There are two types of engineering directions if we take a broad stroke view: forward and reverse. Forward engineering might look like engineering a new product from a simple idea from scratch. Reverse engineering would look like the opposite: start with something that already works and take it apart to figure out how it was made. Both disciplines are effective means of building a new product or discovering a new concept.
A great example of the effectiveness of reverse engineering happened in the mid 1880′s to Charles Darwin, author of the Origin of the Species. Darwin spent a great deal of time in the Pacific ocean trying to solve a mystery. It was commonly believed that all islands were volcanically formed and rose out of the sea in an eruption. But standing on a South Pacific atoll, Darwin wondered how it was that all the atoll islands he visited managed to be just a few feet above sea level, when he knew that over the years, sea levels had risen and fallen.
He began to reverse engineer how that might happen as the level of coincidence of these island atolls all being the same elevation seemed unlikely, especially because of the unpredictable nature of a volcanic event. Volcanic islands like Hawaii varied dramatically in height. Not so for the island atolls, scattered over thousands of miles of ocean. They were all identical in height. Of course we now know that the islands were actually made from the remains of small creatures called corals and when the seas rose, they simply built onto their existing structures to rise up high enough to meet their needs for the energy from the sun. Darwin shocked the world when he figured this out. He simply reasoned there must be something else going on and started looking on a microscopic level. It was then easy to see what was not obvious to anyone else.
The project we’ve been working on is somewhat similar in that we backed into a problem with digital audio we didn’t know existed. Starting with the solution, we began to question what we were hearing. And then reverse engineered the answer to what was going on. Had we not started with the solution, we would never had known to look and figure out what’s going on.