Electronic Design

You Speak Out: EE Horror Stories

The Customers from Hell...
Revenge of the Managers... No, we're not talking about the titles of the latest horror movies to hit your cinemaplex. But they could be chapters in some of your professional biographies. During the course of our reporting, we asked you to tell us about your worst projects. Many of you said there weren't any, or politely declined to share your story. But a few brave souls mustered up the courage to relate their gripping tales of woe.

Ron Schreuders, an engineer with 13 years of experience, designs LC filters for a living. He used to work for a company that had a contract with an up and coming telephone firm looking to expand into the burgeoning cable market at the time. Ron was pegged for one of the project's key elements.

"This company wanted channels 13 through 66 knocked out," Schreuders recalls. Setting up this filter took three months, which his firm completed for free. "Afterwards, the customer noted it really needed channels 12 through 67 to be filtered out," he says, the frustration still in his voice as he remembered the sudden shift in specs that negated all of the hard work. "This customer was a phone company that had no clue. The firm was inefficient in relaying the information that the cable lineup had changed."

"I've had my share of death-march projects," notes a design engineer whose 21 years of experience involves developing vision guidance systems for welding robots. One time, he had to create a next-generation PC-based machine-vision system. Funding wasn't a problem, but the project quickly fell far behind schedule.

"There was a total unwillingness to accept the enormity of the project," he says. "Money was available, but there was no appreciation for the scope of the project. The people at the top trivialized what it would take to get the job done."

Rotten managers and customers seemed to be common themes in these anecdotes. One young engineer related his disappointment at having his first solo project cancelled. An older veteran now on the other side of the desk bemoaned how difficult it was for him to lay off good people. Getting along with coworkers can be tough, too, as one respondent used some colorful yet unprintable language to describe his neighbors.

Despite it all, you continue to press on, even though sequels to these chillers are inevitable.

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