I am not sure I can do it. Can I put in words what it takes to be a great engineer? It is easy to recognize a great engineer when you work with them. I have these past few days worked with a great engineer whom I had not met before. I just know he is a great engineer. But as I said, I am not sure I can in words justify my gut emotion. Let me try, for if I fail this is but a blog posting–one of many, in fact posting 1,953 or thereabouts.
We drove around the sites together. We got out to look and to feel the soil & tailings. We joked that it is no longer considered safe to put the soil between tongue and top of palate to determine if it is a clay or silt. We both used to do that before H&S became a dictator. We shared observations about the vegetation–a sure sign of soil type and groundwater flow. We delighted in the scarp face of a soil failure zone caused by excessive seepage. And we kicked the rocks with glee to see them roll rugged, gray, and non-acid generating down the slope. We marveled at the track marks up the slope where the fussy site overseer continuously dressed the slope. And we poked our ears down the penstock to listen to water flowing when it should not.
He knew the history of the dams: the people who designed them; the problems that arose during construction; the failures during raising; the incidents not reported; the current need for more information; and the way the impoundments must be constructed so that they may be operated for twenty years and more.
We nodded or winked when referring to clients past and present who did not provide adequate budget. We shrugged a shoulder when agreeing the mine gets what is pays for and pays for a lot more when it does not pay its consultants to do what they know needs to be done.
Instinctively we concurred that the mine deserves its sorrows when it cuts budgets or defers inevitable capital expenditure and maintenance.
He has that singular gift of focusing on what is relevant. He cut through the underbrush that distracts the inexperienced and unskilled. He calmly focused on the sights, sounds, and senses of that which will fail soon if not remediated. And ignored the spectacular but irrelevant.
Yet he has been a good consultant to the miners. He has used judgment when the youth would have demanded finite element analyses. He has made quick decisions based on knowledge and experience when the youth would have waded through tests, trials, and tribulations. He has produced in the face of small budgets and demanding miners.
And now as he gets old, he gets patient. There is no hurry. So what if the report is late or never produced. “Just hear me and do it.”
And that is the ultimate sign of a great engineer: they know they are right and know they do not and cannot write enough to prove they are right.