Too often the signature, defining trait that distinguishes the engineer from the masses is a relentless self-autonomous drive to repair, fix, tweak, and file everything entirely under their own power, never yielding even a minute measure of control to anyone. It’s a vast mystery where exactly the engineer derives this fierce bend towards complete autonomy.
You could argue that it’s an intrinsic function of brain wiring, or that it’s a direct result of rewarding time spent during the engineer’s younger, more formative years studying, designing, and fixing complex mechanical and electrical systems. Nevertheless, one thing is for certain – this attitude permeates every aspect of many engineer’s lives.
Even for the most competent engineer that’s able to fix a leak in a high-pressure power steering line before their morning cup of coffee, there are still legitimate, calculated reasons to call in an expert. Unfortunately, all too often the cold, calculating brain of engineers boils many situations down to only the hard dollars and cents that could be saved by performing a job on their own. But this is an incomplete calculation that neglects many other factors.
There are a few broad considerations that are applicable across an extensive range of real world situations, from tax preparation to basement remodeling, that the zealous “Do-It-Yourself” (DIY) engineer must meticulously deploy in order to master sometimes overwhelming tendencies to go it alone.
Know your limits
The risks of failure must be the paramount concern of the DIY engineer and must be carefully considered at the very beginning of the project. This includes the safety concerns as well as other non-safety related risks associated with completing a more mundane project. Everyone has a story of a home-repair injury or near miss injury that could have easily been avoided by an expert with a better handle on the job.
There is also significant risk involved with not completely understanding intricate complexities of a mechanical or electrical from a functional standpoint. It’s far too easy to turn a project into a complete tire fire, as the engineer languishes over an exposed automobile engine block as part of a botched head gasket replacement job. There’s a big difference between watching a how-to video and actually successfully completing the work. The would-be DIY engineers confuse the two at their own risk.
The hazards associated with something such as a mistakenly filed self-prepared tax return probably will not involve immediate physical bodily harm (hopefully). However, an audit from the IRS at the very least will cause serious headache and hassle (which could have very easily been avoided by the consultation of a professional tax filing agency). A sober assessment of all these risk factors is critical in deciding whether a project should be taken on alone.
Find trusted professionals
In order for a DIY engineer to realistically consider handing off a task to a professional, peace of mind about the transfer is absolutely essential. It is especially important for the engineer to develop personal and professional relationships with trusted car mechanics, general contractors, plumbers, and accountants. These sorts of relationships will foster something more along the lines of a partnership and will help the engineer to trust that the job will be completed satisfactorily while the engineer maintains a level of involvement at every step along the way.
With these sorts of professional contacts at the ready with the tap of a smartphone screen, the engineer can feel far more confident handing off important work to fully capable and competent professionals that also understand the self-start nature of the engineer and will keep the engineer in the loop every step along the way, detailing exactly what work they will be performing, along with the cost and details. The peace of mind afforded to the engineer in this way is absolutely priceless.
It’s up to the engineer to find and grow these sorts of professional relationships.
Remember that time is money
In performing the assessment of whether or not a project/job should be done, it’s very important to remember that the engineer’s time is very valuable and time is quite literally money. For this reason, it’s essential that at least a cursory assessment of the costs of outsourcing to a professional compared with the opportunity costs associated with utilizing the tangible value of the engineer’s time in order to perform the job.
Certainly there could be an endless number of monetary factors to consider, such as the increased time and cost associated with learning to do the job yourself. There is also an abundance of other non-monetary personal, family, and societal demands placed on every red-blooded adult that make the engineer’s time even that much more valuable.
Although it’s impossible to precisely gauge the exact value of a free time, a decent place to start is the hourly wage associated with a full time job plus the rough opportunity costs associated with all the factors discussed above. If it’s possible to pay a professional at or below the approximate value of the engineer’s time, outsourcing the job to someone else is a no brainer move.
All of this discussion is not to underplay the benefits of being a self-starter or possessing a wide range of skills; certainly there are real, tangible benefits to spearheading certain jobs, rather than pay someone to do comparable work. Rather than completely suppress the impulse to be a DIY engineer, it’s far better to simply take time out to remember the principles outlined above before undertaking a job in order to evaluate the benefits of deferring to an expert.
This eBook is aimed at the engineering professor, new or experienced, that is interested in how their peers are thinking about the challenges associated with modernizing their curriculum.