I was an engineer for Boeing – before they got woke

Back in your correspondent’s Version 2.3 or thereabouts, he was an engineer for Boeing. This was back in 1978-79.

My starting salary was $15,400. When I left Boeing to start my personal Version 3.0, my salary was still less than $17,000. My parents thought I was crazy to give that up and take on debt to go to law school.

Boeing was booming. Airlines were being de-regulated, airline travel was becoming less expensive while still being slightly sexy, and everyone wanted to go to Europe for the first time.

Several things about Boeing stick out in my mind. First, they didn’t compromise on quality. The airline customers could specify whatever bells and whistles they were willing to pay for — I worked on a few custom planes for Saudi princes that included frivolities like solid gold ashtrays — but the airworthiness of the plane was non-negotiable.

Second, there wasn’t enough work to keep me busy. Boeing was booming, and they had reasonably assumed that a doubling in production would necessitate a doubling in engineers. But it didn’t.

Bear in mind that, at least back in 1978, every plane out the factory door was a little different and entailed engineering in both the design and production phases. They were made on an assembly line but this particular assembly line was nothing like the ones in Detroit. They didn’t turn out hundreds of planes a day. Rather, they turned out one plane every two or three days. It was about one-fourth the current production rate of Aston Martin automobiles.

Boeing was able to double their production with no loss of quality, and without many of the new engineers they’d hired. That was a tribute to their system, to their old staff of great engineers, and to their excellent tradesmen on the factory floor – guys and a few gals with high school educations who were some of the best craftsmen I’ve ever met.

The net result was that Boeing over-hired engineers in that particular business boom. But the mistake was one of prudence. Better for an engineering company to have too many engineers than too few. (The mistake was fortuitous for me. My under-utilization was one reason I left to create my Version 3.0 as a lawyer. If not for Boeing’s mistake, I might still be there.)

In any event, engineers with not enough work are not a terrible thing. Like most other under-utilized professionals, such engineers will do whatever work they have in a very careful manner. I did. So did my colleagues. We made a great product. We loved our company and we loved our airplanes.

The third thing that made an impression on me at Boeing was that upper management had come up through the engineering ranks. They weren’t hedge fund operators or McKinsey consultants or Harvard MBA’s. They knew how to build airplanes, and how not to.

Times have changed. The current president of Boeing is a former investment banker. Although his immediate predecessor was an aerospace engineer, the one before that had a Yale liberal arts degree and a Harvard MBA. (I’m convinced that companies hire Harvard MBAs not because Harvard teaches them anything but because Harvard admitted them. Companies figure, usually correctly, that a person admitted to the Harvard MBA program must be smart.) The president before that had a B.A. in accounting, and the ones before him were lawyers and other MBAs.

You probably won’t be shocked that these non-engineers at this engineering company are now paid significantly more than $15,400 a year. Think eight figures.

Meanwhile, Boeing’s dearth of upper management engineering experience is offset by a wealth of wokeness. They of course mandate extensive diversity training and occasionally purge those who resist. The latest is that they intend to increase the number of black employees by 20%.

What’s important financially is that they get airplane orders by keeping the progs off their back with racial quotas that they simultaneously boast about and deny, and lobby furiously to curry multibillion dollar tax breaks.

Unsurprisingly, the company is now plagued by design and safety issues. It turns out that airplanes don’t get designed and built on their own or by investment bankers or by racial quotas or by skillful lobbyists or by tax breaks or by Harvard MBAs.

They get designed and built by engineers – people trained in math, science, chemistry and physics who think, despite what they are told today, that 2 + 2 = 4. Boeing was once full of such people. So was America.

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13 thoughts on “I was an engineer for Boeing – before they got woke

    • 😀 But Australia appears to have no shortage of social engineers these days, sporting advanced degrees in Covid scientism and lockdown management. The latter program has a particularly rich curriculum drawn from the region’s long history of dealing with the wretched refuse of Ireland’s teeming shores. Soon, I imagine, the penal colony on Tasmania will be recommissioned to receive anti-vaxxers from the continent.

  1. Two of my shooting buddies, CalTech classmates and retired Boeing middle managers, say the same thing. I brought our family to Puget Sound partly because I fell in love with Boeing in the 50s growing up in SoCal, because, of all the wonderful airplane builders in those days, Boeing’s people always sent me, when ask, and always free of charge, beautiful large glossies of their planes.

    Hearing and watching jet liners take off from Renton Airport on their maiden flights was music and dance to my ears, almost as bewitching as whistles and coupling rods on steam engines. I told my shooting buddies that next time around here I want to be an engineer. Forensic theologian is OK, and I enjoy the duty, have to, but designing a bridge or airplane or cabinet or refrigerator that lasts has to be a lot of fun, and at this time of my career, fun appeals to me as just fun. Reloading, for example, I find fun.

  2. Back in your day and through the 90s, Boeing also used to say the wing never leaves SeaTac because they knew that their competitive advantage lay in the fuselage. After all – anyone can build a tube out of aluminum but the wing is special. Now the wing is made in Asia – Pacific and unsurprisingly, the Chinese match it exactly on the airplanes they are now designing. So much competitive advantage was lost when the Harvard guys figured out they could make components all over the world and just assemble in Seattle and they could cut costs even further if they moved half of that assembly to someplace less union friendly (think South Carolina). I love Boeing and even spent several years there as a different kind of engineer. It is just another example of profits at the cost of everything else. It will eventually come back to haunt them.

  3. As the world turns. In the educational bureaucracy try finding an actual Ph.D. They’re all Doctor Jills with Ed.D. degrees. As we’ve known for decades, those who can’t do, teach; and those who can’t teach, teach teachers. What’s new — more or less, since John Dewey — is WHAT they’re teaching teachers. Or not.

    Along the lines of what Ron Hyatt says above, “If it’s a public school, it ain’t cool.”

  4. James Watt invented the steam engine which kicked off the Industrial Revolution, providing many benefits to the world. He was white. His steam engine required two hundred tweaks by other inventors to become commercially viable. Those two hundred inventors came from a community of three thousand inventors in Great Britain. They were all white.

    Thomas Edison invented much of the modern world, like the light bulb and movies and electrical power, through his laboratory. He and his staff were all white.

    Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. He was white and so was his staff.

    Henry Ford developed mass production of the automobile, bringing freedom to people the world over by expanding their reach beyond the horizon. He was white and so was his staff.

    These white men created the modern world. Would they have done a better job had they diversified their staff by including a tribesman from Borneo?

    They did not come up with all these fabulous inventions because they were white. White skin confers no natural advantages over other races. There are plenty of white people who are dumb as mud. White Eastern Europe is as dismal as the rest of the undeveloped world.

    They created these wonderful things because they were smart, talented, operated in a domain of free speech, and worked in countries that protected intellectual property. Had they been selected to work because of their race rather than merit, nothing would have gotten invented. When major corporations hire based on race rather than merit, they are lobotomizing themselves and will cease to become competitive.

    Merit counts for everything. Race counts for nothing. If all the smart, talented people you need are white, then you should hire them. If they are Asian, hire them. Race should not be considered in the hiring process, only merit.

    • Actually, Hero of Alexandria in ancient Greece invented the steam engine. The Greeks were great at conceptualization, but not very accomplished at engineering. That’s why Rome became the World’s first superpower. Obviously, there’s a lesson in that

      • The Greeks never invented the arch, either. That, too, didn’t come until the Romans, who used it extensively in bridges and buildings that survive today.

        The Pantheon is an arch taken a step further into three dimensions — a dome. With a roof oculus, just to show off a little. That they not only designed such stuff but actually built it — without powered machinery — is stunning.

        (A small correction to your mention of Hero. He was Greek but lived in Roman Alexandria, not Greece.)

  5. It’s going to get worse. At least Boeing saw the need to hire engineers. The latest push goes beyond mere automation, the goal is to replace people like engineers with AI.

    On the surface, that would simply apprear to be a shift from hands-on enigneering and design to codified engineering and design. However, wiith “Deep Learning” — an algorithm for creating algorithms — the fantasy is to eliminate people altogether and use computers develop the solutions to unsolved problems. Knowledge, in this fantasy, will progress autonomously without the fallible limitations of human ingenuity and creativity.

    If you thought the Boeing 737 Max was an engineering disaster, wait til you see what an AI can come up with! If only we could replace bureaucrats and lawyers with AI….

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