At some stage in every project you must shoot the engineers!!!

in Education10 months ago (edited)

We once had a sign in our office that said, at some stage in every project, you must shoot the engineers.



I am happy to say I think that I have found an exception to that rule - @sisapower.

The year we put up that sign, we received a frantic call from our local board of education's head of the Plant Department (building maintenance). During the previous few years, two local school boards had amalgamated. At the time, one board had only Microsoft-based computers, and the other school board had only Mac-based (Apple) computers. It would help if you remembered that computers used to transfer data using physical media called "floppy disks." Since the driving distance from the northernmost school to the southernmost school was 3 to 4 hours, it was challenging for the schools to communicate. Our company supplied the computers to the Plant Department, so we were invited to solve the communication issues in the maintenance and custodial.

Most people today cannot understand the challenges we faced at that time—the schools communicated by telephone and fax machines (for the young, a device that would scan a page in one location and print out the document in another location via the telephone). Let's say that a school ran out of toilet paper. The head custodian would "fax" a requisition to the central office. They would then telephone to make sure someone would track down the fax and hand carry it to receive five signatures before the order could be shipped out.

We devised an online system that acted like a multi-sig wallet. If the custodian placed an order before the close of the school day, the five signatories would sign off on the order, and the toilet paper would be on the school doorstep the next morning.

The system evolved to include an exception-based payroll system, custodial work order requests, building maintenance budgeting, and preventive maintenance—nothing challenging by today's standards but something built in the era of ASP and Access and dial-up modems.

Returning to the frantic telephone call and the dislike by the Head of the Plant Department of the amalgamated School Board. At the time, there were almost 400 schools (now, there are less than 50). A government Act had come down requiring all the schools would have an inventory made. Going into a room, a representative from an engineering company would measure the area (and type and quality) of flooring would be counted, the number (and type and quality) of windows, the area (and type and quality) of ceilings, any plumbing, electrical or heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC). It was a significant endeavour, and the Board employed two Engineering firms to conduct the survey. Canada is pretty unique when it comes to measuring things. We use two systems: Metric and Imperial systems. As you might surmise, one firm measured using Metric and the other used Imperial measurements. Not a problem, you might surmise, since both firms submitted the data on spreadsheets. A quick formula would correct this problem. Spreadsheets are rows and columns, so you would expect the engineers would arrange the data in rows and columns. NEITHER FIRM DID! Each room was set as a block on the sheets. While one room might appear at A1, another might easily start at J200.

Two weeks before the deadline, the Head of the Plant Department showed up with this mess: hundreds of schools with dozens of rooms and dozens of lines of items per room. The Board was frantic because their budget was contingent on this data (although it did take some boards four years to compile their results). To give you an idea of how much sweat was pouring off people's foreheads, the current budget for an eighth of the schools is $226,738,790. In the past, we had hired a team of people to solve a problem for the Federal Election people to input 70,000 lines of data within two days. Still, the deadline was January 1st, and people were away on Christmas vacation. There was an incomprehensible mass of data on one side of the equation and no people to correct it. On the other side of the equation were six computers and a macro application (a macro was a series of programmed steps that I could program to repeat endlessly). We met the deadline.

Apparently, the Provincial Government didn't realize how massive the amount of information each school would have. They came back at the school boards requiring summaries, budgeting, and forecasting data. By the end of the following month (it took the province a couple of weeks to create their request) they had a web-based solution that exceeded the requirements. Our Board of Education was happy, and our Head of the Plant department was happy. I went on to my next challenge.

As a person who used to thrive under pressure, I think that a particular project that @sisapower and I are going to develop, and from what I have seen of his work, things will be very interesting.