You Can (Not) Do It

Many years ago when I just started working as an engineer, I had an opportunity to attend a seminar organised by Intel in Penang, which was also where their factory was located. The seminar was related to the introduction of a series of new chips which will be using ball-grid array (BGA) arrangement. The seminar was to let us know how the BGA packaged chips may impact our printed circuit assembly process. As my ex-company was a large customer of Intel, up to four engineers were invited to attend the seminar for free, with flight tickets and hotel lodging provided. The procurement engineer from our company had included my name as he felt that I should attend as one of my future new product will be using BGA devices. We were to fly in on Friday morning, with Intel plant tour and seminar the next day. We’ll be back on a Sunday flight. The only thing I needed to do was get approval from my manager. I thought it would be easy since my department did not have to pay a single cent for me to attend. Boy, was I wrong!

I met my boss at the factory floor with the machines nosily pounding chips onto printed circuit boards.

“Boss, there is an upcoming conference organised by Intel in two weeks time,” I said. “It is about the new ball grid array packaging technology. The procurement engineer has included my name for the seminar and it is free. Just need to get your approval for me to attend.”

“No.” He replied.

I was shocked.

“Boss, but it is about a new technology that we’ll be implementing on the assembly line, it is good that I can attend. Besides, it is free and we won’t need to budget for it.”

“No.” He said again. “Why do you want to go? This packaging technology is not related to our department. It is about how our completed PCAs will be packaged in a box and shiped. It is about packaging technology, which simply means, it is just about boxes.”

When did Intel start making boxes?

“Boss, I think you misunderstood. You can check with the procurement engineer and he can confirm that it is not about boxes.”

“No need. The engineer has already called me and I’ve already told him you won’t be going.”

“But boss, I really think I should go, it is related to my work.” I can feel my temper rising but I spoke with a controlled tone.

“No.”

“Fine. Then I’ll apply leave and attend the seminar. I’ll pay on my own.”

“No, you can’t do it.” He insisted.

“Why?”

“Because it has not been done before and I won’t allow it.”

A short shouting match ensued but it was drowned out by the assembly lines so no one overheard our ‘conversation’.

“Fine. Ok. I won’t go. Happy?” I stormed off.

Two weeks later, I applied leave knowing that my boss would have forgotten the exact dates of the seminar. As expected, he approved my leave. I bought my own flight tickets to Penang making sure that I am on the same flight with the other engineers of my company. I’ve arranged to ‘bunk’ in the room with a colleague whose boss of another department had approved his attending the seminar.

I was glad that I attended the conference. I learnt something that was related to my work. In fact, it gave me a better understanding and I was able to have a better appreciation of the problems related to BGAs in the later months when one of my new product started using BGA chip devices. In fact, I thought that the knowledge was important enough that I actually conducted a short and concise introductory course to my fellow engineers in my department – minus my boss, of course.

Ever since then, if I ever come across any arguement simply stating that “it cannot be done because it has not been done before”, it would really irk me.

Did I regret my decision? No. Did I break rules? Maybe.

Don’t ever let people convince you that you can’t do it because they can’t. Don’t limit your potential based on other peoples expectations. Realise your own potential. Believe in your dreams. You have yourself to answer to.

P.S. The title of this post was inspired by Neon Genesis Evangelion.

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