Engineering Ethics and Professionalism

An engineer leaves a company and goes to work for a competitor. Is it ethical for the engineer to try to lure customers away from the previous employer? Is it alright for the engineer to use proprietary knowledge gained while working for the previous employer at the new job? How would the answer to this question change if the new job weren’t for the competitor? At a new job, is it acceptable to use skills developed during your previous employment?

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In the case of an engineer drawing customers away from a previous employer two distinct factors must first be answered: is there any added benefit for the customers should they choose to utilize the services of the new company and is there any malicious intent behind the actions of the engineer? In all businesses, there are some with more added benefit than the other such as 24-hour customer service hotlines, cheaper services, etc.

In this particular case, the new company the engineer went to could have more added value for customers and as such, it is ethically reasonable to assume that under the clause of appropriate business competition where companies strive to add more value to their services to attract more customers the company with the more added value to service ratio would undoubtedly attract more customers. It is still up to the consumer whether to choose the new company or stick to the old one, however, it must be noted that competition between companies is far better for consumers rather than a monopoly by one company entirely.

Intent must also be taken into consideration, did the engineer draw customers away from his old company due to a grudge or did he lure them to the new company because he honestly believes that the services would benefit customers more? It must be noted that in today’s competitive business environment various companies offer the same services at different prices; a company that can offer the same type of service at a far lower price is better for the consumer as opposed to sticking to the same old company which overcharges them. As such in terms of luring customers away, intent must be taken into consideration to determine whether an action is ethical or not.

All employees have rights to the skills and knowledge they developed while working for a company as such in terms of violating rules regarding proprietary information what must first be determined is what constitutes proprietary knowledge. In most cases, proprietary knowledge consists of specific formulas, processes, and recipes unique to the company itself, such as the recipe to coke or the herbs and spices used in KFC.

On the other hand, methods of organization and how to properly do things are often considered proprietary knowledge but are considered “enhanced” methods of doing business. So long as a former employee does not divulge how a particular product was created but instead assists in improving current processes using information and skills gained from his old company there is no violation of proprietary knowledge at all.

As such it is acceptable to use skills developed during previous employment so long as they conform to these set standards. Also, the answer does not truly change whether an engineer goes to a competitor or an entirely different market since skills developed while utilizing a particular process or method of doing business are not considered proprietary information owned by the company.

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You are an engineer who has taken a new job with a competitor of your previous company. At a meeting you attend, a research engineer describes her plans for developing a new product similar to one developed by your former company. You know that the direction this engineer is taking will lead to a dead-end and will cost the company a lot of time and money. Do you tell her what you know? Does the answer to this question change if the new company is not a direct competitor of the previous one?

In this particular situation, we are presented with a possible conflict of interest, for one thing divulging proprietary information is in direct violation of the code of conduct for engineers on the other hand the engineer in question has the responsibility of ensuring that his company does not go into a line of business that could potentially cost the company significant amounts of time and resources.

This particular dilemma is solved by taking into consideration the fact the engineer can divulge that a similar product is being created but not reveal the processes utilized to create it. The processes themselves are the proprietary information of the engineer’s former employer, and as such, it is doubtful that the company would release that information to the general public, however, information about the product itself will eventually become general knowledge.

As such since the information is going to become publically available anyway there is no harm in telling the new company that a potential line of business that they are going for will prove to be a significant waste of time and resources so long as the processes in developing the said product are not revealed. The answer to the question does not change even if the new company is not a direct competitor or not, so long as the information was given will eventually be released by the engineer’s previous employer there is no ethical violation in trying to prevent your new company from wasting time and resources.

“Risk is a part of engineering and technological progress,” and assessing benefit versus risk is part of engineering responsibility. Along that line of thought give me a historical example of an engineering project that you believe was extremely risky, but the benefits outweighed the risk

One historical example of a risky engineering project was the creation of the Panama Canal, built from 1904 to 1914. At the time of its construction, the creation of the canal was considered one of the largest and most difficult feats of engineering ever attempted within the past several decades. The reason behind this lies with the fact that not only did engineers have to construct the canal in such a way as to allow large vessels the appropriate amount of leeway to move through the different channel locks, the sheer difficulty of construction due to environmental factors such as mosquitoes, disease, and cost made the project an almost insurmountable task.

By the end of its completion, the Panama Canal became one of the most well-traversed canals in the world, with 14,000 ships utilizing it in 2008 alone. The reason why I chose this particular example is that large engineering projects have at times been criticized as not being cost-effective enough to meet the costs associated with their construction. The Panama Canal is a clear case of a large engineering project that continues to be profitable to this day and as such would be an appropriate example to silence critics of monumental feats of engineering.

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The airlines have always touted the fact that flying on a plane is one of the safest ways to travel; unfortunately, the creation of the McDonnell Douglass DC-10 during the 1970s grossly disproved this point. While at the time touted as one the best commercial planes in the world the fact remains that to cut costs the overall design of DC-10 was reduced where some corners were cut to save money on construction.

The result was several blown-out cargo doors, engines dropping in mid-flight, ruptured hydraulic lines, and thousands of deaths during its years of operation. The reason why I chose this particular historical example is to emphasize that engineers should not attempt to cut corners during the design and construction phase of their projects. Not only can this result in the projects failing but could cost people their lives as a result.

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StudyCorgi. "Engineering Ethics and Professionalism." April 15, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Engineering Ethics and Professionalism." April 15, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Engineering Ethics and Professionalism'. 15 April.

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