The Dark Side of The Job

Yesterday’s post was about the greatest reward of my job. Today’s is about the exact opposite. The dark side. I'm not talking about the usual gripes. Small cubicle, low pay, etc... Not to sound egomaniacal, but I love to quote Spiderman…..

With great power comes great responsibility. – Uncle Ben

Like I said, it’s a great kick to see one of my bridges built, and people driving across it. In the back of my mind I’m always wondering what would happen if I screwed up somewhere. I imagine it’s a lot like being a doctor. People can die if I make a big enough mistake. But fortunately, I have a lot more time to get it right, and a lot of people to look at it after I’m done to make sure I did it right.

There aren’t a lot of engineering failures, but when they do happen they’re pretty spectacular. Even the small ones get pretty ugly. I don’t remember the exact figure, but something on the order of 75% of all bridge failures are in the aspect of the design I have responsibility for. It’s enough to mess with my head every now and then.
I didn’t have this worry when I was fresh faced and naïve right out of school. Then I got a project in west Tennessee. This particular bridge had collapsed in the late 1980’s and killed several people. There was a major investigation and then the bridge was rebuilt with the problem supposedly solved. Ten years later it turned out they didn’t quite solve the problem, they just delayed it and moved it farther way. Oh yeah, and in the process made it a lot more complicated. So who gets the nod to fix it? Yeah, this is where I come into the story. I fixed it as best I could and in the process was reminded of the responsibilities inherent in that kind of job. It was a very sobering experience, but it did wonders for my reputation in the profession since the original failure was very well known.

In case you are wondering…….. I’m very happy to report that the bridge is still there and in fine shape. The fix seems to be working more or less as intended. But there are a few other projects that sometimes make me cringe.


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