We’ve been really fortunate to be able to host some great speakers in our Thunderdome, and this event was no exception. The subject matter was pretty far removed from software development, but the crowd had no problem engaging deeply with Dr. Petroski’s stories and making the connection to how these lessons apply to our own craft.
Petroski’s first story focused on the Titanic’s maiden voyage, and how the catastrophe led immediately to sweeping changes in ship design and operating procedures. Opening with this familiar topic helped us to make the leap to what we talked about the rest of the night.
The transition came pretty quickly to a discussion of the history of suspension bridges: how lessons were learned 150+ years ago, then forgotten, and then relearned. The cost was high, both in terms of capital expense and in human lives, each time a corner was cut to save costs or to dismiss the safety features that had been learned before.
Some members of the room expressed an appreciation for the need to be more aware of our history, and to find ways to teach it to new engineers who haven’t had the benefit of experiencing it unfold firsthand.