Internally Engineered to Withstand External Forces

Click. I joined the Order of the Engineer in college.  We wear a simple silver ring on the pinky finger of the writing hand.  Every time it lands on something, the click reminds us of a bridge that collapsed and the promise those engineers took to never again mute their ethics for the sake of a deadline.

The ring also reminds me of the early church saints, and those few, those happy few, that band of brothers who piqued my daydreams in the humanities courses of my classical Christian school.

Just months out of college, my first job had me drinking from a fire hydrant of information, acronyms, and specs when I suddenly realized the line between right and wrong rested uncomfortably close to one of my projects.

And my project was on the wrong side of it.

A Defining Moment

I asked my boss if our company was the owner of the design I was currently using to copy, rename, and sell to another customer.  The answer, to my dismay, was ‘no’.

Management called this unethical work a form of reverse engineering.  We had the benefit of knowing the exact design because we manufactured the part for the original owner.   It’s amazing how relative moral choices are until you define them, a lesson I learned from Stasis Theory in Rhetoric class. Step one in problem solving: define terms.   For a solution to be found here, the term here needed to be theft.

The tired look in my boss’s eyes told me he tried voicing the same concerns, but had been rebuffed by his superiors…at least I hoped that was what I read.

Click.  My ring hit the steering wheel on the way home that night. Had my Athanasius ContraMundum moment already come in my soon-to-be brief career? The first two words that loomed before me were: Student. Loans.

I’m no Athanasius in the Council of Nicaea – he stood against the world to defend the nature of Christ.  I’m no Luther in the Diet of Worms – he stood before cardinals and emperors for the purity of the gospel.  I’m weak in the knees over a design project! I reached out to my favorite professor and another ring-wearer at church.  Both told me, very directly, that I had a decision to make.

Yet, I knew it was not a decision at all. Given the Word of God, there was only one choice I could make.  I walked into the team meeting the next day and respectfully informed my boss that although I would not speak of this to anyone else, I could not continue working on this project.  I could not put my name on theft – not while the 8th commandment existed.

High Stakes

My boss nodded quietly and my direct supervisor watched the boss’s reaction.  A few hours after that, I was called to another meeting that included our new general manager, the certification engineer, the customer representative, and the quality manager.

I was afraid, ready to lose my job and be branded in my industry as a snitch or a naive idealist who was just a few years shy of being brought down into the mire with everyone else. Instead, I discovered I was not alone in my concerns. Everyone of the 30 to 40 year old men in that meeting wholeheartedly agreed that the program was a mistake – morally and financially, Yet, none of them had  expressed their concerns.

The consensus was it would cost too much to turn back now.  I asked how much it costs to do irreparable harm to our corporate reputation with a customer who thought well of us, as well as starting off on a bad foot with a new customer who might misconstrue us as a company willing to make shifty moves to spin a profit.  Someone had to stand up to the home office.

Learned Discernment

I heard the click against my chair.  It was a reassuring sound.  I was not alone. God gave me a sharper understanding of my position as an engineer.  Weeks later, the project was dropped. My company did the right thing.

Click.  Some people see the Order as the thing that holds them to ethics, but I already learned right from wrong in the Bible, from my family, and in my Christ-centered classrooms. The Holy Spirit brought Romans 8:28 to mind: All things work together for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to His will.  Experiences may not feel good, but for Christians, good fruit is promised.

The sound of the ring reminds me that my covenantal relationship with Jesus Christ is my North Star. Even if I did lose my job, it would not be the end of my story.

This alumni profile features a conversation between a graduate of an ACCS school and our staff. Only weeks into the first engineering job, this recent college grad landed in the middle of an illegal project. The name is withheld to protect the alum and the company. The outcome was a direct result of this person’s faith in Christ and their classical Christian training.