happy all the time - only all the people some of the time or some of the people all of the time IF YOU ARE LUCKY.

Posting guidelines FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies http://eng-tips.com/market.cfm? (probably not aimed specifically at you)
What is Engineering anyway: FAQ1088-1484: In layman terms, what is "engineering"?

RE: My challenges supporting simulation engineers

Sounds like a poorly constructed position with the wrong person in it. Can't imagine who the right one would be.

RE: My challenges supporting simulation engineers

(OP)

Quote (TheTick)

Sounds like a poorly constructed position with the wrong person in it. Can't imagine who the right one would be.

I agree. Just before I was laid off my boss was looking into seeing if my FEA support duties could be handled by someone else with a PhD. So my responsibilities would have just been the high performance computing environment.

RE: My challenges supporting simulation engineers

Seems to me your specific problem is over. If you are unlucky enough to wind up in the same job again, you need to institute a ticketing system, which you could have done in your previous job; I don't understand why that wasn't even implemented, ad hoc. First come, first served is even implemented in pretty much every restaurant, big or small. Line position can be changed, but that requires management approval.

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies forum1529: Translation Assistance for Engineers Entire Forum list http://www.eng-tips.com/forumlist.cfm

RE: My challenges supporting simulation engineers

The other thing to do, but this takes some effort, is to set up an internal community for product support. For example, I set up a wiki, and 4 other people run sites on our intranet, dedicated to supporting the program we use. I estimate that about half of each of those sites is dedicated to getting noobs going, where to get software, how to set your machine up, where's the on line training, tips and tricks, weird syntax demystified, etc etc.

" Just because someone is aggressive it doesn't get their issue to become my priority." I don't agree with that. One of my job functions is identifying roadblocks. It is in my Top 5. You think it is aggressive to be criticized, well you are taking it too personally. If I send a note cc ing your manager and mine, that means I want it escalated, there's probably a resource problem. At the very least by cc ing my manager he knows why I am unable to do the job I am being paid to do. That, as you have demonstrated, is not of much concern to you. But it is bloody important to me.


Cheers

Greg Locock


New here? Try reading these, they might help FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies http://eng-tips.com/market.cfm?

RE: My challenges supporting simulation engineers

I've never seen a successful role that combined IT with application support. Applications with a large user group need a champion who is a user and a problem solver. It works best when the champion has a stake in solving the application-related problems. For the IT person, problems are just problems, detracting from their primary roles of systems and software management.

Steve

RE: My challenges supporting simulation engineers

(OP)

Quote (SomptingGuy)

I've never seen a successful role that combined IT with application support. Applications with a large user group need a champion who is a user and a problem solver. It works best when the champion has a stake in solving the application-related problems. For the IT person, problems are just problems, detracting from their primary roles of systems and software management.

Nowadays most simulation applications are run in the high performance computing environment. That wasn't the case ten or fifteen years ago. So to be able to troubleshoot issues you need application and IT knowledge. That's where I came in. I was the glue between these two fields, but not a "deep expert" in either one.

RE: My challenges supporting simulation engineers

Sounds like you needed a champion yourself.

RE: My challenges supporting simulation engineers

(OP)

Quote (GregLocock )

One of my job functions is identifying roadblocks. It is in my Top 5. You think it is aggressive to be criticized, well you are taking it too personally. If I send a note cc ing your manager and mine, that means I want it escalated, there's probably a resource problem. At the very least by cc ing my manager he knows why I am unable to do the job I am being paid to do. That, as you have demonstrated, is not of much concern to you. But it is bloody important to me.

I see what you are saying. It makes sense if you do this when the situation really calls for it. However, from my experience there are a minority of users who ALWAYS behave like this regardless of the severity of their issue. They use a combination of aggression and ineptitude to get what they want immediately. As I mentioned, I worked in the company for 16 years. So I know who these folks were.

Is it right to CC bosses over issues that 80% of users would be able to find a quick workaround for?

RE: My challenges supporting simulation engineers

"Is it right to CC bosses over issues that 80% of users would be able to find a quick workaround for?"

It's not nice, but irrelevant. You, and you alone, had the ability to defuse this problem after the first few times by instituting an ad hoc ticketing system, given that you were there for 16 years. It seems to me that had you done so, on your own, you would have demonstrated a proactive workaround solution, and provided a means for having your managers take the responsibility and ownership for changing priorities, and possibly avoided getting laid off.

Most employees, even if they're not total jerks, rarely know or care how their personal workflow stacks up in the global scheme of things. A ticketing system would have assigned a first-in, first-out priority that could have then been adjudicated for actual priority need for the company, which is what the manager should be doing, and not you.

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies forum1529: Translation Assistance for Engineers Entire Forum list http://www.eng-tips.com/forumlist.cfm

RE: My challenges supporting simulation engineers

SomptingGuy,

Actually, I think I did fairly well at it. I was in charge of a UNIX network and quite a few of the applications running on it. My primary responsibility was mechanical design, using AutoCAD. I spent a lot of time writing documentation with WordPerfect. The key to getting support on any computer application is finding someone who gives a sh*t. As long as the problem was not with Lotus-123, I did. The OP's problem is that he was supporting too many people doing too many different jobs for him to develop expertise at solving their problems.

--
JHG

RE: My challenges supporting simulation engineers

(OP)

Quote (IRstuff)

It's not nice, but irrelevant. You, and you alone, had the ability to defuse this problem after the first few times by instituting an ad hoc ticketing system, given that you were there for 16 years. It seems to me that had you done so, on your own, you would have demonstrated a proactive workaround solution, and provided a means for having your managers take the responsibility and ownership for changing priorities, and possibly avoided getting laid off.

In theory this is correct, however, I was against the ticketing system. In my opinion the ticketing system created too much bureaucracy. A large number of issues I could resolve in under ten minutes. To me it was not "value-added" to expect a user to spend ten minutes opening a ticket that I could resolve in less time it took for them to open the ticket!

So a ticketing system would help with the "aggressive" type of folks, but would hurt the average user. I preferred folks to contact me directly by phone, email or IM. Then I would work with them 1-1 to resolve their issue. The time spent opening and closing tickets was a waste.

That's why I wondered if should have brought this up directly with my boss. Or should I have just sucked it up and caved into these aggressive types? I feel if I brought it up with my boss, he would probably think negatively of me. In boss's mind, customer is always right...

RE: My challenges supporting simulation engineers

You forget who you work for. Your employer really should have some means of tracking how your energy is being expended.

You had the convenience of simply not instituting basic record-keeping infrastructure. Your employer should have made it happen. However, you failed to fill an obvious gap in the system. Many have experienced pain for it, including yourself.

RE: My challenges supporting simulation engineers

"To me it was not "value-added" to expect a user to spend ten minutes opening a ticket that I could resolve in less time it took for them to open the ticket!"

Then, that's a BAD ticketing system. Our's takes a minute. In your case, while you were on the phone for 10 minutes talking to person A, other people would have been left dangling, with no idea when you'd get to them, if ever, and no means of getting your attention, other than voicemail.

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies forum1529: Translation Assistance for Engineers Entire Forum list http://www.eng-tips.com/forumlist.cfm

RE: My challenges supporting simulation engineers

Ticketing also gives an automated justification of just how busy you might be, and how many support requests come in.

It does have the potential to be used as a performance metric, where the opposite occurs due to silly targets (such as opening the ticket, setting it to user pending or something similar, in order to meet a performance quota like all tickets shall be responded to in 2 minutes...) but implemented well, it provides a means to plan workload, and allocate responses based on urgency. Priority cannot be assigned, and user requirements cannot be managed when everything has the same priority (i.e. phone call, NOW!), as opposed to being able to review open tickets for urgency at any time.

It also gives an opportunity to negate all the 'cc boss in on problems' workers, if they don't lodge a ticket, they don't get service, and no amount of jumping up and down at management will matter...

RE: My challenges supporting simulation engineers

"It also gives an opportunity to negate all the 'cc boss in on problems' workers, if they don't lodge a ticket, they don't get service, and no amount of jumping up and down at management will matter..."

And, if they did grab a ticket, they'll know their place in line, and if they want something different, their complaints to the boss will force the boss to choose wisely, and make it known to those that got bumped who's been throwing their weight around.

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies forum1529: Translation Assistance for Engineers Entire Forum list http://www.eng-tips.com/forumlist.cfm

RE: My challenges supporting simulation engineers

Without a ticket system, you are juggling. You are also leaving no searchable records. Records might seem boring, but they are invaluable with time, especially if your customers have the means to search them too.

Most IT ticket records will be dull: "Please upgrade node XYZ to OS abc", "Node XYZ is hanging on a bad NFS mount", etc. Not a lot of engineering value in them. Good for resource planning though.

On the other hand, application support tickets should record useful information: "Version X of tool Y crashes when I attempt operation Z.", "Where can I find valve lift profiles for build X of engine Y?", "I'm building a model of engine X and need some help correlating it.". This information shouldn't be held in one person's head or in unorganised records. The same questions get asked by each new herd of noobs. They also get asked by oldies who forgot the answer first time the problem came up.

Of course there are always some people in organisations who like to make themselves indispensable. The only person who can solve a problem. Management don't like relying on these people. They prefer redundancy.

Steve

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