• Question: How many times have you made errors when designing or building your projects? How many times have you made projects that failed? (No lying! )

    Asked by JumaimaC on 24 Jun 2020.
    • Photo: Tom Stewart-Brackenridge

      Tom Stewart-Brackenridge answered on 24 Jun 2020:


      I have made a few errors in my job, but have always learned from my mistakes and rectified the issue/problem as best I can. Believe it or not, some of my projects are designed to fail or last for a limited amount of time. These are not used in industry but purely as real-life simulations. We build structures and put them to the test under certain conditions to fail at a certain point to see how they behave. Sometimes, they do not behave as we would like and a redesign is in order to allow it to perform its job better.

    • Photo: Ed Chester

      Ed Chester answered on 24 Jun 2020:


      I’ve made mistakes all along my career – they’re the best ways to learn what is expected, required, correct, and so on. The key is to be in a team when you make mistakes so someone spots it and helps move you forwards. Just last week I made a mistake inside a data structure for commanding a spacecraft simulator: I know the standard very well, and just did it. But a new version of the standard is now available, and I have never before worked with a spacecraft that uses it. All of sudden things I expected to work just didn’t. It was quick to solve, but it reminded me that no matter how much experience or knowledge you have, you should always check your work and ask for feedback and reviews.

    • Photo: Juan Carlos Fallas-Chinchilla

      Juan Carlos Fallas-Chinchilla answered on 24 Jun 2020:


      Have done so many errors in calculations, assemblies, etc that I can’t even give a number 🙂 but as written in a comment here, it is important to learn from mistakes and to get help from experienced colleagues when not fully aware of a situation or knowing how to proceed.

      In my opinion it is natural to be wrong and in science/engineering you need (very often) to improve models, recalculate and tune based on feedback. However, in matters related to health and safety it is specially important to DO NOT proceed if not being fully aware of specific risks. I personally don’t mind being wrong and recalculate certain aspects of a project or spend some extra time fixing something damaged or wrongly assembled. What you cannot fix is if someone gets seriously hurt (or worse) by not following H&S rules/advice or making critical assessments without consulting.

    • Photo: Jeni Spragg

      Jeni Spragg answered on 25 Jun 2020:


      I make mistakes all the time! However, in engineering we often get people to check things for us. Depending on the project, sometimes there will be a formal procedure where senior members of the team check and sign off on things to confirm their approval – each and every calculation will be checked and signed off (that’s why it’s important to show your workings!!). This gives us the confidence we need to know we’re not making mistakes that could cause safety issues, or cost lots of money.
      I haven’t really had projects that have failed, but I’m still quite early in my career. When I was going my PhD research project, that was about having lots of different ideas & often getting them wrong, picking yourself up and trying again.

    • Photo: Asha Panchal

      Asha Panchal answered on 3 Jul 2020:


      As a junior engineer you will often be supervised by a more senior engineer or manager and you will be able to bounce your ideas off them. You might come up with a brilliant solution or something that is not economical or safe, but because you are supervised you can make these mistakes in a safe environment and learn from them.
      Even as you progress in the world of engineering is very careful to avoid mistakes, because mistakes cost money. There are processes in place where everyone’s work is checked then approved before being put into action.

    • Photo: Katie Sparks

      Katie Sparks answered on 9 Jul 2020:


      So many times it’s impossible to count!

      As an engineer, my role was create computer models of spacecraft, so there will always be differences from reality and sometimes we just don’t know how things will work until they’re up in space and there is no changing things!

      For the main part, I worked on missions that were a lot way away from being built. This means there is plenty of time to check work and test things to iron out a lot of the mistakes in the computer models.

      Errors come around for all sorts of reasons:
      – trying to do too much in a short space of time, so something gets missed
      – passing data between different computer programs – sometimes the formatting isn’t right and so we end up with a weird error that we just can’t work out why
      – not modelling things in enough detail, sometimes an approximation won’t “just do”

      The advantage of mistakes like these is that we build things to check them – perhaps creating something visual, or sitting in a room with various people and we pick the model apart – even better if they don’t work on the mission, they can ask “why have you chosen to do that?” and they can also say “have you thought of this?” – it’s always good to share ideas.

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