One of the first Systems Engineers was an early twentieth century Russian named Peter Palchinsky. He resolutely advocated that engineers be responsible for the big picture. Contrary to the Russian engineers' traditional role of solving the technical problems presented to them by higher authorities, Palchinsky wrote in 1926 that engineers should provide active economic and industrial planning, suggesting where economic development should occur and what form it should take. For example, he thought that engineers asked to design a large hydroelectric dam on a certain river should ask:
Answering such questions depends on analyzing local factors and evaluating the economic, social and environmental effects of each. In 1929 Peter Palchinsky was executed for his views on engineering. Afterwards, the education of Russian engineers became very narrow.
In 1960, outside Moscow, Loren Graham met a young Russian engineer. "What kind of an engineer are you?" he asked. "A ball-bearing engineer for paper mills," she replied. He responded, "Oh, you must be a mechanical engineer." "No," she rejoined, "I am a ball-bearing engineer for paper mills." Incredulously he countered, "Surely you do not have a degree in ball-bearings for paper mills." She assured him that she did indeed have such a degree.
The rulers of the USSR also had narrow educational backgrounds. Between 1956 and 1986, the percentage of Politburo members with degrees in technical areas rose from 59 to 89 percent. Graham suggests that this narrowness of education had a lot to do with the disintegration of the USSR.