Archive for December, 2009

Engineering A Rebate

Saturday, December 26th, 2009

I hate rebates. They are incredibly annoying and force me to do work to keep the manufacturer honest. In the early days of rebates I religiously kept a folder where I filed copies of all the receipts and papers for all my outstanding rebates. I had to use this archive a number of times as manufacturers claimed they never received my information. At times this became an annoying game as I had to submit paperwork over and over. More recently I simply buy an on-sale product that has no rebate.

Then, one day my company assigned me to a new development project. The business guys decided that the product would be sold with a $30 rebate. I protested that I hated rebates and that having one cheapened the image of the product. Business guys rarely listen to the engineers. They explained that so few people successfully claimed the rebate that they were essentially selling the product at a $30 higher price. It was money for nothing and I was therefore condemned to help produce a product that, in my opinion, made the world a worse place to live. I understood how the scientists employed by the tobacco companies must have felt.

After 30 years I’m still very proud to be an engineer. Without our skill the companies couldn’t make anything, yet we have little power and little control. Although most of us have a great deal of pride and skill in our profession, few of us have much influence over the projects to which we are assigned. To receive a paycheck, we work on bad projects that negatively affect the world. We work on turkeys that never have a chance of flying. Few of us are lucky enough to be able to take a project in a direction of our choosing. I must say that I have never seen an engineer refuse to work on a project to which a company assigned him. However, I have seen numerous engineers leave their company over dissatisfaction with project assignments.

It seems to me this is a bad situation. Companies have a ready supply of highly educated and very skilled experts. Their opinions should not only be tolerated but solicited. If the engineers feel a project’s direction is incorrect – a course correction should be made. Skilled technical experts should not have to work on a project they feel makes the world worse. If the company won’t change direction – vote with your feet and change companies. I guarantee this will force products to become better and eventually make the world a better place.

Civil Engineers are in the engineering fraternity and should also decline to work on negative projects. One great example is the horrible proliferation of toll roads. Not many years ago good roads, like good schools, were felt to better society. Schools, roads, sanitation, etc. were viewed as communal resources created and maintained for the common good. No sane person said their taxes should not go to support the schools because their children did not attend and no sane person claimed their taxes should not fund roads since they did not drive on them.

Toll roads are like rebates. They are annoying and are the result of greedy bureaucrats trying to get a few more dollars from their customer. Everyone benefits from good roads. The roads improve commerce, access to jobs and shopping, and save time – time that can be put to beneficial use. Governments want to spend like drunken sailors yet don’t want to incur the wrath of voters by raising taxes. So they look for alternative ways to grab money… speed cameras, toll roads, fines and fees. Man up to it boys and quit nickel and diming us. If you want to keep spending, be man enough to ask for a tax increase and stop the toll road nonsense.