17 January 2011

When I finished college, I read an autobiography by the famed Aeronautical engineer, Clarence “Kelly” Johnson. He started the Skunk Works at Lockheed during WWII. The Skunk Works developed the P-80, America’s first jet fighter, as well as the U2 spy plane, the SR-71, and most recently the F-117 stealth fighter. Johnson believed when you are engineering, you should always subscribe to the K.I.S.S. principle. That stands for Keep It Simple Stupid!

This is a motto I have always tried to subscribe too whenever it is possible. Sometimes it is not possible. A perfect example of that was the SR-71. There was nothing simple about the SR-71 to do as an engineer. Johnson told his engineers at the Skunk Works that he would give them $20 if they could find something simple to do on the SR-71. He retired with that same $20 bill. But if it was possible to something simply, he would do it that way.

A better example of over-engineering recently was the Apple dual button mouse. Like many Mac users, I purchased a third party mouse with a right mouse button when I bought my Mac. When Apple released their own two-button mouse, I ran out and purchased it thinking that it would be way better than my third party USB mouse. Well I was wrong. The Apple mouse sucks! It used pressure sensitivity instead of an actual button to tell if you have clicked. Even worse, the software has a difficult time of telling where you clicked on the mouse. So sometimes when you click on the right side of the mouse, it thinks you clicked on the left side. It also has side squeeze buttons, so if you grip the mouse the wrong way, it open up exposure for Mac OS X 10.3+. Long story short, I am now using a Microsoft mouse.

I recently ran into a situation where someone was trying to engineer a solution that was exceedingly complex, and did not necessarily solve the problem. I have found that sometimes it is a good idea to step back and take a look at your solution, and make sure it is accomplishing your goals without being exceedingly complex. Having peer reviews of you project is also a good idea. Sometimes a second set of eyes will point things that you did not take into account.



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