Know Your Engineer

Engineers are not like other people. This can be frustrating to people who have to deal with them. The secret to coping with an engineer is to understand their motivations. I learned their customs and mannerisms by observing them, and oh by the way I am one.

You walk into a room and notice that a picture is hanging crooked. You…
A. Straighten it.
B. Ignore it.
C. Spend the next month designing a self-adjusting picture frame.

The correct answer is “C” but partial credit can be given to anybody who writes “It depends” in the margin of the test.

Engineers have different goals when it comes to social interaction.

Normal people expect to accomplish several things:
• Stimulating and thought-provoking conversation
• Important social contacts
• A feeling of connectedness with other humans

Engineers have the following objectives:
• Get it over with as soon as possible.
• Avoid getting invited to something unpleasant.
• Demonstrate mental superiority and mastery of all subjects.

To the engineer, all matter in the universe can be placed into one of two categories:
(1) Things that need to be fixed.
(2) Things that will need to be fixed after you’ve had a few minutes to play with them.

Engineers like to solve problems. If there are no problems available, they will create their own problems. Normal people believe that if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. Engineers believe that if it isn’t broke, it doesn’t have enough features yet. To the engineer, the world is a toy box full of sub-optimized and feature-poor toys.

Clothes are the lowest priority for an engineer. If no appendages are freezing and no genitalia or mammary glands are swinging around in plain view, then the objective of clothing has been met.

Engineers love Star Trek. Small wonder, since the engineers on the starship Enterprise are portrayed as heroes, occasionally even having sex with aliens. This is much more glamorous than the real life of an engineer, which consists of hiding from the universe and having sex without the participation of other life forms.

Dating is never easy for engineers. A normal person will employ various duplicitous methods to create a false impression of attractiveness. Engineers are incapable of placing appearance above function.

Fortunately, engineers have an ace in the hole. They are widely recognized as superior marriage material: intelligent, dependable, employed, honest, and handy around the house. While it’s true that many normal people would prefer not to date an engineer, most normal people harbor an intense desire to mate with them, thus producing engineer-like children who will have high-paying jobs long before losing their virginity.
• Male engineers reach their peak of sexual attractiveness later than normal men, becoming irresistible erotic dynamos in their mid thirties to late forties.
• Female engineers become irresistible at the age of consent and remain that way until about thirty minutes after their clinical death. Longer if it’s a warm day.

Engineers are always honest in matters of technology and human relationships. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep engineers away from customers, romantic interests, and other people who can’t handle the truth. Engineers sometimes bend the truth to avoid work. They say things that sound like lies but technically are not because nobody could be expected to believe them.

Engineers are notoriously frugal. This is not because of cheapness or mean spirit; it is simply because every spending situation is simply a problem in optimization, that is, “How can I escape this situation while retaining the greatest amount of cash?”

If there is one trait that best defines an engineer it is the ability to concentrate on one thing to the complete exclusion of everything else. This sometimes causes engineers to be pronounced dead prematurely.

Engineers hate risk. They try to eliminate it whenever they can. This is understandable, given that when an engineer makes one little mistake, the media will treat it like it’s a big deal or something.
• Hindenberg.
• Space Shuttle Challenger.
• Titanic.

The risk/reward calculation for engineers looks something like this:
RISK: Public humiliation and the death of thousands of innocent people
REWARD: A certificate of appreciation in a handsome plastic frame.

Being practical people, engineers evaluate this balance of risks and rewards and decide that risk is not a good thing. The best way to avoid risk is by advising that any activity is technically impossible for reasons that are far too complicated to explain.

If that approach is not sufficient to halt a project, then the engineer will fall back to a second line of defense: “It’s technically possible but it will cost too much.”

Ego-wise, two things are important to engineers:
1. How smart they are.
2. How many cool devices they own.

The fastest way to get an engineer to solve a problem is to declare that the problem is unsolvable. No engineer can walk away from an unsolvable problem until it’s solved.

Engineers will go without food and hygiene for days to solve a problem. And when they succeed in solving the problem they will experience an ego rush that is better than sex and I mean the kind of sex where other people are involved.

Nothing is more threatening than the suggestion that somebody has more technical skill. When an engineer says that something can’t be done (code for it’s not fun to do), clever people glance at the engineer and say: “I’ll ask Bob to figure it out. He knows how to solve difficult problems.”

At that point it is a good idea to not stand between the engineer and the problem.


2 Responses to “Know Your Engineer”

  1. gail Says:

    where can I get that b+w photo of the two guys with a slide rule?

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