From the Wall Street Journal (as we were saying . . .)|
February 22, 2000
Why Rising Young Engineer at Boeing
Has Decided to Type Up Her Resume
By JEFF COLE
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
SEATTLE -- More than most smart kids from the misty suburbs here, Doreen Bingo grew up in the shadow of mighty Boeing Co.
A self-styled "Boeing brat," she eventually followed in her dad's footsteps, becoming an aerospace engineer at the biggest airplane maker in the world. She relishes the work and is proud of her job. So why -- at 30 years of age, after an eight-year string of promotions leading to a $50,000-plus salary -- is she on strike against Boeing and tapping out her resume?
In essential ways, she says, it is because this is no longer her father's Boeing. White-collar labor strife at the company and the less-familial nature of the job have had an impact. So have the Web and software industries, which have transformed the world since her father's day, when Boeing was one of the hottest places for a smart young engineer to work. Today, Boeing may not even be the hottest place to work in Seattle.
Ms. Bingo's reasoning disturbs some Boeing executives, who say they are eager to retain both rising young engineers like her and those whiskered veterans who have prospered under the jet maker's traditional pay-for-performance system. Surprised by an unprecedented strike by well over three-quarters of Boeing's 22,000 union-represented engineers and technical workers, Boeing leaders like Chairman Phil Condit say they see themselves as drawing a line on costs in order to rebuild and protect the company's future for all its constituents.
Doreen Bingo followed the example of her father, Roy, and signed on as a Boeing aerospace engineer.
But from the perspective of Ms. Bingo -- and thousands of her co-workers on the picket lines -- the company is drifting from principles that made it an industrial legend and a haven for people whose idea of an exciting day at work was searching for an arcane algorithm. She says that when her father, Roy Bingo, joined Boeing in the 1960s, it suffered from big-company bureaucratic ills but at least seemed to appreciate those who designed and supported its high-flying products. An old saw at Boeing was that Boeing hired "engineers and other people."
Loss of 'Respect'
The two-week-old labor dispute, the first white-collar walkout of any real moment in Boeing's 84 years, is ostensibly over pay and benefit offers. But Ms. Bingo says the core of the matter is the company's intransigence in negotiations and its unwillingness to share its recent gains, which she believes reflects both short-term thinking and a loss of "respect." Rousted now by an emotion-charged breakdown in contract talks, members of Boeing's once-docile Society of Engineering Employees in Aerospace have decided they want the guaranteed pay raises, bonuses and benefits won by the tougher Machinists union last fall.
Neither side is budging for now, and the strike has stalled deliveries of some airliners. One union cry is "No Nerds. No Birds," as longer-simmering angst boils onto Seattle's sidewalks.
"It seems like we at the lower levels have a longer-term vision," says Ms. Bingo, a tall, athletic Japanese American. Sipping a diet soda at a downtown Boeing hangout otherwise populated by beer-drinking male mechanics, Ms. Bingo tells of feeling "disconnected" from company leaders who seem to want "whatever it takes to get that stock price up. Whether it's good for the long-term growth of the company or not, it doesn't matter."
The job of a Boeing engineer is changing. These days, few of them are devising sleek new planes. Nonetheless, before the strike, as they filed daily into the cavernous factories and vast office complexes that dot the Seattle landscape, Boeing's engineering legions generally seemed satisfied tending to the millions of other tasks required to keep the giant jets moving and new military planes and systems on track.
Hundreds of specially certified veterans sign off on the detailed inspections that assure that jumbo jets comply with encyclopedic federal safety-related design rules. Other elite "technical fellows" invent new processes and devices, such as ultrasound machines that can detect defects deep inside castings or underneath shiny coats of paint.
Engineers also scramble when panicky airline managers call about the peculiar problems that are keeping their $190 million-a-pop planes grounded on far-flung taxiways. Sometimes a carrier just needs some software adjustments to permit a safe takeoff at a newly served airport.
In some of the most common jobs, engineers and technicians scurry through labyrinthine production lines -- sifting through their memories and catalogs of data -- to correct problems involving mismatched pipes and other mechanical and electrical parts and devices. Thousands of them tweak factory tools to make them more efficient or rejigger cabin designs to satisfy choosy buyers. Hundreds more spend their time training new arrivals and shuffling the acres of paper it takes to produce an airplane.
Ms. Bingo's eyes light up when she describes her own job, at a windowless post in a testing center, where she writes software for new "smart sensor" systems that will help test the strength and durability of everything from flight-control surfaces to luggage bins.
The senior engineers who oversee her "are just amazing" specialists, she says, and she feels lucky because her work is front-end research and "there isn't much money for new development."
Climbing on the planes as a passenger, she feels a certain satisfaction when the landing gear lifts and she considers that her data-and-control code helped run the lab that tested whether some of the parts would work properly. Ms. Bingo also considers herself fortunate because she cut her teeth helping to test Boeing's last all-new airplane type, the advanced 300-seat 777, in the early 1990s. Clamoring over the wings of a permanently grounded test model, she positioned sensors and managed machines that literally stressed crucial parts past the breaking point.
"It was pretty cool knowing we were the leader in aerospace," she recalls. The team spirit on the 777 program overshadowed pricklier realities of Boeing life, including rounds of layoffs and rehirings and a merit-based pay-pool system that Ms. Bingo says can pit one engineer against another to win raises.
Ms. Bingo's ultimate boss, commercial-airplane group President Alan Mulally, winces when he hears she may look for a new programming job somewhere in western Washington's flourishing software enclave. Mr. Mulally, who worries about the possible longer-term impact of the walkout, oversaw the 777's birth and has led the airplane unit's effort at recovery after two years of snarls that cost the company dearly.
Boeing needs to control its costs to compete with European rival Airbus Industrie, says Mr. Mulally, and it also needs an energized technical work force. "I'm disappointed that we are where we are," he says.
A bright spot amid all the anguish at Boeing is that many workers say they still want the company to prosper, and some suggest that success could mean jobs for their children.
Roy Bingo, who used to bump into his daughter at work, figures now may be the time for his daughter to move on. The link between Boeing and its technical professionals "used to be a good partnership," says the retired engineer, "but that seems to be disappearing."