I’ve been working in the automotive electronics industry for 19+ years (I guess this means I’m officially middle aged or old depending on who you ask). Most of that time I’ve been working in software, either developing or managing a team of software engineers. Over those years, I’ve worked with countless engineers and many good co-ops/interns. More than 5 years ago I made what seemed like an innocuous comment to an engineering intern. I told her that software is usually blamed for all problems that occur in the module even if it is a hardware issue. I then told her not to let it bother her and just investigate the problem. As often happens with these types of investigations, the problem is in hardware but we end up doing a software work around because it is cheaper. Software is guilty until till proven innocent. I didn’t think much about it at the time, it was just one of those things I tell young engineers to keep them from being discouraged when they get blamed for things that are out of their control.
Since that comment, we both left that company and then ended up working for the same company again. Last Friday just as we were starting our bi-weekly knowledge sharing (a meeting where we have people who are “experts” on a topic that others may not know much about), she mentioned that she took that statement to heart and still lives by it to this day. I was surprised and thrilled and humbled that I had made such an impression on a young engineer. I have worked with many new engineers in my career and if I would have realized how much some of my off-hand remarks were absorbed I might be more careful with what I say. On the other hand, it might be good that I don’t think about or I might try too hard and say something really dumb, or at least more dumb than usual.