I spent last week in Las Vegas at the World of Concrete, the annual trade show of the concrete equipment, tool, and formwork industry. Spending a week amongst the construction industry reminds one that attention to means and methods in important, and that it changes over time. Even the process of forming and placing an age-old material such as concrete, placed from trucks that have changed very little in decades, does change every year.
We all have to stay in tune with changes in our business. Yet through all of these changes, the single, consistent factor that distinguishes good projects is good engineering. And yet this is one thing engineers mention to me constantly, with emphasis on it being an area that needs improvement. Maybe it is the perception of a few, vocal “old timers”. Maybe it points at a deeper issue, such as a systemic failure of universities or ABET or NCEES. Or it could be that as we adapt to the aforementioned changes, are subject to increasing time pressure, and have to deal with the limitations of a modern, computer-driven workplace, we leave behind a little too much of the old ways. When slide rules ruled, designs were undertaken using approximate methods and limited numerical precision, with the understanding that good engineering resulted in good structures. It is not the degree of precision nor the cleverness of a computation that determines whether a design works, it is the engineering judgement embedded in the design.
We all bring our own experience to the table with each project. We learn from everyone with whom we work. Especially during our formative years following graduation, when we start our practice, we pick up good and bad habits. We should strive to teach those we mentor not only what they need to know, but how to continue this lifelong learning and adaptation. We should impart the value of differentiating when a change benefits us and our clients from when it might be a distraction from the primary task of engineering safe, effective structures. And above all else, we should be the best engineers we can be. National Engineers Week, February 22-28, 2015, is a good time to refocus on this effort.