After today’s reading about branding and setting an professional identity, I thought of an experience when I first started out being a professional. I did a bunch of small geophysical projects with a very well known and one of the tops in his field geophysicist. After a couple of years of him and his company doing small projects, I managed a much larger geophysical project that lasted a month of collecting data. After spending days at a time with a person, you get to know them quite well. While he was collecting the data, he would field calls about upcoming jobs and I would try not to overlisten.

One day towards the end, he was trying to line up a “whale” of a project for a contractor for a US installation that made my month long project seem like loose change. An individual on his crew was from Australia and was working in the States on a visa. The contractor was giving hassling him about having a foreign national coming on the facility and it would require a bunch of paperwork and headaches. After a half dozen tries of him talking with the contracting people and the managers of the work, he finally told them which particular orifice that the contracting people could stick their extra paperwork.

I was floored. I was amazed by him walking away from suck a large project. He then told me the following that has stuck with me now for 20 years, “It would have cost me more than it was worth. Not every project is the same. Not every client is the same. You work with the people you want to work with and avoid the ‘assholes.’ If he had that much trouble now, it will cost him even more to get paid and having problems on the project. They would eat his profit on the job.”

I went on for him being hired into my company and becoming my boss. I have since left that job but I still have the pleasure of him still willing do geophysics on my projects. I consider him a friend.

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  1. When talking to Land Development firms, there is a question I like to ask, “What would make you step away from a project?” Money drives the industry, and I understand that that leads people to success, but I prefer to work for leaders who share my own values. In engineering, we may have the privilege to afford to choose who we work for, and what projects we wish to advance. Your example is interesting because it is not particularly a legal ethical issue, but perhaps that’s the point. To act ethical and be a caring engineer is to act not only within the law, but within your own values.


  2. Since taking the Ethics class, I overall feel a little bit less worried about “stepping into the real world”. Because it made me realize that I get to choose my colleagues and work environment. Like the Young Professional Survival Guide says, setting up career goals, a persona and values before entering the “real world” are very important first steps.


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