What I Love About Engineers

Having made a snide comment or two about engineers earlier, I feel like I should relate a positive experience today:

Over the Christmas break, there was a power outage in my lab. Not an accidental outage, but a planned outage that nobody told me about– a contractor cut the breakers in order to do some work down the hall. After the outage, a piece of laser diagnostic equipment wasn’t working. After exhausting the really sketchy information in the manual about the particular failure mode of this device, I tried to call the manufacturer. Of course, the original company got bought by a different outfit, and doesn’t really support that product any more, blah, blah, blah.

I started Googling around for a modern replacement, and making phone calls to get prices (because for some reason, scientific equipment manufacturers seem to regard their prices as state secrets). In the course of one of those calls, a sales guy asked what I needed the product for, and I told them what I was replacing.

“Oh,” he said, “everybody here is from [Original Company], and [Engineer] was the lead guy on the development of that product. Let me see if he’s in.” Then he transferred me to [Engineer], who said “Oh, I’ve got a broken [Product] right here, let me open it up, and refresh my memory.” Then he (along with a colleague in the same lab) spent half an hour on the phone with me explaining the various things to try to fix the error, and offered to take a look at it if none of that stuff worked.

I guess I provided them with a puzzle that was probably the most interesting thing they had done all day. That’s the nice thing about small companies, where you can get directly to the technical people– most of them are great big geeks, and will provide free support, just because they enjoy it.

(The advice they gave didn’t actually fix the problem– in fact, I seem to have made it worse in trying one of their suggestions– but it was a refreshing change from the last couple of days of frustration…)