One of my first jobs was working in new home construction as an apprentice finish carpenter. I’ll never forget one of the carpenters making a mistake, and then announcing with great pride, “Oh well, can’t see it from my house.” The declaration was clear, once I leave here it doesn’t affect me. Even at my young age, and well before ethics courses in college, I instinctively knew this was a terrible work ethic and a toxic mindset ripe for poor workmanship.
Happily, the following year, I was trained by a carpenter that emphasized the importance of framing a straight wall in order to make the next guy’s job easier. Shouldn’t this “greater good” work ethic be the model that we all work under? Whoever is downstream of our work should not suffer from shortcuts or our ineptitude. It is our duty as engineers to create the foundational work that the next team can work upon, creating something better as the project develops.
Recently I have spoken with engineers that have been struggling to make sense of a medical device packaging validation developed by engineers that had left the company and went on to other firms. These poor souls have been stuck in forensic paralysis trying to understand the work that was done before them through cryptic notations and e-mail cul-de-sacs.
It’s important to remember you will likely not be at your current position forever. Someone at one point is going to need to understand what you were doing in order for them to carry on with the work that you were paid to do. Be the kind of engineer that leaves copious notes, list of vendors, supporting documentation, and all the other bits and pieces that your predecessor will need in order to maintain the great work that you began. Remember, your reputation is at stake.