On engineering, ingenuity and tube strikes

September 02, 2015

Ahead of the recent tube strike, a colleague asked for advice on getting from Vauxhall to Euston.

Never mind that there’s a bus that goes really close, the responses were impressively varied, and some of them were mind-bogglingly Heath Robinson approaches to the problem. One suggestion involved going via Clapham, Willesden, and Watford.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, given that I work with people who call themselves software engineers - there’s an undeniable tendency to over-engineer things, and generally make things more complicated than they should be.

It got me thinking that engineer and ingenious share a similar etymology. Part of the job is about coming up with new solutions to problems, and there was certainly some inventiveness in the solutions, but it also reminded me of the importance of keeping things simple

The more moving parts there are, the more chance there is that something will go wrong. This is especially true for public transport. The other aspect of this is that when something does go wrong, the more complicated the system is, the more difficult it is to figure out how to fix it.

Trouble is, those moving parts do help to make things nice and shiny…