Wednesday, March 01, 2006
Engineers: Cool or Uncool?
A lot of the time, people don't think engineers or scientists are cool. Are they right or are they wrong? Here's one take on this incredibly important question.
1. When most people think "engineer" or "scientist" (Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking, Thomas Edison, etc) the first thing that comes to mind is NOT cool or sexy or handsome or heroic. Engineers know this and that bothers some of them. I think this is why engineers as a group dig Star Trek. It's a small wonder, since the only place on television with heroic engineers is the starship Enterprise. And even better, its the one place in the universe where they occasionally get to have sex, although it’s typically alien sex. (This could be good or bad, depending.) All in all, life aboard a starship is much more glamorous than the real life of most engineers, which consists of living like salaried prairie dogs, in fabric covered cubicles, deep in suburban office plantations, dreaming of alien sex.
2. It appears GQ and Details Magazine spend little time courting the engineer reader. Trendy clothing is not a priority for an engineer. In fact, if the bridges of their eyeglasses stay taped together okay, and nothing embarrassing such as privates or nipples are are swinging about, then their sartorial objectives have been satisfied. To most, anything else is overkill.
3. When something funny happens, instead of manly, hearty laughs, a lot of engineers tend to smirk. Sometimes, it’s worse than that, far worse - they giggle. This is very unfortunate and the less said, the better.
4. Extreme tinkerers, to a person, share a love for special purpose buildings and vehicles. Ask one what they’d like more than anything else in the world and nine out of ten will say “a 20’ x 30’ heated workshop out in the back with oversized doors and 200 amp, 480 volt electrical service.” Besides the workshop, all extreme tinkers covet a trailer large enough to transport their hobby all over the country.
5. In a broad brush description such as this, I'd say that engineers are a pretty frugal group. Now, do not misunderstand, no one is saying that they are cheapskates. Frugal behavior is not attributable to a miserly disposition or to simple penny pinching avarice. It is really much more about looking at every spending situation as opportunity to substitute knowledge for cash, a tradeoff that most engineers would make in a heartbeat. Moreover, when the conditions are right (like when building something really, really cool), all thoughts of economy are vacated. A different engineering trait kicks in and the sky’s the limit. Which brings me to the last trait.
6. In their own weird way, I think we have very large egos. Two things are important to the people who tinker on large, involved projects: The first is how smart they feel they are, especially when comparing themselves to other people. The second thing is how many cool things they can make. Your pocket protected, handbook carrying, soldering-gun-at-the ready tinkerer cannot walk away from the challenge of making something really new and unique until it is met head on and conquered. If it's a really, really tough problem, it’s like watching the police dogs on "Cops" go after a shirtless car thief - they are just relentless. They clamp on to tough problems like grim death -- to them, it’s a titanic struggle between their will and the laws of physics. It's been said that engineers will go without food and hygiene for days when they’re working on a project. (At least that’s the excuse they use.) And when they succeed in building something really, really cool, they will experience an ego rush that is better than sex - well, alien sex in a weightless environment notwithstanding.