Like it or not, the quality engineer is, and has been, a part of pop culture. Granted, the perception and depiction of the quality engineer has not always been accurate, almost a caricature of a stereotype.
The depictions I have seen range from the lab coat and pocket protector, rigid in their work and in their demeanor, to the overly zealous test engineer, reveling in the tests that apply intolerable pressure to new products, almost eager to watch them explode into a thousand pieces.
Probably the most over-the-top depiction of a quality engineer exists in Dilbert, an American comic strip by Scott Adams, which first appeared in the funny pages in April of 1989. You could say Dilbert was The Office before The Office. The comic was a satire of an overly managed engineering firm and the exploits of one of its employees, Dilbert, and the host of characters he comes across in his day to day, including unproductive colleagues and an unbearable boss. It was turned into a somewhat short-lived television series, in which the audience was introduced to one of its most memorable characters, Bob Bastard.
Unfortunately or aptly named, depending on your perception, Bob was a legendary test engineer. However, he did not start out that way. Early in his career, Bob was described as a young, amiable test engineer, always eager to be pleasant in the discharge of his duties.
Bob makes the mistake of asking a colleague out on a date, to see the latest Planet of the Apes movie. His invitation is met with laughter and mocking from his intended date and more than a few of her friends and his colleagues.
This rejection is enough to turn Bob from a friendly test engineer to an evil, disfigured (somewhat inexplicable, but the character wears a luchador’s mask to hide this disfigurement) legend that takes cackling pleasure in destroying his fellow engineers’ designs and prototypes with ridiculous tests, such as subjecting them to 5,001-degree temperatures and crushing them with asteroids, earning him his legendary status as the most successful and feared test engineer in the industry.
Dilbert learns this origin story from Bob when he accidently stumbles on Bob’s office (more of a lair, really) and catches Bob without his mask, a la Darth Vader in Star Wars. The end of Bob’s story comes with as much oddity and speed as his beginning (I will tell you Bob is knocked off his legendary pedestal by, of all things, the slurping of his coffee).
If my description seems confusing or unsatisfying, I would encourage you to look into the legend of Bob Bastard. If you’d like to know the truth behind the perception of the quality engineer, check out “The State of Satisfaction” and our analysis of this year’s State of the Profession survey, as well as everything else we have to offer in this month’s Quality.
Enjoy and thanks for reading!