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Dawn Keller


How to Talk to Your Kids About... Quality Engineering

Statistical sampling and the toy box

Published: Wednesday, January 28, 2015 - 14:05

I really can’t make this stuff up.

I wrote a post a couple of years ago titled: “How to Talk to Your Kids About... Quality Improvement,” in which I lamented about Community Hero Day in my daughter’s first-grade class and the need to explain to her why I wasn’t at the “community-hero level” of classmate Maggie’s mommy, the pediatrician.

Well, now it’s two years later, and my son, Thomas, is in class with Maggie’s little brother, Sam. Seriously. Again. But instead of Community Hero Day, however, the classroom had Engineering Day. Step aside, Maggie’s mommy!

Or maybe not. Enter Maggie and Sam’s daddy, the aerospace engineer.

Seriously, this family.

After a fun-filled Engineering Day, Sam and Thomas were excitedly telling me about all the things they learned about. “You design things, you build things—YOU MAKE THINGS—IT’S SO AWESOME!” Every engineer dreams of the day when her child’s eyes light up at the thought of building things. Nothing, not even a trip to Disney World, tops the feeling of knowing you may have brought an engineer into this world. This was it. I did it. I proudly exclaimed, “I’m an engineer!”

And then:

Thomas: “Weeeeell, not really.”

Me: “No, I am.”

Thomas: “Well... you really don’t make things, real things. You make software. That’s not REAL.”

Sam: “My daddy makes planes.”

Thomas: “See, Sam’s daddy is a REAL engineer.”

Me: “I’m a REAL engineer.”

My daughter, Emilia, came to my rescue: “Thomas, Mommy was a real engineer. Mommy, tell them about the old days when you were a real engineer.”

And. Breathe. This was not happening again. Software quality engineering is REAL, and I intended to prove it.

When my kids bounced out of bed the next day, they did what is now second nature: They grabbed for their iPad. But it wasn’t there.

“Where’s my iPad?”

“Sorry, only REAL things today!”


“But, what are we going to do?”

“Real things.”

I really had underestimated the joy that this would bring me.

And so, to prove to them that a majority of the “things” they do during the day rely on software, I introduced statistical sampling. We talked about pulling a random sampling of their toys to provide a picture of the entire population.

And so they headed to the toy room and did just that. Then we entered the data in the statistical software I help engineer. The results: 67.7 percent were either software or involved the use of software.

This was not the world I grew up in. I vaguely recall the rich kids having Pong back in the day, but aside from that, nothing that needed software. Sticks, rocks, and if you didn’t cause trouble, a bike. Gangs of kids on Huffy bikes—that was my childhood.

So, our sample provided a picture and a couple of very good lessons:
1. Software engineering is real. Very real.
2. My kids rely far too much on it.

As any respectable engineer would do, I adjusted based on the result. This past holiday season, my children unwrapped chemistry sets, architect sets, books, and because we can’t stop cold turkey, a little technology.

So, did they get their iPads and video games back? Of course. But not until I made them sit through several updates that we had been procrastinating doing.

And, did the long wait during the updates frustrate them and impact their user experience? Yep.

Hm... if only there were people to do something about that.


About The Author

Dawn Keller’s picture

Dawn Keller

Dawn Keller is the quality assurance department manager at Minitab. Her background is in quality and reliability engineering. Keller worked in the manufacturing sector for more than a decade before joining Minitab and the software development industry.



my experience as well

Thank you for this article. I've had a similar experience with my oldest son when he was in Kindergarten. Of couse, having all boys, everything ends up being about launching things and explosions!