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Engineer Entrepreneur

Daniel T. Koenig, P.E.
Daniel T. Koenig, P.E.
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ASME Press
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When I left the United States Coast Guard in 1966 for a position in industry, the business world was a much different place than it is today. International competition was more theory than practice. Engineering work transpired more in large organizations than in entrepreneurial smaller firms that are commonplace today. Engineers entering the work force were juniors in large bureaucratic organizations with very large resources potentially available to the technical worker. In fact, when I started in industry I felt very comfortable in my role. I was a junior officer in the service, and as an engineer in a large organization I felt as if I was once more a junior officer. In industry, the engineers and managers were the officer class, the technicians and shop foremen were the sergeants and higher-ranking enlisted personnel, and the rank and file factory workers were akin to the enlisted ranks. As I said, this was very familiar, and in truth it should have been because it used the same hierarchical organization structure from the “ultimate leader” down to the lowest-paid job in the company.

The way of work was very direct. Many engineers did the work, perhaps too many. Tasks were assigned in duplicate, often to see if the solutions proposed were complementary or at odds. Junior engineers virtually never were allowed to work on their own, but predictably with a more seasoned colleague. The type of work the junior engineers did would be considered similar to technician assignments today, if done at all. They did the “grunt number crunching,” solving numeric problems, making graphs, setting up tests, and making suggestions rather than decisions about conclusions. Decisions were reserved for the senior engineers and managers. The junior engineer's work was routine problem-solving in a manner prescribed by the company's procedures for conducting engineering work. The excitement of working on technical problems was there but perhaps more from the viewpoint of an interested bit player and not as a critical contributor. The truth was, the only critical contributors were the leaders of this rather large “platoon” of engineers. He (and it was almost 100% male) had all of these resources to deploy at will. He also had a host of backup support in reserve. These were “expert” professionals more like current-day academic researchers, and they were essentially on call to answer questions as they came up. In addition, these experts did basic research, wrote papers, and gave dissertations on their specialties, all with the purpose of supporting the company's commercial goals.

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