Mean people suck. Yes, they do. I think I’ll get very little argument there.

But there is another category of people that I am very, very prejudiced against.

Ignorant, lazy people.

First, let me be sure to stand firm in saying, I have long been a champion for the rights of stupid people.

Stupid people can’t help being stupid. We’re born that way. You can’t sit there and just try really, really hard, and get smarter. Believe me, I’ve tried.

God, how I’ve tried.

So if someone, including me, does something stupid, and it slips through, hey. It happens.

There are things I personally do to try and minimize how much my being stupid affects what I do.

I’ll triple check my work before pronouncing it ‘done’. If I’m not 100% positive, after triple checking it, that I’m sure its good to go, I’ll get a second opinion. I’ll study how what I’m doing is supposed to work, I’ll research it, I’ll look for examples and try to understand the why as well as the what.

I’ll learn what I can from other people’s mistakes and suggestions and knowledge, in the hopes of at least making my stupid mistakes be original.

I’ll experiment with techniques, even if they are not the normal way of doing things, just so I know if there are acceptible workarounds before I might need them.

If it was a stupid mistake, but it was original, you get points for it, and a funny story to tell later. So it pays to be original.

But ignorant people… oh, how I hate ignorant people.

Specifically, I hate ignorant people that are supposed to be knowledgeable and skilled, but are too damn lazy, not stupid, but lazy, to actually make an effort to learn how to do something right. And who don’t care if what they do is correct when they’re finished, but just walk away and move on to something else. Just walk away. Time for coffee.

Would you like an example? You would? GREAT!

Take this fine summer morning. JUST as an example.

I walk into work, relaxed and thinking about the Shifting Perspectives article I’m publishing today. It’s mostly done, I just want to polish it, triple check it, and then fire it off to go live. Triple check it? Yep. Because I’m stupid. So I try to catch my mistakes before they go live.

And I sit at my desk, and check my work email. And I read an email sent out by one of the guys on the weekend engineering crew, stating that he ran a production run of a circuit board through SMT that had burnt parts, so he re-profiled it and continued the run.

The tone of the email was, “Some stupid shit profiled this before I got here, and it’s not right, but I was thankfully on the job and re-profiled it, so you should all be grateful you have me here to catch your stupid mistakes.”

The email was only sent to the engineering staff. Not our boss, or the managers, supervisors, production staff, etc.

Now, this particular engineer is pretty new here. And he has made mistakes before, of the ‘I didn’t really bother checking too hard to make sure it was correct before approving for production’ variety. I’ve asked him why, and he’s told me, “I’m new, you’re going to have to expect mistakes.”

And when I explained that it is our job to make sure that we don’t make mistakes, and that being new is no excuse when you have two other engineers available for a double-check of your work before pushing it live as production ready, he blew me off. After all, I’m not his boss.

So I’m reading his email. And I’m scared.

Why?

Because while I have certainly made mistakes before, the job he is talking about is one that I personally profiled just last Wednseday, and it was one that I had anticipated for two months. We knew it was coming, and I had worked my figures on it in advance so as to miminize downtime for the profiling process step. We have thousands of these boards coming, and we needed it nailed right, and fast.

 And I know that son of a bitch was profiled freaking PERFECT when it was done last Wednesday, and on top of it, we ran it for production all day Thursday. All day. Perfect. Every process variable freaking nailed.

So, if it was perfect, and I mean omigod perfect, and ran all day Thursday, what the hell are you talking about? WHAT DID YOU DO? What ‘burnt parts’?

Surely he couldn’t possibly mean the two shields that become discolored through the reflow process? Nah, he couldn’t possibly. Those were specifically addressed in documentation. The lead-free temperatures and process necessary to nail the reflow of the solder discolored two shiny RF shields. A slight discoloration does not affect the electrical characteristics of a freaking RF shield. It was signed off on.

See, designing a reflow process for lead free SMT parts using solder paste is a fairly straightforward proposition, it’s not rocket science.

This particular board is pretty tricky, because it is a high mass dual sided panelized board with routed cutouts, a lot of very small 0201 parts on it, some plastic thin walled connectors, and some massive solid transformers right in the center. And under heat, with the weight of the transformers, the board has a tendency to warp.

Getting a profile nailed down that reflows all the parts with good solder fillets, including the high mass ones, while not burning or melting the small sensitive components, or letting the board warp or sag is, well… it takes skill and art, and damn it I nailed it.

And now this arrogant little prick is saying two parts were burnt so he reprofiled it and ran it? What the hell?

And as I’m looking at this email in rising terror, trying to imagine how he could have successfully profiled the board so as to NOT discolor those two parts while still getting good solder quality… I get the first visitor to my office.

“I need you to look at the profile on the Oven for this job, it looks… wrong.”

“What job?”

Can you guess which?

I go out and look, and sure as hell, it is totally wrong. Just unbelievably wrong. Like, I’m looking at it and plotting the reflow temperature curve in my head based on his numbers, and it just…. what the hell was he thinking?

And as I look at it, I decide that I should trust myself first and get them back up and running. I find my backup profile, load and restore it, and say “Okay, back in business… resume production. Now, can you show me where the boards they ran this weekend are?”

“Sure…”

And I pull the first board off the cart and throw it under the microscope.

And I see cold solder joints. Hell, cold solder my ass. Unreflowed solder. Grainy, sandy unreflowed solder without a hint of flux, and without any possibility of a solid connection.

And I look up at the operator, and ask, ‘How many of these did they run this weekend?”

“123. A full two shift run, three days, tops and bottoms.”

Are you shitting me?

So.

I ask, “Did you see any signs that a new profile had been done?”

“Yes, they scrapped out a board this weekend to connect the thermocouples for profiling. It’s on top of the rack.”

I look. Sure as shit, he attached thermocouples to the two shields that were discolored coming out of the oven. And he ran a profile using just those two shields as his reference points for a proper solder flow. He ignored the actual solder joints of any parts, high or low mass. Just the two shields.

Now, we have a process. If there is a problem, there is a customer engineer that is supposed to be called in. You don’t just decide that a shield isn’t shiny, so you’re going to scrap a $1500 board to re-profile, and even if you did, it is absolutely unacceptable to leave the boards with that kind of crap quality and just walk away, la la la.

So I look at the cold solder, and I look at the scrapped board, and I mentally add up the rework time we were going to have on 123 $1500 boards due to ship this week, plus 1 scrapped as a loss.

And I know that there are now going to be a stream of people coming to ask ME why the run was screwed up.

So I go back to my office, and wait.

And the first person comes, demanding to know why my profile was all screwed up, and why the weekend shift had to fix it.

And then the next person comes demanding to know why the boards the weekend shift ran were all screwed up, and why my profile was wrong.

And then someone comes asking why I didn’t profile the boards in the first place, forcing the poor overworked weekend shift to have to make one from scratch.

And etc, etc, etc.

And each person I have to look at, and say, “I had a profile done. The profile was perfect. It was used in production all day Thursday for 100% yields.”

“I do not know why the weekend engineer is an ignorant son of a bitch. I do not know why, after being fully trained, and having other support personnel available to ask for second and third opinions, and after having a perfect profile that has run for several days and has been signed off on by everyone in the chain, with documentation and clearance, and had cleared in circuit test and functional test, he decided to shut down production for three and a half hours to lone ranger redoing the profile to make the run SUCK.”

“I do not know why. I assume he is both ignorant, AND arrogant. Best guess.”

“No, I do not know what he was thinking. And, since I am not his boss, I am going to refer you down the hall to the person who IS his boss, there to demand these answers. And I hope you use the exact same tone of voice to him that you used with me.”

“All I can tell you is, I have restored my profile, I have run three test boards, I have consulted with my fellow engineers, and we are all agreed that we are back in business with 100% perfect quality solder reflow.”

“Thank you, and have a nice day.”

And now I get to wait for the next visitor, and the next, and the next…

32 Responses to “Ignorant people also suck”
  1. Doodle says:

    You are probably not amused the slighest, tiniest little bit, one miniscule iota, at all, ever, even a bit by the situation (and rightfully so).

    But…

    I am reading this and seeing “The Big Bear Butt is Enraged.” in big red letters. ^_^

  2. Kirk says:

    Ouch.

    For the whimsy, while I understand your labels I disagree. To paraphrase Heinlein, ignorance can be cured, stupidity is a fatality waiting to happen. And willful ignorance is a form of stupidity.

    On a slightly different note, you are about to learn something about your company, based upon how it deals with the FNGE (fng – engineer). Hopefully it’s something good.

    good luck.

  3. kakura says:

    Damn. Just remind yourself of how much you like your paycheck and that homicide (or attempted homicide) with a circuit board is a crime. Even if it’s poetic and vindicating.

    Good luck, man.

  4. Shawn Coons says:

    Wow, I have no idea what half the stuff you are talking about means but I’m thoroughly wrapped up in this situation now. Please let us know what happens to the ignoramus in question.

  5. bigbearbutt says:

    Kirk, you are correct, but I’d like to point out that Heinlein also said Stupidity is a self-correcting situation. The universe takes care of it by making things with sharp, pointy edges.

    We could talk about how much various societies try and smooth away those sharp, pointy edges, allowing more stupidity to last well into the gene pool, but hey, that’s a subject for a Darwin Award blog, not this one.

    My point is, of course, that I do not blame people for being stupid. How could I?

    You do the best you can with the hand you’re dealt. I know that 90% of the time I feel like a complete idiot, so why throw stones? They hurt.

    Good point about the willful ignorance though, very good point. I’ll have to think about that one.

  6. bigbearbutt says:

    Oh, and Doodle… I was angry, because when I left on Thursday, I looked at the production schedule, and felt that warm little glow of happiness that said “At least I know nothing will go wrong with THAT job.”

    I don’t get that feeling here very much, dang it.

  7. Ylee says:

    /pat
    /console

    I really do hate ignorant people too. And I hate when you can’t control how they are going to screw up your life. I deal with them everyday. This is why, when I go home, I tank with my face! I need to take my frustration out on something, and I think Maiden looks like one of my coworkers!

    Let us know how it gets resolved.

  8. Tuketi says:

    Wow, that is just… wow…. I’m sorry to hear that crap happened to you… Honestly, sometimes I wonder if people like that actually THINK about anything… and then I wonder how the hell they made it to where they’re at. o__0

  9. Gloond says:

    BBB, we call these people at work agressively stupid. They feel the need to force their ignorance on others. As though screaming the world is flat long and loud enough will distort reality. They have some sort of need to pronounce their superiority over others without doing anything to actually prove it. I will accept the jaghole at work that lets me know he’s better than me at something provided he is actually better than me at it. The guy that could be but fails to put in any effort at all because of his sense of self entitlement needs exterminated quickly.

    We had such an individual at my work not so long ago and I can honestly say with the proper politics played these pests can be dealt with quickly and totally legally. Just bring attention to the proper people and let his work stand for itself. I merely convinced a superior to attend a peer review on his work. This individual was fired the same day. I implore you to save yourself the anguish and rid your life of such people whenever possible. Warning it can lead to smiles and increased happiness.

    Oh yeah long time reader and love your stuff. I came across your column some time ago and it convinced me to switch to feral from resto. Thanks.

    Sorry for the wall of text these people make my blood boil.

  10. Bobhain says:

    So BBB, does the $184,500+ come out of his pocket then? WOW! I work in software QA and I can definitely relate. I have signed off on test plans that I knew were bullet proof, through triple-checking and consultation with my colleagues only to have them changed because of ‘time constraints’ or some other bs excuse. The end result being the product getting ‘field’ tested by our loyal customers.

    What I don’t understand is how this joker has the authority to change a profile that was signed off on and already in production? Where is risk management?

    I’ll leave you with an applicable quote:

    “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance”
    – Derek Curtis Bok

  11. Vrathmat says:

    Talk about a bad way to start your week. Sounds like a fascinating world you work in, though.

  12. Tesh says:

    It never fails to annoy me how many people are intentionally, willfully ignorant. It’s just a totally alien mindset to me. Why in the world would you want to stay incompetent?

    Good luck on this one, BBB. Maybe fire up a Troll alt and look around for voodoo widgets…

  13. Hulan says:

    What a bummer :( Maybe you should print the relevant sections of this post and just pin them to your door with a note that no-one is allowed in until they have read them and STILL have something to ask you!

  14. althalas says:

    I have to ask, how long has be been out of school? As a mechanical designer (not an engineer) I find young pup engineers to be the biggest pain to work with.

  15. Keidric says:

    I believe I know -exactly- how you feel, and often feel the same at my workplace.

    Your point about societies allowing stupidity to a extent, and playing nice, makes me wonder if this sort of thing has happened before. It’s basically what my outlook has boiled down to at work.

    I can work with the in-capable people’s limits just fine, its the half-assers that are the problem.

    Outstanding article!

  16. Andy C. says:

    Do you at least get to forward his email to you, along with the other documentation that showed the profile was correct in the first place, to your boss?

  17. sid67 says:

    Strike back with an e-mail of your own. Reply (intelligently) back to his original email (and CC your boss and relevent stakeholders) with instructions for best practices to avoid this type of snafu in the future.

    The point being to show that the problem was caused by ignorance and failing to follow procedural process. Your e-mail is simply stressing the importance of such action to prevent exactly this type of thing from happening in the future.

    I would suggest started the replay with just that point…

    All,

    I wanted to take a moment and offer some best practice guidance to avoid future…

  18. Jacemora says:

    @sid67,

    I have found in my experience only write an e-mail like that if you are ready for a possible shitstorm. Sometimes quietly letting the right people know what is going on is a better strategy. Of course, sometimes a shitstorm is what you are looking for.

  19. Kestrel says:

    Jacemora is right: No matter how you sugar-coat it, calling someone a dipshit in an email is Not A Good Thing.

    That said…I was able to retire 4 months ago, and let me tell you, the loss of stress from not having to deal with idiots like that FNGE (good call, Kirk!) has probably extended my life expectancy by a decade, at least. THAT is a Very Good Thing.

  20. Scott says:

    There is another level of bastard right below the ignorant, it belongs to the IBLCEHTI “Ignorant – but lucky or competent enough to hide their ignorance”

    I just found out that someone on my caseload found a blind spot in our QA system and just filled in gibberish on those pesky federal filings for at least a year, maybe more before he quit – I’m tasked with checking everything he touched during his career.

    So be thankful the FNGE sent off that email, how much SUCK would have been produced if he’d just kept his mouth shut after screwing up everyone’s work?

  21. sid67 says:

    I respectfully disagree, Kestrel. Unfortunately, the one who documents the event (through email) is the perception most likely to be remembered in the long-term. Quietly mentioning it to other people only informs those people who you are most intimate with at work. I seriously doubt that you are going to have a 1:1 about the topic with your bosses’ boss. Are you throwing your co-worker under the bus? Certainly. But why should you be thrown under the bus instead? I agree to a certain extent about the shitstorm, but I can’t imagine this scenario (with the $ involved) of this NOT being perceived as a pretty big mistake.

    The point is to write it in such a way that you are clearly explaining how such things won’t happen in the future. If you stick to how to avoid the situation rather than outright saying that they didn’t do it right, then it ends the conversation. It goes something like this: Here is the problem. Here is how we fixed the problem. Here is how we avoid future problems. Don’t figure point, that will happen on it’s own.

    It’s an unfortunate by-product of office politics that the aggressor is often seen in the most favorably light. The farther you go up on the food chain, the more apparent this becomes. Strike a balance between protecting yourself (which is how I see such an e-mail) and handling things quietly.

    For example, had your co-worker NOT sent out the email indicating that you were at fault – then address it with him (and others) quietly. But since that’s not what happened, the perception is out there that you screwed up. That’s unfair to you and something you should take steps to document is not the case. In fact, you are part of the solution rather than the problem.

  22. Triage says:

    I feel your pain and can fully relate.

    I teach my HS kids – “‘Ignorance’ is the absence of knowledge; it happens to us all. ‘Stupidity’ is the rejection of that knowledge and you do that on purpose. I can forgive ignorance, once. Don’t be stupid.”

    It never ceases to amaze me how many of them exclaim, “Are you calling us stupid?!” at the end of that particular diatribe.

    *boggle*

  23. Skarlarth says:

    BBB I feel for you sir.

    As for the reactive e-mail, as it was only sent to the engineering group, I agree with Kestrel, the nuclear retalition may not be needed.

    However speaking from experience, when they copy your boss and your boss’ boss, a well worded, explicity documented with circles and pointy arrows reply is a great defense and leaves you with a warm glow. Especially when you sign it off with the Willy Wonka reset “Good day sir.”

  24. Tess says:

    Or, Blind CC the boss/bosses. I would use this option to keep the bosses in the loop as to what is going to prevent this in the future, and keep the co-worker’s in the mindset that you all (engineers) will figure out any issues internally.

  25. Tess says:

    and always remember
    “my momma always told me that Stupid is as Stupid does”
    -F.G.

  26. Stupid Mage says:

    At least you have documented proof that it really wasn’t you.

  27. Mannyac says:

    BBB- remember the story about the gunny, the mortar crew and the ex-wife? Maybe he’s available

  28. Nim says:

    I’m hooked! What happened? I hope the lone ranger gets the proper smack-down and, as you said, they all used the same tone of voice with him (or his boss) as they did with you. Vindication awaits!

  29. Mumlock says:

    Hey.

    I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you how much I admire someone who can openly name his faults and has learnt how to make up for them.
    I know (and you would probably admit) that what you wrote is only your point of view, but even reading between the lines I could not find anything which might defend the actions of the individual you used as an _example_.

    I feel sorry for what you have/had to go through, but it’s the good guys who get the most bashed on usually (telling from my experience)… Meaning that in this situation you’re the ‘good guy’.

    All in all – cheer up! It’s a beautiful day!

  30. bigbearbutt says:

    Just so there is some closure on this issue, the guy came in for second shift last night, and was spoken to for a few minutes by the customer service engineer. Not our boss, the customer service engineer who, as you can imagine was highly torqued.

    I like the phrase ‘highly torqued’, because it is very accurate. He is put under massive pressure, but the pressure is so carefully measured that it comes just to the point of making him snap, without quite going over that line.

    Anyway, the upshot is, in this modern day, in a major corporation, any massive cock-up only results in a strongly (or mildly) written notation to be placed in his file as documentation to build for future possible disciplinary action, and since this was a competence issue, the only time this would actually affect him would be during performance evaluations.

    Once you are no longer a temporary, but a full time permanent employee, there is very little that can be done to you based on competence. The things that actually affect your job are attendance and hostility in the workplace. Attitude issues, in other words.

    It is easy for them to dismiss someone for attendance violations, since it’s an either/or. Were you hre on time or not?

    Firing someone because of a perceived lack of skill or knowledge is much harder, apparently, to defend during a potential lawsuit filed for wrongful termination.

    Welcome to modern America.

    So, to those of you hoping he will ahve the cost removed from his paycheck, or will be dressed down… I’m sorry, it just doesn’t work that way.

  31. minnieu says:

    Someone needs a hug…

    /hug BBB

  32. Kirk says:

    Firing someone… actually, um. OK, as I’ve told you privately before, I’ve worked public sector for a long time. You know, government. The so-called “gold-plated” jobs that once you’re in you can never be pushed out of. To which I respond, “Bull.”

    I started to write a long post, and instead will keep it a LOT shorter.

    1) If your boss will do things by the numbers, and IF FNGE continues this way, it could take as little as a month to get rid of him. The important thing is your boss’s actions.

    2) I agree with Sid, sorta, that you need to respond to the email. However, don’t do so with an email. Instead, print the email and write a memo to your boss. In there you address all the points already mentioned above. INCLUDE the fact that his behavior caused you additional mental stress having to respond to all these people – list the people if you can recall them all. Also include the fact that his supercilious attitude and refusal to work with peers (no second/third opinion, remember) is creating a difficult (not hostile) work environment.

    With the memo, the boss has a lot more options. It doesn’t mean the boss will do what’s necessary, but it does give more options – to include, if the FNGE doesn’t shape up – the ability to get rid of him.

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