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Companies putting you in a box.
5

Companies putting you in a box.

Companies putting you in a box.

(OP)
This won't be groundbreaking or anything but it is just a comment about how companies, especially large companies tend to put people in boxes, especially at larger companies. Companies put people in these boxes, train them for these boxes, and then appraise them only for what they do inside of their box. These boxes tend to be incredibly small and well defined because people often move onto another company or box every 3-4 years. This creates an entire workforce that has been trained, promoted, and assessed for a small number of small boxes. So, instead of someone moving up that well rounded and capable of improvising, you have someone that has made a career of staying in their box and never risking making a mistake. It is like comparing jazz being played Miles Davis to an 11th grader playing off of sheet music or telling Miles Davis to quit improvising and stick to what's on the sheet. It almost feels like the intent is to manage and create an uninspired, disposable, mediocre, and replacable workforce.

RE: Companies putting you in a box.

You want mostly that, and then a small number of people who can be inspired, improvise, and adapt...but not too much lest they leave. You wouldn't design a circuit with transistors that are free to wander off at will would you? So you must design a company that keeps people where they are by whatever means are necessary (and legal, of course).

Cynical? Sure. Accurate? Probably.

RE: Companies putting you in a box.

There is a large consulting engineering firm which does tall buildings here in NYC which shall remain nameless - you either get to design beams or columns, but not both.

RE: Companies putting you in a box.

2
Bet there's a big fight when you get a beam-column....

RE: Companies putting you in a box.

@phameng: Ha. I think they needed to install bars on the windows in the office to stop people hurling themselves out

RE: Companies putting you in a box.

No kidding. Always thought it would be nice to have a building where column design matters (99% of my projects have a column utilization of about 0.15 by the time I proportion them for connection geometry), but I'll take my remarkably diverse and ever changing work over....that.

RE: Companies putting you in a box.

A US Supreme Court lawsuit (KSR INT’L CO. v. TELEFLEX INC. (No. 04-1350)) involved testimony from a guy who spent 20 years (or so) designing accelerator pedals. One Justice remarked on the lack of creativity required for that job; the case revolved around whether adding a position sensor to an accelerator pedal was novel and therefore protectable by patent.

I think it also included discussing preventing raccoons from entering a garage.

Found it: https://www.supremecourt.gov/oral_arguments/argume...

Quote (US Supreme Court Oral Argument)

Breyer. The experts say it's not obvious and the reason
nobody did it for 12 years and the reason that Asano was
never combined with an electronic throttle control is
explained in the record in this case and it's twofold.

The first is, and I have to take you now to the picture
of Asano because that's what the claim that is supposed
to make our invention obvious is. They say you would
have done this with Asano. What the experts say is this
Asano thing, no one would ever use it at all.

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Who do you get to be
an expert to tell you something's not obvious.

MR. GOLDSTEIN: You get --

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: I mean, the least
insightful person you can find? (Laughter.)

MR. GOLDSTEIN: Mr. Chief Justice, we got a
Ph.D. and somebody who had worked in pedal design for 25
years.

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Exactly.

That poor PhD Pedal designer.

RE: Companies putting you in a box.

I've worked for several firms over the last 50 years and only one was large (SNC Lavalin)... I guess NORR could be considered large... there were only about 10 structural people but there were a lot of architects, mechanical and electrical engineers... all of them just left me alone to do my work. I've never had any interference.

Rather than think climate change and the corona virus as science, think of it as the wrath of God. Feel any better?

-Dik

RE: Companies putting you in a box.

I think it's a personality thing as to whether you like that kind of structure. There were some folks who got very stressed out by the diversity of work at my previous ~10 person firm. This one guy was always asking me to give him a copy of the procedure for doing whatever job it was. When I gave him a copy of a previous calc report, it wasn't exactly the same as what he was doing so he was paralyzed. I explained to him that figuring it out was part of the job which is obviously harder than plugging and chugging, but the payoff is you do get the latitude to actually design something. Some days it feels like hacking your way through the jungle with a machete, other days you feel like Elon Musk. He didn't last.

RE: Companies putting you in a box.

Maybe I've been lucky; if anything, I've been encouraged to not be in any box at all.

I've worked on troubleshooting the innards of integrated circuits to figuring out frozen orbits for satellite surveillance; the latter is still in work.

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: Companies putting you in a box.

My latest, and greatest, is working out the gross dynamics of this test, in particular, can we accurately predict which vehicles will roll onto their sides? (most don't)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NaOzE9JX-Kg

Notice the one at 1:34, having a good long think about whether to roll or not, while balancing on two tires.




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: Companies putting you in a box.

There's a good case to be made for working for smaller companies for a time period to gain broader experience. My experience has been that at small companies, experience is broad, but shallow, while at big companies it is deep and narrow.

RE: Companies putting you in a box.

Ben in both positions, boxed and wide-open. I learn what I can from the box positions as quickly as possible so I can move along to a wide-open position. I still learn from the former, but it's only in the latter that I get to make real use of what I know. If I'm not stretching my brain, I get bored quickly and start to fidget... I don't like fidgeting.

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

RE: Companies putting you in a box.

I will say this - there are days when I would like nothing more than to have somebody tell me exactly what to do and how to do it. Those days were so much easier. Of course I made about 1/5th of what I make now, so there are some tradeoffs. But just to have a break every now and then....

RE: Companies putting you in a box.

I guess it depends on your goals. To be something, or the take home money.
As someone who has always been in a bigger box, and was allowed to make some changes to the bigger project, it has been good.
But there are days when ...

To improve other people's lives is a goal we should all have. Taking home money is also a good goal.

RE: Companies putting you in a box.

Hi Fischstabchen,

You might want to read The Peter Principle.

Quote (Laurence J. Peter)

"In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence."

I think the book started as a sarcastic joke in the 70's. Since then it has evolved and gained broad acceptance as a common phenomenon in management.

RE: Companies putting you in a box.

The advantage of being put in a box is, paradoxically, mobility. Being in my box meant that I learnt a lot of useful skills in one area, easily described to a future employer in the same field. So I could bounce around the industry quite easily. Admittedly it did take 15 years to get out of that box into another one!

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: Companies putting you in a box.

Quote (You might want to read The Peter Principle.)


That's why I'm still down in the trenches... I know my limitations. lol

Rather than think climate change and the corona virus as science, think of it as the wrath of God. Feel any better?

-Dik

RE: Companies putting you in a box.

You need to be like Schrodinger's cat; a more recent reading of quantum mechanics is that not only is the cat neither dead nor alive, it's not even necessarily in the box to begin with.

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: Companies putting you in a box.

Jobs exist because there is work to be done. Most of that work is "in The Box".

Not all companies are as bad as you describe. Some value and encourage growth and excursions outside The Box. If it's important enough to you, keep moving until you find one.

I find that in engineering, anyone worth having to do a particular job absolutely will outgrow that job.

RE: Companies putting you in a box.

I was in a meeting with engineers, production, and quality. There were many suggestions of methods to solve the particular problem that was the subject of the meeting. The quality manager shot down every suggestion. Someone then said, "Ed, you need to think outside of the box". Ed replied, "I am the box".

RE: Companies putting you in a box.

That's unfortunate; I was part of a corporate "tiger team" investigating a massive yield failure once and while everyone was busily trying to "fix" the process, no one was looking at root causes.

It turned out to hinge on a technical paper published 15 years earlier that stated that the process was very sensitive to temperature, which no one in the tiger team was looking at, and it turned out that some "clever" process engineer had changed the process temperature to save money on replacing the quartz reaction tubes, which resulted very bad material quality. However, it wasn't until this one particular chip was run in the process that it became an obvious yield hit.

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: Companies putting you in a box.

Quote (Not all companies are as bad as you describe. Some value and encourage growth and excursions outside The Box.)


Not my experience with HR... they have far too great an influence on items they know nothing about, IMHO.

Rather than think climate change and the corona virus as science, think of it as the wrath of God. Feel any better?

-Dik

RE: Companies putting you in a box.

From both an educational and quality standpoint I'd argue that engineers should be focused into fairly small niches for 2-5 year stints, simply bc that is the time necessary to become competent in any given niche and how humans learn. In school we learn theory then practice applying it, an hour of lecture and two hours of homework being the usual standard before moving on to the next topic. To become licensed, engineers work in a given small niche four years (fits that 2-5 eh?), get signoff, take a test, and can work within our limited experience. Nobody worth their salt considers another competent after five mins spent solving one problem nor even after a few months solving quite a few of the same.

JMO but I find the notion that small firms offer "broad" experience rather comically absurd, as I do the thought that large firms "box you in." Most small firms dont have dink for facilities or deep expertise (aka experience) internally. They usually don't have budget for many modern engineering tools, a dedicated research dept, and rarely practice process-driven engineering or have much for quality standards otherwise. The joke that they can design anything but nothing well is often true. Dont mistake broad high-level design for engineering, much less broad engineering experience bc there's a big difference in making standard parts function for low-volume products and engineering an optimized part for 1M+. A bit of design routing a COTS hose is a helluva lot easier than engineering new hose stock and custom fittings. Large companies IME place a lot of value on broad experience and push employees in that direction. They usually have rotational development programs for juniors that place them in a design role, a manufacturing role, and a customer support, business development, or other engineering role for a few months each. To climb the ladder into management you typically need a broad background, having worked successfully in the foundry, in customer service, done an overseas tour, been in a "business" role, etc as well as been in product development and faced the long-term consequences of your decisions. At many small companies its common for managers to be only a few steps from the desk they started in. To each their own opinion, but my usual bit of advice for juniors is to spend 5-10 at a big company to learn proper engineering and gain experience with modern technology then try a small company for work-life balance, cultural, or other personal reasons.

As to an "uninspired, disposable, mediocre, and replacable workforce," I have met quite a few engineers who fancied themselves artists or other creative geniuses. None had ever worked in a dedicated research dept nor realized how process-driven those depts tend to be until I shared my experiences.

RE: Companies putting you in a box.

CWB1, perhaps this true for mechanical engineering but I have not found it to be true in geotechnical / civil engineering.

RE: Companies putting you in a box.

Quote (You need to be like Schrodinger's cat; a more recent reading of quantum mechanics is that not only is the cat neither dead nor alive, it's not even necessarily in the box to begin with.)


He's here, in the trench, with me, but the box isn't moving... If he's there, I'm pretty sure he's dead... I don't want to open that 'can cat of worms', for fear of future reprisals/repercussions or unintended consequences.

Rather than think climate change and the corona virus as science, think of it as the wrath of God. Feel any better?

-Dik

RE: Companies putting you in a box.

Quote (geotechguy1)

CWB1, perhaps this true for mechanical engineering but I have not found it to be true in geotechnical / civil engineering.
I have also found CWB1's viewpoint to not be true of electrical engineering... the smaller companies provide a wide range of experience, forcing me to research a lot of varied subjects to design a product or resolve issues. And the large companies do tend to "box you in" from a skillset standpoint, with very little desire to help expand your knowledge base in other areas.

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

RE: Companies putting you in a box.

Quote (CWB1)

They usually don't have budget for many modern engineering tools, a dedicated research dept, and rarely practice process-driven engineering or have much for quality standards otherwise.

While I'm with geotechguy1 for the most part, this statement by CWB1 rings quite true with my experience. While I don't need much of a dedicated research department for structural engineering (there are a handful of small specialty firms that do it for niche markets, but for the general building industry it's not the way things are done), budgets for the best software and analysis tools are rarely there, and QA can be a struggle while understaffed and dealing with unrealistic deadlines - whether imposed by the client or internally. For most of my work the advanced software may be nice but isn't necessary...the QA on the other hand is vital and it's lower priority status at a lot of small firms have degraded the profession broadly.

RE: Companies putting you in a box.

Even Miles Davis knew there was a time and place for playing in The Box. That's actually most of the time if it's not your turn to solo.

RE: Companies putting you in a box.

(OP)
CWB1,

I have certainty seen new engineers that wanted to be artist or thought much of themselves. I am not talking about that even though it is an issue sometimes. Those aren't bad engineers a lot of times but they just need someone to sit-down with them or side projects. A lot of what I am talking about is fresh grad jobs that have no runway or people recruiting experienced people into jobs only to find out there was no runway or you have to wait 5 to 10 years for your turn and they just didn't want to train anyone and then are clueless when that person starts looking for new jobs in the company after a year.

RE: Companies putting you in a box.

Hah! Speaking of runways, McDonnell Douglas used to go out and hire a bunch of new grads and the randomly assign them to various departments; we once got a CS major assigned to our semiconductor group. We couldn't figure out what to do with them, so we swapped for an EE; ironically, the first task we assigned our EE was to write a test program for the semiconductor test chip.

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: Companies putting you in a box.

I just stumbled onto this thread, didnt' read all the coments. Regarding op...

Google famously had 20% time. You have normal assigned responsibilities / boss 80% of the time. The other 20% you could choose to work on almost whatever company project you wanted (almost).

Google is worth what... $0.5T?
Something tells me those guys at google had a few good ideas along the way!


=====================================
(2B)+(2B)' ?

RE: Companies putting you in a box.

(OP)
electricpete,

For google, I believe it works because they are encourage people to go outside of their box and the sunk cost for losing 20% of an employee's time (I don't think this is a 20% lost because happy employees are much more productive) is likely made up with greater employee retention. I don't think that model though works in a lot of other industries were the cost associated with a project less labor and more fixed cost like equipment. There are a lot of fields where "play" is cost prohibitive.

RE: Companies putting you in a box.

Quote:

A lot of what I am talking about is fresh grad jobs that have no runway or people recruiting experienced people into jobs only to find out there was no runway or you have to wait 5 to 10 years for your turn and they just didn't want to train anyone and then are clueless when that person starts looking for new jobs in the company after a year.

You're still confusing small and large companies IME. Large companies usually have a flow chart defining steps in the business/management path/ladder and another for the technical path/ladder. Moreover, there's a helluva lot more job opportunities in a company with 20k employees vs another with only 20, and usually a much wider variety as well. Good luck getting promoted or even moving laterally in many small offices where the other six engineers are all close to your age and unlikely to move or retire anytime soon. Training is also night and day between the two. Much like software licenses, large companies usually buy training in bulk annual purchases with licenses/training being free after XXX seats so taking advantage of opportunities as schedules allow is encouraged. Its not uncommon today for the business folks to take a CAD course for hobby fun or engineers to take finance or programming/web/IT courses - BTDT. With the better availability of training you'll also see the broader bits of engineering education that small companies forget, usually a minimum of a couple days of ethics, legal, and process (lean & agile) training are required for engineers annually in addition to the usual technical and HR training. There's also all manner of informal training opportunities at large companies because you have a larger volume and greater variety of projects plus unlimited access to technical journals and massive internal-research libraries, as well as simply having more people on a given team/dept to mentor you. At my first employer it was common for juniors to be voluntold to attend several new-supplier sales pitches and DFMEA reviews every week to learn how parts are made and how they fail.

RE: Companies putting you in a box.

Quote (electricpete)

Google famously had 20% time. You have normal assigned responsibilities / boss 80% of the time. The other 20% you could choose to work on almost whatever company project you wanted (almost).

Google is worth what... $0.5T?
Something tells me those guys at google had a few good ideas along the way!
This also has the side effect of people working more than 40 hours... voluntarily. Google still ends up with ~40 hours/week of work, but employees are putting in that 20% on their own time and don't notice it. It's a great idea... for Google.

I'm not suggesting it's bad for the employees, as they get access to Google equipment (like their electronics lab), but it is heavily skewed towards benefitting Google.

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

RE: Companies putting you in a box.

@CWB1 - I appreciate the spirited defense of traditional OEM style engineering - it's the Henry Ford approach of a heavy lift of men materials and management all for the singular goal of a sophisticated mass produced product. I think all engineers admire that model to some extent. But what about Kelly Johnson at Skunkworks? We admire that too - the small group of bad asses freed from the constraints of bureaucratic pencil necks telling us engineers what to do. Johnson only had ~20 engineers and very little contact with the rest of Lockheed, but the SR-71 flew higher and faster than any plane before or since. Even the first iterations of the Model T at Ford were built by small teams.

RE: Companies putting you in a box.

forgot all about Johnson... a rare engineer, thanks...

Rather than think climate change and the corona virus as science, think of it as the wrath of God. Feel any better?

-Dik

RE: Companies putting you in a box.

Purportedly that's a common myth about Kelly. He didn't have 20-30 engineers design the entire aircraft, he had 20-30 Lockheed engineers at a time rotating through his dept in addition to dozens of suppliers, trades, and govt oversight contributing. They did just as some do today - eat the elephant a few design goals at a time, rotating tech specialists through as-needed. The challenge larger than project management for him was the info compartmentalization needed to maintain security. Personally I prefer the more traditional approach, create a concept with a small team then throw an army at it to finish developing everything in parallel.

Regardless, its all relative and exceptions do occur. A 100 engineer company is huge to the one-man show but tiny compared to a Fortune listed megacorp, and that small 100 engineer company can do some pretty complex projects with small contributions from a lot of specialized folks yet not have dink for growth/educational opportunities. I've also known a few big companies with very limited employee opportunities bc they outsourced most/all of design, testing, or even manufacturing. Having regretted working on a few supercars I'd also wonder about the Blackbird. Quite often performance doesn't correlate to durability nor even quality, only a PITA.

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