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Consumer product engineering: the thankless task

Something bittersweet happened last weekend. Poor longsuffering Shadowcat, my wife's 2006 Saturn Ion, was finally sent to live on a farm. After 115k miles, she just wasn't running right, and the mechanics haven't been able to do anything. The last resort was basically replacing her engine, which, no thanks.

Farewell, Shadowcat. We will miss you.

On a happier note, meet Nightcrawler: *

Our first-ever brand new car, and he is very shiny indeed.

And has a lot of technology that wasn't present in any of our previous cars for some reason. That reason is probably that they are all 10+ years old and the technology hadn't been invented yet.

But here is why it must be super frustrating to be a product engineer:

That is a screenshot taken from my phone. After connecting my phone to my car via Bluetooth, now every time I park the car it marks its location on the map on my phone. Automatically. Which totally blew my mind when I opened the map and saw it. I ran around telling my wife and kids about how cool this was.

This car has a hybrid engine/motor/battery system, with sensors and computers that monitor all of it and optimize it for just the right balance of power and efficiency. I cannot even fathom the years of engineering grunt work that went into making it all work. But what did I, the consumer, notice? A map feature that probably took a software team a week to build, if that.

This happens to all of us, of course - we have no connection between how much work went into something and how much we notice or appreciate it in the final product. (A recent case in point. I really hope nobody who comes across that has any idea how long it took to put together. That title is accurate in more than one way.) So I'm going to keep driving my car, enjoying the gas mileage that a lot of smart people doing a lot of hard work made possible, and hoping that maybe, just maybe, someday one of them will see this blog, and feel a moment of connection and appreciation.

And then I hope that engineer buys my book.


* For whatever reason my kids have adopted this pattern of naming all our cars after X-men. I honestly don't know where that came from. That's Shadowcat with her trunk open, and Beast is the minivan in the back.


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