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Re: Failings of (engineering) organizations

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On Dec 9, 2004, at 2:36 PM, Robert Freeman wrote:

My job as a staff architect in our organization is to make a profit for the company.
But that isn't your only job. Although you're not an engineer, you have the same professional duty to guard the public interest as an engineer or a physician. What do you do when your professional duties conflicts with the profitability of a given job? In fact, you're legally liable for putting profitability ahead of your professional conduct. In effect, your specialized skills makes you very much a watcher in addition to a profit center. Professionals are indeed a separate class--they're watchers, because they have skills that the laiety doesn't understand—skills which can cause loss or death if they're abused. The laity must be able to trust engineers the way that they trust physicians, not to misuse those skills. In particular you are not permitted to profit unfairly by such misuse. So your profitability premise isn't correct.

Moreover, your points 1-5 don't follow from the profitability premise, nor does the conclusion that the points, if true (not proven), would cause harm to our community and ourselves.

I claim that all the restrictions on corporate engineering practice were put into the engineering laws to insure that respect for the public good outweighs profitability as a professional goal. Profitability is necessary for a given engineering practice to exist, but it isn't sufficient to define professional conduct.

There's one helluva good book, provided you consider sea stories good reading, called _In Hazard_ by Richard Hughes. It's a story about a ship's crew in an encounter with a huge hurricane. Buxton, the first mate, had gone to sea because he considered himself a professional man, not an economic man. In Hughes words, 'The Economic Man sells his labor at a rate of money. Work is something he is prepared to do in fair proportion to the money he gets for it. his working day is the number of hours he is willing to waste, in order to have the wherewithal to live and to enjoy his leisure. 'The man with a profession also calls what he does 'work:' but his meaning is exactly the opposite. It is the hours he is not working that he considers wasted. Pay? Of course he expects to be paid: a man cannot live on air. But whereas the economic Man looks on work as the means to get money, the professional man looks on money as the means to do work.'

Hughes goes on to say that sea-going is an economic activity, but its practice is is 'judged by standards which which are not economic at all…the working of a ship calls for certain qualities—virtues, if you like—which do not seem appropriate to-day to the relations of employers and employed on shore. The shore-laborer's liability is limited: the seaman's is unlimited. The seaman may be called on to give the utmost that he is able, even to laying down his life…it is inherent in the profession he practices.' (In this case, Buxton would have been one of those called on to risk an almost certain fall into the ship's smoke box in order to shut off a steam line, broken when the storm carried away the funnel.)

The professional requirements of engineering aren't as demanding as those of a seaman who might be expected to risk falling into the smoke box, but I think they make similar demands which really aren't apropos to corporate life these days. We are different, because we're called on by law to be personally responsible for our professional or corporate activities.

I'm annoyed by the word 'techie' applied to me and my work, which in fact is done to different and higher professional standards than the average middle manager or for that matter, your average CEO, and I'm more annoyed by the notion that my job is to make someone look good who might in fact be acting badly. So I'm an idealist--sue me ;->

In any event, _In Hazard_ is a damn fine book.

Christopher Wright P.E. |"They couldn't hit an elephant at
chrisw(--nospam--at)skypoint.com    | this distance" (last words of Gen.
...................................| John Sedgwick, Spotsylvania 1864)
http://www.skypoint.com/~chrisw/


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