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Gettin' Some Respect! (WAS: future generations of engineers)

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If I might interject in the feud between Stan and Dennis:

As usual you are both right, though the slight
differences--philosophical differences, really--are enough to set you at

Consider a situation I've found myself in these past week or so, which
Dennis will immediately identify with, and which Stan will understand
because of his interest in promoting our profession to the next level
(at least).

A guy calls me up, a young man probably in his late twenties or early
thirties. I happen to know who he is; he's the son of a local prominent
dentist--prominent not because he drills teeth but because he also
happens to be a real-estate developer in his spare time.

He's apparently set the kid up in business as a builder. The kid buys
homes in areas of town that are undergoing "gentrification," where the
houses were very nice a few decades ago, but have since become somewhat
blowsy, and they're systematically being remodeled or cleared away for
new residences costing $500,000 to $1.5 million or more (multiply by a
factor of "three" to get the corresponding West Coast price).

So the kid goes "hey, listen, I need a foundation and some framing
designed and stuff, on account of I need a building permit to add an
addition on to this new house, and can you get me the building permit?"

I ask him what drawings he's got. He says "I'll fax 'em to ya!" (Warning
lights should have gone on right then and there).

So he faxes me a bunch of pencil sketches that he himself has made, and
remarks that "I've done a bunch of these inside and outside the city,
this is acceptable for them to give me a permit, but I need a foundation

I talk him into getting a geotech report. He didn't see why he needed
one--after all, it's only Houston, with the most aggressively expansive
soil you can imagine pretty much routinely encountered.

So he finally, grudgingly agrees to do that then get it back to me. "But
we gotta hurry cause this is costin' me $900 a week." (Again, stupid
Polhemus didn't notice the warning lights).

So I take his info, do him up a post-tensioned foundation design, and
take it down to the city. City tells me that they need "more," but I do
convince them to give me a permit to begin the foundation, reasoning
that at least he can get started on that.

I give him the foundation drawing and the foundation permit. He seems

He calls me up two days later. "Hey, what are you tryin' to pull? This
permit ain't worth nothin'! My plumber went down there and tried to pull
the plumbing permit but they said they need more drawings! I thought you
did the drawings!" (Then followed a bunch of griping about "how much
he's paying me" (it's about 1.5% of the construction cost--VERY
reasonable for a remodel).

I tell him I'll get the rest of the structural drawings together, and
I'll try to help him if he'll give the city what they want. I'll take
the package down there (I've got to be there anyway).

Well, it's no dice. He gives me nothing more than he already had, and I
still can't get the permit cleared because he has NO archy drawings,

Bear in mind that in the past, the guy was probably right, they probably
DID allow him to get his permit with what he has now, but "things
change," especially with the adoption of the IRC/IBC. In fact, I am
informed by the Building department that I have to add a bunch of new
details showing wind tie-downs, etc. that I formerly just called out as
notes. No big deal, but this guy is just floundering because he has
NOTHING like what the city wants to see.

So I have a chat with him, trying to explain to him what the city needs,
and he just doesn't get it. "Why can't you do the stair layouts? Why
can't you do the floor layouts? What am I paying YOU for?"

I try to tell him that's not what was in our agreement, but to him
"structure" means everything except the wiring and the plumbing. He's
getting "ripped off," he says.

In short, I'm getting hammered by this guy's foul mouth because he's so
stupid that he doesn't even know what the **** a "structural engineer"
is. He keeps telling me that "this other guy told me he could do the
whole thing for what I'm paying you but you came recommended."

Who is this other guy? A building designer, who apparently has an
engineer that will "plan stamp" whatever he draws. (I tried to get the
guy's name, but he couldn't remember).

So I've got an irate customer who will very likely not pay me now,
because I refuse to do architectural plans (I don't have the time, and
it wasn't in our agreement). He's already rumbling about suing me for
damages because I said I'd do blahblahblah and I reneged, and it's
costing him, yaddayaddayadda.

In short, because he sees ME as equivalent to a building
designer/plan-stamper combo, he feels like he's getting "ripped off."
And so we're in a stalemate.

Outside of adding the information required to the drawings, I have
nothing else I can do with it. And so it goes.

Somehow, there has to be a move afoot to change this status quo. I think
it will take far more than a change in the educational regime. I think
it will take a concerted effort to change the perception of the
structural engineer, and what his role is. In this case, I had what I
considered to be a pretty clear scope of work. But this guy interprets
terms that you and I consider self-explanatory in wholly new ways. (E.g.
"Structure" means I need to provide him with stair drawings).

Since we're in wild-and-wooly Texas, this is what passes for a "general

I live and learn on jobs like this. Never again do I touch the building
permit in any way, shape or form. Never again do I work with no archy
drawings at all, no matter what the idjit tells me the city will accept
(his latest idea is to go down there himself, because "they'll give it
to me since I'm the homeowner." I think he's in for a rude awakening,
but we'll see).

Bottom line: Whenever I ignore warning lights, I get run over by the
biggest, fattest locomotive on the rails.

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