Nerd Guru

Because technical people need good soft skills to get ahead.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Why I Have a Love/Hate Relationships with Engineers

Devon J. Carlson is the author of the job and career advice blog Ask the CareerCounselor.

When Pete first asked me to write a post on things engineers do that irritate non-engineers, I had to spend some time thinking back to my earliest working days. My first ‘real’ job was while I was still in college. During my four years spent studying anthropology (the anti-engineering field), I had the fortune (or misfortune…) of spending almost 40 hours per week working with all shapes and sizes of budding and overly enthusiastic engineers. As a member of a large on-campus emergency medical services provider, I spent many a night crammed in the back of an ambulance with what can only be described as a strange hybrid of academia: a highly trained emergency medical technician that was extremely well versed in the engineering field.

As with many volunteer and charity efforts, our EMS organization garnered the participation of all sorts of students. I spent time with all sorts of engineering types: agricultural, biomedical, civil, electrical, environmental, ocean, systems, chemical, architectural, and even geological. So, with these strange experiences behind me, here is a distillation of the many traits that I find frustrating (and strangely heart-warming) about engineers.

Engineers are single-minded. Engineers won’t spend one more minute of their time than they have to dealing with issues or problems they feel don’t matter. They can work on a pet project for hours on end, but when you bring up a project that doesn’t necessarily serve their own desires, they suddenly become bored and sullen. Regardless of how important a particular subject may be to a colleague, engineers won’t work on something unless you’ve scientifically convinced them it’s broken. In addition, engineers seem to be disturbingly efficient at managing their time; after you’ve struggled with something for hours, someone with an ‘engineering mind’ can fix whatever it is almost immediately.

Engineers are uptight. You know you’re an engineer if…you freak out when someone in your office doesn’t back up their hard drive every two weeks. Engineers notice minute details we outsiders miss. We don’t keep up with the inaccuracies in movies or the efficiency of the communal coffee maker. We don’t stress over the latest computer viruses that may be lurking in our inbox, or worry that our server is slow because it’s been inundated by hackers.

Engineers are nerds. No matter how many times their stylish spouse takes them shopping, they still won’t let go of that Star Trek shirt they wear every Friday. They’re always a bit awkward at social functions, and we non-engineers struggle to connect socially with them through any other form of communication than email. Most annoyingly, engineers always wear enormous wrist watches that make other people wonder if it’s a new type of alcohol monitoring device.

Paradoxically, engineers are mindless. Engineers often ignore great ideas that don’t immediately make sense to them. They tend to consider their own opinions and prejudices too quickly, often skipping over the viewpoints of their non-engineer co-workers. They reject new ideas quickly because faults are often the first thing they see. They love to learn about their chosen subject, but struggle to find value in other areas of business.

We love them anyway. Perhaps the most perplexing trait about the engineering breed is that most of their colleagues love them anyway. We appreciate their speed and agility on the dreadful office CAD software, and we find more often than not that an engineer’s ideas have a great deal of merit. Occasionally, we’re even surprised when that impending technological trap they’ve been warning us about comes to pass. Engineers keep us on our toes and remind us of other perspective when we need it most. In spite of their often extreme personalities, all of us non-engineers out there need to remember that engineers really are what makes the world turn.

Devon J. Carlson is the author of Ask the CareerCounselor, a blog dedicated to helping workers and job seekers navigate the career landscape by answering reader-submitted questions on a daily basis. Devon provides practical and unapologetic advice on jobs, success, happiness, and everything career-oriented.


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posted by Pete Johnson @ 9:37 AM   2 comments


At 12:52 PM, Blogger monollave said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 12:54 PM, Anonymous Esmit Pérez C. said...

That description is nothing like me! ;)

Haha, I identify fully with the not constantly worrying about viruses and noticing minute details on stuff no one else seems to care about.


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