Leave it to these people to uncover new and unforeseen ways to make the dumbest mistakes possible. These engineers didn't think they had to account for these nightmare situations! Content has been edited for clarity.
"Many years ago, I was working as a building engineer, which basically meant that I was a glorified maintenance man. I was working for this office building, which featured endless complaints about the air conditioning and the heater never working. The office staff would try to adjust the thermostat up and down all day, and then everyone else would naturally complain that it was now too hot or cold. It did not matter what sort of lock or cage I put onto the thermostat, or why I told the staff it was placed there, the workers would break it and remove it completely within a day or two of the new protection being installed. I was so frustrated by all of this, so I decided to take matters into my own hands. I purchased a new thermostat with a remote sensor, and I installed it in my office, with the remote sensor placed near to where the old thermostat was still located. I left the old thermostat there with a low voltage power setting, so that it would appear like it was actually functioning. Then I let the workers change the temperature on the old thermostat all they wanted while I programmed the real one in my own office to our building's standards. And just like that, all of the complaints had been reduced by ninety percent! That's all it finally took."
"Many moons ago, I worked in this support function in a cybersecurity team. I was in charge of this system administration group. They had gotten pretty lazy and were repurposing laptops all over the company without properly updating them and removing the previous user files first. I had this team go through a two step process of wiping the laptop and installing this fresh build from corporate, in order to make sure that these laptops were up to date without any prior user's data.
We had to build these custom boot discs specifically for wiping all of these laptops. They were printed on these blank orange DVDRs, which we even had to pay extra for to create! These were pretty exclusive, as they were only available to this specific administration group. That staff was explicitly told never to boot up a machine with these disks, unless the intent was to wipe the machine and start from scratch completely. We even wrote all of this on each disk for them! The on screen process even had several loud and especially garish screens warning the user how, 'THIS WILL DELETE THE ENTIRE HARD DRIVE IRREVERSIBLY, DO YOU WANT TO CONTINUE?'
Despite all of this, were were still forced by the upper management to have each machine log onto the corporate network first, and then we had to query the system administration group for their SSO password before wiping the machine. Why did we have to do things the long way? Because despite all of our previous efforts, three of our machines had still somehow been inadvertently wiped! Whoever could do such a thing is the exact reason there are warnings on Windex bottles."
"Our head engineer would regularly be sent off to other companies within our entire corporate structure, in order to trouble shoot problems for individuals that they couldn't actually solve. One of these sites was having a major problem with these random red plastic pieces in their finished products, it was almsot like some flimsy plastic bag material in there. He was actually flown all the way from Europe to Asia in order to investigate this matter. It turns out this red stuff was a sort of powder mix that was being created by blending these other powders together. The engineer gets to the site, and several workers show him the end of their production line. where this red stuff was coming out inside of the product. Naturally, he then walked over to the start of the production process in order to work his way through eliminating any potential causes. The very first thing that he saw at the start of the assembly line was this worker who was chucking bags of ingredients into one of the hoppers. Those bags were noticeably red and plastic. He took a closer look at things. There was this shredding mechanism on top of the hopper, in order for the worker to just chuck the bag into the hopper and ripped it open. This device was put in place in order to save time from opening and unloading the bags. This engineer then asked the site manager if they were serious about this production issue. The company absolutely was. They genuinely could not connect the dots that this was clearly the source of all of those tiny red plastic pieces! What was the insightful solution that they had flown a head engineer all the way over to determine? Just don't do that!"
"Back in the summer of 2016, this construction site my coworker was supervising had a massive sixty foot pit, which was being excavated safely per all of the industry standards, but the site didn't have twenty-four lighting, and there was minimal fencing around the edge. Nobody thought that was necessary! Everything seemed fine the way that it was, because these people were only excavating during the day. Access to the upper edge was block off and controlled, and the entire site was fenced off from the general public. Any and all obligatory safety measures necessary were in place, and the area seemed to be controlled. You know what else happened in that very summer? Pokemon Go came out. There were three poke-stops on that construction site.
This coworker needed to hire around-the-clock security, so people wouldn't sneak onto the site in the middle of the night and accidentally die! Then it turns out that people were trying to be clever. There would be groups of people, where four of them would run a diversion for the security, while they gave all of their phones to one person, who would sneak onto the site in the middle of the night and play on everyone's phone. Now we had to hire more security to prevent this diversion tactic from properly working. Luckily, as everyone remembers, most people lost interest in that mobile game after about a month, and they finally stopped sneaking into the site. When you are devising a risk plan, you think about the schedule and budget. You don't think, 'What's my risk mitigation strategy for a breakout mobile game enticing idiots to accidentally dump their corpse on my worksite, and how much money should I set aside to manage it?'
"So I was working on this old mainframe system, which we were trying to sufficiently idiot-proof as much as humanly possible. After a while, some workers just started telling me, 'If the system will let you do it, then it must be okay!' They had no desire to learn or understand the actual process! When we were replacing the entire mainframe system, we found all sorts of things that staff members had been doing against policy, simply because nobody knew that it was against policy. Nobody had told us to make preventative software that would stop these mistakes, because nobody knew that was something we needed to work on! After we replaced the entire system, we basically had to replace everyone else on the staff, because they just kept doing whatever the new system would allow. But there wasn't a system of checks and balances put into place, so nothing they were ever working on was in line with our policy! Me and my team members desperately tried to explain to these incompetent buffoons that it was literally their jobs to know what our policy was and to enforce it. What amazes me is that these workers just kept on going in this bizarre behavior for many, many years! We had this entire generation of workers who honestly assumed that the system was already so idiot-proof that they would be allowed to simply do anything.
Before this, I also spent several years working in factory floor automation, and I had these exact sorts of conversations with those workers too. I remember once how I was testing a factory system and noticed how someone had just taped a giant lens to a monitor, so they could zoom in on it and swing it in front of the control screen. I asked why this was here, and one of the employees sheepishly replied that he was old and couldn't read words that were that tiny. Why not just zoom in on the computer in the first place?! Why didn't he just bring up this issue with me in the first place? Well it turns out that he didn't know that floor people were allowed to talk to the engineers! That was so insane! I would even have to arrange secret meeting sin the break room, so I could covertly hear what the floor people who were actually using the software I engineered really thought of it."
"Aerospace engineer here. Someone on our team, who everyone somehow hyped up, was literally the most unqualified person I have ever met in my profession. He had eight full years of experience, and he even openly admitted to me that he cheated not only on his college exams, but on his MASc thesis! Somehow this person didn't actually know the basic equations for aerodynamics and aircraft performance. He couldn't actually code, despite seeing and becoming familiar with the same exact code for years now. He still couldn't even use the in-house tools and technology that myself and two other coworkers learned in three months while on the job! This garbage man also openly stole my presentations and work, so he could show them in group meeting. But the joke was on him, since he totally forgot to swap my name out at the end of the slideshows! The rest of us were so tired of doing this guy's work and spoon feeding him topics he should already know very well. But the managers would merely turn a blind eye to this behavior and would coddle them for whatever inane reason. The managers should have realized that we were coding in error messages when we did this guy's work, so the management could finally (hopefully) get a clue!
Unfortunately, that never clicked with the upper management. I actually then coded in some messages showing the managers which lines to check out to find some common coding issues this employee had so brazenly left behind. Guess what?! These people couldn't use a debugger to figure it out! The upper management was way more clueless than I could have ever expected! I even attempted to print out these blatant errors and send them to the managers, but it still did nothing to help the situation. I could go on and on for ages, but this guy was hands down the worst engineer that I probably will ever meet. The only thing that this person was even good at was sucking up to the right people and getting away with the most blatant disqualifications I have ever seen. This guy is working on a PhD now. Good luck with all of that!"
"Back when Iw as working at one of my engineering internships, I was regularly called 'Bollard Man' by the staff. For context, bollards are those thin yellow poles that are used to block off places where you shouldn't park your car. I personally installed over fifty bollards around the plant I worked at. It only took about three months, and this was in response to employees nearly destroying so many expensive things! My guess was that some of the operators thought it was a personal challenge to see what they could get to fit in between the bollards. They would constantly park in these hazard zones to stick it to the management. For the outdoor areas, I started researching some defensive architectural designs, in order to build objects that didn't look like bollards. I ended up planting trees and bushes, added drainage ditches, decorative boulders, picnic benches, street lamps, and so on and so forth.
The thing about this was that I was an electrical engineer, so working on this project was not even remotely part of my job description! I have just learned that there is no amount of signage or warnings to convince people to move away. Even though you can't see the megawatts of power flowing through the quipment, they are really deadly, and you definitely shouldn't be parking right next to them all of the time! Unfortunately, my old boss didn't want to take responsibility for these incompetent employees, and just shifted the blame onto me somehow. Great!"
"You would be surprised at how much stupid proofing I have to do for even the fellow engineers at my company! I train a lot of new hires, and one of the main points I always try to make is how, 'When you make guides, assume you're talking to a person who doesn't know even the most basic things. Don't write about what command to execute or what to type in, it won't work."
I also instruct people who are writing out the company-wide manuals. If someone is using this machine, there is absolutely no way that they are going to use common sense and know what to turn off when. If something is going wrong, assume a person will have no idea what is happening and won't be able to stop it in time. Things need to be explicitly written in the manual for a reason!
On the one hand, it can get pretty frustrating to try and consider every possible way that someone could mess up a procedure and account for it in writing. But I like to think of it like this: the more amount of time an engineer spends on creating a part or writing a guide to simplify the process is so incredibly worthwhile if one distracted employee doesn't get hurt or make a costly mistake from it. Everyone is going to have those brain freeze moments, which is totally fine if nobody gets horrifically injured as a result!"
"So I work in facilities maintenance. Someone had filed a help ticket for a malfunctioning computer on wheels. Upon examining the technology, I cam across a frayed power cord. It wasn't a part of my gear, so the only thing I could really do long-term was to set it aside and delegate the task for some bio-med worker to fix up. I did put a zip-tie through the holes in the prongs of the plug. I added two nitrile gloves to the plug, zip-tied them together in place, and I wrapped up that plug with duct tape. I then got a sheet of printer paper and wrote out, 'INOPERATIVE. DO NOT USE. DO NOT PLUG IN.' I tapped it to the monitor of this machine, desperately hoping that someone would take notice of this massively obnoxious note.
A couple of hours later, I got another help ticket about the same type of machine having a frayed power cord that was sparking. Who would have guessed, it turned out to be the exact same machine. Apparently, one of the nurses had cut off the end of the gloves, cut the zip tie at the end of the plug, and plugged it in. The machine arced and tripped a breaker because of this frayed power cord! This nurse tried to use a plug from another device to jam the bare wires in. She also tried to wrap the copper around the prongs. That nurse was quite peculiar! I have no idea how she managed to stay alive doing such risky endeavors! The machine was still never going to turn on though. The polarity was not right, and the power system on the cart was smart enough to detect the polarity, so it wouldn't turn on as a result. THat would stop these nurses from truing! It wasn't like she had any other carts she could use either! Usually there were five to seven more devices than a person could need in each unit of the hospital! I tried explaining all of this to the nurse, but she comprehended absolutely none of what I was telling her! How had she even gotten this job in the first place?!"
"I had to use superglue to jam one user's switch into a permanent 'on' position, since he could never follow instructions about not touching the switch. He complained that he could no longer turn off the wi-fi to my boss. I showed me boss how many help tickets per week I received about the wi-fi not connection for that user. So my boss wanted me to superglue all of the switches for each employee computer to the 'on' position. Yeah, that one coworker was a nightmare. This company had a policy for who could receive which kind of laptops. A few weeks after supergluing all of those switches, I realized that this guy had been really trying to get an upgrade for his laptop, and he had been submitting help tickets just to 'show' that his computer was broken and needed to be replaced. His computer was only three years old, it was not worth all of this hassle! Not to say that the wi-fi switch wasn't a legitimate problem. Workers had been accidentally flipping it on and off at all times, but this guy had been scheming with it from the get go!"
"One time, this graduate level supervisor at my company had poorly cleaned up his chemical station, and he then proceeded to eat his lunch right at that station! The previous students at that station had been working pretty heavily with a cyanide compound. Naturally, their lab supervisor felt horribly sick and suffered, but thankfully he did not die from it! Another time, this systems architect did what we like to call a 'fat finger'. He accidentally pushed another button on the script, which prompted a global software update, forcing all of our domain servers internationally to reboot. No idea why that was even an option. Oh yeah, and that all took place during a live demonstration of that product to the very official board of investors! I have some very entertaining coworkers.
This one was one of my favorite experiences to witness. A director was constantly complaining about his slow laptop, and the security team jokingly advised him to stop going to so many suspicious site. He responded by angrily yelling at them that all he does is more work while he is home. The IT team had no choice but to re-image his laptop, which would have been a pretty involved process. This director complained once again about five more times, until finally the director of security got involved. He accessed this employee's computer and showed everyone around him how this guy was watching adult content from multiple shady sites, which were infecting his computer as a result. This employee thought that cleaning his history was enough to hide his footsteps! Oh, how wrong he truly was.
By the way, if you work for a top fifty Fortune 500 company, you definitely sign away all of your data privacy rights when you are using some official IT equipment. There is a whole lot of advanced tracking software that can track every single character you type out and every website you visit. Clearing cookies or your history won't help you. Now there are some rules to help protect your privacy to a certain degree, but if the company ever needs to create a case against you or to collect proof, they can audit you through a work computer so easily! I no longer work in this field, but I seriously came across so many truly bizarre people over there!"
"I have been designing complex systems for over sixteen years now. In facet, I could write an entire book on the subject! There's always some level of moaning and groaning when a system you designed goes through the risk assessment process and people point out, 'We need extra guarding here, and here, and here, and there, and here.' One time I had to add eight feet of light curtains to the front of a system so that 'Operators can't get a running start and jump through the opening to the machine.' Yes, they were completely serious. I called that the 'Superman rule', which is in excess of all OSHA requirements. The sad part of that one is that someone did, indeed, superman through while the system was running, which promptly mangled them and nearly cut them in half. Yes, they died. We had all of our documentation in line, and every box was checked, so it was ruled as an intentional circumvention of established safety devices. On another system, I had to design in this automated cup holder for operators, complete with a thru-beam sensor. Why? Operators were known to throw garbage and pour drinks into systems to create downtime, so they could get more break time while maintenance was fixing the machine that 'mysteriously broke.' The cupholders would only release people's drinks during designated break times.
The worst one I ever witnessed get misused by a total moron was when I was designing a system for a certain auto manufacturer. It was a large system that was responsible for assembling and welding all sorts of variants across the entire line up of $100k+ vehicles. The components being welded were held in place by spring-loaded pins with complex geometries. I spent a considerable amount of time designing the pins so that you couldn't load them incorrectly, matching the geometry of the mating part. These 'poke-yokes' as they were called were expensive to begin with. After about a month of the system running at the customer's facility, the customer wanted me to add additional poke-yoke features to the pins, so they couldn't be installed in the wrong location AND the wrong machine. The fact that the part of the geometries not lining up if you put the wrong pin in the wrong place was irrelevant. Certain operators were ramming these things into the wrong holes and causing system crashes. Mind you, this takes serious effort to do, to the point of cracking the parts. So, across nine of these systems which I designed, I had to have sixty-three unique pin designs. I accomplished this by having slots machined in and clocked in certain orientations, so they were essentially keys at this point, and it cost upwards of $1500 for each machine. A few weeks later, all of the pins were machined, assembled, and delivered to the customer. I got a phone call that same week and was told, 'You need to get here, we can't run the systems.'
I got in my car and drove out to meet the customer. Their executive director was standing in the lobby waiting for me. We walked out to the systems, and I was told that my design, 'Jammed up the systems and is holding up production for the entire vehicle line, costing $30,000 per minute.'
We walked up to the first system and sure enough, the pins were completely stuck in the dies. What the heck, I designed these things with a 0.003 inch MMC gap, it should be smooth like butter, and I tested every one myself before we shipped them. Every single pin was jammed. The director was furious. I pulled up the assembly drawings and proved that the designs and tolerances were sound. I couldn't pull these things out, but I noticed the tops of the pins were crowned over, like someone had been smashing them with a five pound sledge. We continued walking through to the other systems, and as we approached one, we heard a banging sound. Their maintenance lead was standing in front of one of the systems, with a large hammer, absolutely wailing the pins in place. The director grabbed him by the shoulder, spun him around, and asked what the heck was this guy doing?! The maintenance guy simply said, 'The pins don't fit!'
I picked up one of the pins he hadn't mashed, showed him the keyed feature, pointed out the engraved ID, pointed out the engraved ID on the corresponding receiver die, and demonstrated that they fit absolutely perfectly fine when you mate them with the correct assembly. Oh, and it was color and number coded too. The director turned to me, asked for a pricing quote on a new set, and stormed off, beyond frustrated at how stupid his employees were really trying to be."