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The role of patience in engineering
They say that patience is a virtue. Well, they say a lot of things. The dictionary defines patience as the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset. That does sound like a virtue, something worthy of sainthood perhaps.
Engineering is like a path, but this path is not smooth and easy, but rather bumpy, rocky, dangerous, curvy, hilly and a similitude of other adjectives. As either an engineer or a manager there are many ways of handling setbacks. As a young engineer, I looked at problems the same way I looked at nails. If I have a hammer, I don’t have a problem.
Each place I have worked, each project I have worked on and each person I have worked with, for or around has taught me lessons. I have taken these lessons and put them into my virtual engineering toolbox to use later.
Not all tools are created equally
You can use a stone as a hammer, just not a very good one. Our tools are things that we need to maintain, improve, hone. Honing is the art of polishing, making shiny. This is done by removing the rough edges. Smooth objects can also be slippery. So, if you have worked on a skill for a long time you can rightfully say that is a slick idea, or a slick way of doing something.
You can also continue to bang nails into wood using a rock. It will work, probably. I have seen, and on occasion been the engineer who does the same thing again and again and expected the results to be different. Well, that is just crazy.
Improving our tools
While doing the same thing again and again, in the same way, will not reliably bring different results, we can change the outcome by adding work into the equation. If we take an active part in improving our skills, we can make them better. Rightfully, we can expect a different result the next time we participate in an activity where we have improved our skills.
Let’s face it being lazy is not always bad
If by lazy you mean sitting on the couch and watching reruns then, yeah, that is bad. But is you mean finding a simpler way of doing something because you dislike the task and don’t want to have to wade through that particular swamp again, then that is probably a good thing.
We like to make is sound good by saying he or she is a bright person because they have thought up a new, faster, easier, better way of doing things. It sounds better than admitting that we knew we would have to face that despised task again so we thought up a way to make it less distasteful.
Do it right, do it once
One way to deal with an undesirable task is to do it quickly and poorly. Just getting it done does not get you across the finish line, at least not in my book. Doing something you don’t like to do badly usually means you will have to do it again. However, if you are an engineer or a company, doing a task, especially a hard task poorly might mean you don’t get to do it again because your customers go elsewhere, or your employer tells you to go elsewhere.
Better living though patience
Many moons ago I worked for a company and we had actual engineering technicians. That has become as scarce as the full size spare tire. But back then we had a department that did the hard work, like soldering a 100-pin chip to a board by hand. I was sure that was impossible. The first time I watched in awe, but I know an opportunity when I see one. The second time I asked him to teach me.
If you are going to make prototypes, you are going to have to get good at soldering. There are a lot of things that go into being able to place a large pin-count chip on a board and have it work. You need to align the pins well. Sometimes if the board is tinned, the pins can slide off the pad and make it hard to align. So, you might want to plate the board instead. Or you could use the small bump of solder to your advantage and heat up the pin and push it into the pad. Surface tension will keep the liquid solder connected to the pad even when it springs back when you remove your soldering iron.
You need the right solder; the right flux and you absolutely need to have the temperature set correctly. But even having all of these things does not guarantee you will be successful at soldering the part. What is the secret? Well, patience of course.
Patience by it self will not do it though. A monk may have patience, but it will not make him better at soldering. Patience is like the lubricant that allows the parts to move. As you solder you will find the pin does not stick, it is not over the pad, or you have created solder bridges between adjacent pads. Need I go on? What patience brings to the table is that it allows you to look at your work, evaluate it and decide what is good and what is bad. Then you can think about it and decide how to modify your actions to achieve the results you want.
Other places to use patience
I mentioned both engineers and managers. They have similar and yet different jobs. They both solve problems. The engineer typically solves technical problems, while the manage usually deals more with personnel problems. Each requires observation, contemplation, iteration and patience.
When all other lights go out
I personally find the hardest situations to deal with the ones that are largely out of my control. Our abilities are limited. We cannot solve every problem, by ourselves. There are an uncountable number of situations where our input will have little to no effect. An ineffective person will give up and say there is nothing to be done. I disagree. Trying to change things you can’t change is a waste of time, but even when our effect is small we can affect change if we have the patience to do so.
Patience: “May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.”
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