Friday, March 27, 2009

An Actual (Business) Conversation

I sell industrial piping equipment, particularly for the power generation industry. It's actually more exciting than it sounds, because I talk to people all over the world, and every day there's a new challenge.

Yesterday's challenge was a discussion with a project manager (PM), of Asian background, who wanted to know if one of my products would work in service conditions of 450 degrees Celsius. This equates to 842 degrees Fahrenheit. Unfortunately, the product he was buying (sorry, I should say bought....we shipped it last week, and he chose now to see if it will work with that temperature) was made out of cast carbon steel, which has a limit of 800 degrees Fahrenheit.

On top of that, this guy's math was really bad, he was basically asking if it was that big a deal if there was only a 22 degree difference (he thought it was 822 took me time to convince him that the website is never wrong). Unfortunately, carbon steel, when exposed to temperatures over 800 degrees, undergoes a chemical process called "graphitization." Basically, it breaks down. We had the following exchange of words on the phone:

PM: Is it that big a deal that it’s only 40 degrees higher then the limit?
Me: Yes. You have temperature limits for a reason.
PM: What will happen?
Me: Catastrophic failure.
PM: (pause) OK…...
Me: That’s not a good thing.
PM: But it will only see that temperature occasionally.
Me: If you use this item at that temp, the warranty is voided.
PM: Oh. OK. What can you sell me that will work with this temperature?
Me: (fights urge to rub hands together and say, in a C. Montgomery Burns voice, "excellent"): I'll have to get back to you.

It scares me that me and my 4 years of a Political Science degree have more knowledge than a guy with a 5 year engineering degree.


  1. Ok, I'd like to know where this piece of crap will be located, so I can avoid the area. :D Thanks!

  2. I second that Lunamor, on the basis that Steve reckons this engineer has no clue and has probably been involved in building a power station (nuclear?? God forbid) previously, which country is Asia should we be avoiding?

  3. Avoid Thailand. Normally, this warning is reserved for those on sex tours (right, Luna and Lermontov?), but now you can put infrastructure down as a reason to avoid the place.

    But, you can rest well this is not a nuclear turbine. Just a gas turbine.

  4. Oh, please! Everybody knows more than engineers do! But I'm sure you know more than the average person who knows more than an engineer.

  5. ^ Most people know more than engineers, but few people know more about beer than engineers. Steve breaks that stereotype.

    Nice work on the double sale.

    And sex tourists should really try the Baltic states!

    Unless, of course, your company sells into Chernobyl!

  6. That’s a rather painful mistake to make. My late father was a project engineer for a company that sold water treatment equipment (mainly effluent treatment, by which I mean he dealt with things like contracts for entire sewage works). So he knew about mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, fluid mechanics and biology. However he left school at fourteen and learned it all in several years spent at night school rather than going to university, and what pissed him off was that there were others in his office with engineering degrees, who made some embarrassingly similar mistakes to the one you describe… yet they were paid more than he was.

    And their standard of spelling and English grammar was appalling too – I think that upset him most of all.

  7. The big difference between such educations is that the night school stuff is often taught with a more practical bend to it, and often involves hands-on, cooperative study. University education, both here and in Germany (not sure about Britain) is more "book learning" and not as much hands-on study. Plus, the guys that teach night school are more likely to be working IN the field, and it's a second job, rather than being professional university professors who haven't worn dirty boots in years. Would you agree?

  8. my dad works in the power generation arena.. please please tell me you don't sell to oklahoma..

  9. Well, since we're not allowed by law to discriminate, and therefore Oklahoma is guaranteed the right to modern electrical conveniences as much as the rest of the US (don't think we haven't tried to keep them in the dark!), then yes, I ship quite a bit of equipment into The Sooner State.

    But, in fairness, I don't think most Okies know what to do with the stuff once they have it.

  10. and he're I thought PM's were smart guys!

  11. I like how that it is not the idea of catastorphic failure that makes him re-think this - it is just the fact that the warranty (and perhaps their insurance) would be void.

    There are some smart fuckers running these places!

  12. The phrase 'Catastrophic Failure' tends to be something of a deal breaker. For me, anyway. But then again I'm not an engineer. Although I do know a bit about beer, I'm also able to conduct conversations with females beyond 'How much for half an hour', which instantly disqualifies me.

  13. Ok, let me use a beer analogy.....running steam at a temperature higher than 800 degrees F (427C) through this product would, in terms of "catastrophic failure," be on par with someone accidentally putting their cigarette butt in your beer.

    Lermontov, on your next sex holiday to Thailand, where my stuff is shipping, expect there to be massive power outages when these smart fuckers disable a gas turbine plant.

    Indy, PM's are engineers who were considered too stupid too design anything.

  14. I don't know if you'll believe me - but I haven't actually banged a hooker yet. Give me time!

  15. And fuck dude - I'd never holiday in the T!

  16. "Avoid Thailand. Normally, this warning is reserved for those on sex tours..."

    Really?!?! I had always heard the opposite.

  17. Thailand is the reason behind Japan's skyrocketing HIV levels. Hence the warning.

  18. I agree, Steve. There are many tales from various employers of how clueless graduates are compared to people who’ve worked their way up within a business (it doesn’t even need to be the same business). That’s pretty sweeping of course: they have to have some sort of qualification and aptitude, but the problem with graduates is they’ve never had to deal with responsible decision-making.

    What you say about the US and Germany appears to apply here too. University students are given no hands on experience during their years of study at all, and are thrown in at the deep end when they start working. Of course anyone can make a mistake, but it’s often remarked that too much emphasis is put of choosing people with university degrees rather than practical experience.

  19. Japanese can get HIV too? I thought it was just blacks and homosexuals.

  20. Japanese can only contract it when they leave the country. That's because they love fucking other Asian countries.