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Great Places to be an Engineer

So, what countries are good places to be an engineer? in a recent thread, it was mentioned that engineering powerhouses are Sweden and Germany. The reason why Sweden is a powerhouse of excellent engineering prowess is because all employees, by law, own their products. Ownership and employee buy in are frequently noted as being cornerstones to project management success in the US -- in Sweden these rights are codified by law, as is explained in this comment about teh recent apple stealing their employees shareware products thread:

>Sweden rocks! (Score:3, Interesting)
>As an employee at a swedish university, I appreciate the swedish laws on the subject:
>I own the copyright on everything, even the stuff I do at work.
>I even own the patent rights if I invent anything, even if I did it within a government funded university project.

http://makeashorterlink.com/?R15425496

i think it's pretty clear that employees working in such a situation are going to take more pride in their work, go the extra mile, and take risks that would not be taken by employees who are castsrated in what they can do, such as in the current situation at Apple. (In the old days when employees were considered part of the team, Apple did some great engineering.)

What other countries or states are good places to work where high quality engineering is valued?

Ya ya!
Tuesday, November 18, 2003

I think this sort of creativity lived at Bell Labs and Xerox Parc to name a few before employees became disposable. Obviously not the laws, but rather the inclination and risk taking.

m
Tuesday, November 18, 2003

That's a great point. Do you think part of their success was because they had a lot of unstructured slack time? For example, Unix and C were designed by employees who didn't have any assignments after the big Multics project failed.

Ya ya!
Tuesday, November 18, 2003

I'm sure there are great places everywhere. It's about the company. I'm currently too busy, but I did wish I had an hour a day to work on things, anything I wanted, not just to slack off, but to give more time for OSS projects for example, or writing apps that help me in my job.

fw
Wednesday, November 19, 2003

There are exactly two philosophies on managing engineers, programmers, and other non-classically creative types.

1) Pick the very best. Give them slack and room to grow. Allow them to flourish like seeds planted in a garden.  (The *old* pre-1990 HP and Bell Labs philosophies.)

2) Assume that creative techies will wander all over the place and waste money, time and opportunity. Breath fire up their asses to impress upon them the urgency of making use of every waking second they are working for you. Centralize all creative functions, and disallow anyone but "blessed" people from being allowed to implement their own ideas. Prohibit all unauthorized efforts. In fact, everything is unauthorized unless specifically allowed.

Actually, each has its merits and each has its drawbacks.

When I got out of engineering school, I first worked for companies like (1).  I was *SUBLIMELY* unappreciative of the trust that they placed in me! I truly didn't deserve working in this kind of environment.

In later years, as I developed a better work ethic and sense of business realities, I am finding that the only choices for programming or technical jobs tend to be shitty, backward little sweatshops in the (2) mold.

It's a pretty elusive balance. How do you permit the sort of creativity that fosters innovation, while not incurring bloated overhead?

I don't think it's possible, at least with globalization forces in the mix. In the 70s and 80s an HP could "be" an HP and could sell extremely high priced test equipment that subsidized a leisure class of programmers and engineers from good schools. Today, they are forced into selling the same crappy white box computers everyone else sells, everything physical is commoditized.

Bored Bystander
Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Would you agree that approach #2 has a much lower probability of producing products that people actually want, or do you think that both approaches have the same chance of creating products to base a business on.

Ya ya!
Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Huh, good question.... Well, the problem with #2 is that it drives out innovative people. The only people left to work in a #2 type place are drudges.  However, there are precious few (probably no) #1 companies left.

I submit that we've been seeing a vast slowdown of innovation in IT and software technology because there's no slack in anyone's budget. Where's the next Unix, the next Apple? They will either have to be completely self funded or open source is my guess. 

So the sort of person who could innovate today would probably start their own company, knowing that they will be stifled and miserable in almost anyone else's company. 

I don't think I've worked with a truly creative person who was someone's employee who wasn't utterly miserable for the last 15 years, at least.

Bored Bystander
Wednesday, November 19, 2003

OK, well now this is getting interesting. I do think that the next big thing will not come out of some overworked hasseled sweatshop with unappreciated employees, and I also agree that this sort of operation is way more common now in the US (maybe elsewhere as well) than it was before.

That said, and considering that operating expenses for a - say - software, or even biotech startup are at historical lows, would it be more likely for a offshore startup (startup owned by the guys doing the work, not some sweatshop owned by someone else) to have the low living expenses and such to do the next big thing? Maybe some guy in India, having saved up $40,000 or so that enables him to live comfortably and take off 10 yrs from the corporate world, will spend that time building a killer app that takes the world by storm. Maybe now that the US has no time for slack or creativity, the advantage will go to whoever does have that slack time to experiment and get things right and see the big picture?

Jus thinking aloud here. It would be interesting if our current 'ethic' of overwork and disrespect for the employees would be our undoing.

ya ya!
Wednesday, November 19, 2003

>> It would be interesting if our current 'ethic' of overwork and disrespect for the employees would be our undoing.

I absolutely believe that it will be, and in fact, is proceeding apace.

The HR/big business wet dream and mantra says that: people are commodities; HR's job is to see that the commodities coming in are treated as commodities at all times; and, creativity and genius are "problems" and not opportunities. "High maintenance" is a dirty word. Respect for techie creativity is unknown. All that counts today is money, power, image, and connections.

This the economic climate in the US - treat anyone who is capable of creation or independent thought, who does not happen to be a lawyer or an entertainer, with absolute contempt.  I sometimes feel like an idiot because I actually make something tangible as a career choice.

I think our country, over the long haul, is f*cked.

Bored Bystander
Wednesday, November 19, 2003

"The HR/big business wet dream and mantra says that: people are commodities; HR's job is to see that the commodities coming in are treated as commodities at all times; and, creativity and genius are "problems" and not opportunities. "High maintenance" is a dirty word. Respect for techie creativity is unknown. All that counts today is money, power, image, and connections. "


Bored, I think your problem (which seems to be a common problem with posters to this board) is that you are viewing this "current" dilemna in industry through the lens of an employee. I don't believe that big businesses, or even small businesses have ever truly been looking for creative genius employees. They are looking for reliable people who will do the job. "High Maintenance" IS a dirty word when it comes to employees. The FOUNDERS of the company are the ones who get to be high maintenance creative geniuses. The people they hire are just supposed to do their jobs. Now their jobs might include some modicum of creativity, but if you are working for a company, you have to be creative within the constraints of what the company is trying to accomplish.

Respect for techie creativity is not unknown, I work for the friggin PHONE COMPANY and the CEO of my division is always calling upon the engineers in my group to try to present him with some interesting ideas. Also, if you are truly creative enough to come up with something good, you probably don't want to work for a big company anyway, because you could get a lot more riches and respect by building out your idea into a company on your own. I've come up with a couple good ideas and I will be leaving my position as soon as I have saved up enough capital to have time to flesh them out (about 18 months into the future).

I don't think that the downfall of the USA economy will happen because HR doesn't recognize that they need to hire more high maintenance genius visionaries. The downfall of the USA economy will happen if the high maintenance genius visionaries continue to lack the cojones to start up their own businesses based on their great ideas.

And lastly, money, power, prestige, image, and connections have always counted for a lot since the beginning of human civilization. I don't think that is anything new.

sven
Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Sven,

I think I established that I abused the system in a "country club" style employer early in my career, and I agree that a country club style isn't the only way to run an innovative company. I think I am seeing both ends of the picture...

The oxymoron to managing creativity is this: if the management thinks it can anticipate and generate all innovation, then I submit that innovation won't exist in a meaningful way in that company because innovation happens at the level of the doer, not the manager... Does an artist work by dictation? Or a writer?

>> Respect for techie creativity is not unknown, I work for the friggin PHONE COMPANY and the CEO of my division is always calling upon the engineers in my group to try to present him with some interesting ideas.

That kind of interaction is truly unusual. I've worked in many quite small companies in which the owner literally doesn't want to hear what his techies think and sabotages any communication that may occur.

>> Also, if you are truly creative enough to come up with something good, you probably don't want to work for a big company anyway, because you could get a lot more riches and respect by building out your idea into a company on your own.

What about the "feeder" role  that benevolent large companies played in the recent past? Most developers and engineers need a *little* structure and training by example, just to understand how the development process can work.

Downsizing, outsourcing, and extra-lean staffing practices basically prevent anyone from being mentored properly.

I agree that anyone really brilliant will top out quickly in any job. What I don't agree with is that the loss of the "benevolent large company development job" is irrelevant.

Bored Bystander
Thursday, November 20, 2003

Your point on feeder corporations is an important one.
Currently Microsoft is the only US company I know of that intentionally acts as a feeder to the industry in general, realizing that the engineer-owned start-up (like Joel's, for example, but there are scores of others) grows the *market*, to the benefit of all.

At Microsoft, employee contracts specifically note that ANYTHING the employee does in his own time on his own equipment, *belongs to him.* This legal clause makes Microsoft not just one of the best places to work, but also ensures that they can attract the most creative self-starters available in the employment market.

Sweden is a small country with not much to distinguish itself that would specifically suggest that they are a grand engineering culture. But they do have embedded in LAW the same clause that Microsoft has, and even go further with it. Being a creative engineer is a pleasure in Sweden, as it is at Microsoft. Both Microsoft and Sweden (which has the greater GNP?) have reaped the rewards of their position regarding IP freedom for its creator. These sort of environments are the most outrageously profitable for everyone. Environments like Sven is advocating, on the other hand, are not as well know for producing the massive products possible by creating products that people want and find useful and well made.

Ya ya!
Thursday, November 20, 2003

massive profits possible

Ya ya!
Thursday, November 20, 2003

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