Figure It Out

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Figure It Out

Post by RTH » Fri May 30, 2008 10:35 am

During the 1969-1971 period, engineering jobs in Southern Calif were really hard to come by as the economy had slowed down and the Space Race against Soviets for the Moon landing was over. But Douglas Aircraft and Lockheed were competing with Jumbo Jets, the DC-10 and L-1011, so work was available if you could get into the system. With tens of thousands of engineers all looking for work, bosses could hire and fire at a moment’s notice.
I obtained a job in a quality control department at Douglas and was glad to have it, even though it was not of the much higher technical level I had previously. At that time, any job was a God Send when you had kids to feed and a house mortgage to pay every month.

After 18 mos in QC, the boss called me in and said he was laying me off because I made too much money and he could get a cheaper engineer to replace me. Today, there would be lawsuits galore but back then, such policies were tolerated. They gave me 3 wks to find another job in the company and then I’d be gone. Using every possible contact I ever had, I finally found a position in a Mfg R&D dept where my assignment was to improve machining and drilling operations for production aircraft assembly. I worked hard and made a few improvements but the shops were very talented then and most workers had a very good grasp of how to efficiently do their jobs.

One day, my boss asked me to help some Composite guys with cleanly drilling holes in this abrasive graphite/epoxy material. I told him I knew nothing about drilling composites and he said “figure it out’. So I got carbide drills and began studying feeds and speeds and pretty soon, I was making really good holes. After that, all the composites folks had me do their drilling.

Months later, the boss told me to make some tooling for the Composites guys because they needed machined metal tools to mold their glue and fiber stuff. I said “I don’t know anything about composite tooling” and my boss said “figure it out”. So I began investigating the tool requirements, of expansion compensation, of allowable shapes for part release, etc and started making tools. They worked well and the composite guys were happy, so now I was doing all the hole drilling and all the tool making.

A little later, the boss calls me in and says “ you can drill and make tools so now learn how to mold composite parts”, to which I gave the standard reply and he said “figure it out”. Pretty soon, I learned about layup sequences and vacuum bagging and autoclave cure cycles and parts began coming out good. Now the composite guys considered me one of them cause I was doing most of the work.

A year or so later, the boss once again stopped me and gave the assignment; “you can drill holes and make tools and make parts of quality, so go and manage the group” to which I gave the normal response, “but I don’t know how to manage” and then I had to “figure it out”. That started a 30 year career in managing composites R&D depts. in several companies and became my specialty for aircraft, space vehicles and rocket structure applications.


Keep your mind open for new challenges and don’t be afraid to try something totally foreign if the potential is there for learning and contributing to your field. And don’t worry about failing or looking bad. Good engineers made lots of mistakes and learned from them; they call that “Experience”. And it helps to have a boss who has faith in you.
Bob H

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