Success and Failure in Engineering: A Paradoxical Relationship

Magnus Hedemark

10371320_307080446151895_1558540455707053545_o

Last week Bronto was proud to once again host a Triangle DevOps event. This time we had special guest Dr. Henry Petroski speaking on the subject of Success and Failure in Engineering.

We’ve been really fortunate to be able to host some great speakers in our Thunderdome, and this event was no exception. The subject matter was pretty far removed from software development, but the crowd had no problem engaging deeply with Dr. Petroski’s stories and making the connection to how these lessons apply to our own craft.

The Brooklyn Bridge was highlighted as a pinnacle of suspension bridge design, fulfilling engineering, architectural, and aesthetic objectives superlatively.

 

Petroski’s first story focused on the Titanic’s maiden voyage, and how the catastrophe led immediately to sweeping changes in ship design and operating procedures. Opening with this familiar topic helped us to make the leap to what we talked about the rest of the night.

The transition came pretty quickly to a discussion of the history of suspension bridges: how lessons were learned 150+ years ago, then forgotten, and then relearned. The cost was high, both in terms of capital expense and in human lives, each time a corner was cut to save costs or to dismiss the safety features that had been learned before.

Some members of the room expressed an appreciation for the need to be more aware of our history, and to find ways to teach it to new engineers who haven’t had the benefit of experiencing it unfold firsthand.