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Whining Enineers

Reading the "Complaining Programmers" thread, I thought it would be something more interesting that yet another union/H1B splatter (BTW, screw that).

More interesting is "Whining Engineers" when it comes to technical problems and general demeanor.  I worked with a really great guy that just complained constantly.  The schedule was too tight, not enough resources, this will never work, so and so is screwing this up...  But the guy was meticulous.  His stuff always worked and was ready on time and complete.  If you could ingnore the pain in the rear whining, he was great to work with.

Reading the WSJ this evening, I came across this article on Sony, which quoted:
TOKYO -- Shizuo Takashino knows how to handle whining engineers.

In 1994, when his staff told him there was no way to shrink Sony Corp.'s new video camera, he challenged them to dunk it in a bucket of water. If bubbles come out, there's still room to trim, said Mr. Takashino, who at the time oversaw Sony's audio-visual equipment business. Nettled, the engineers went on to create a camcorder the length and width of a Japanese passport, and sales exploded.

That's the spunk Mr. Takashino, now 60 years old and executive deputy president, is charged with recapturing as Sony struggles to rejuvenate an electronics business dogged by weak sales, sagging profit margins and a shortage of hit products.

I thought it would be pretty inspriing to work for someone like that.  A balls to the wall nut-case with great ideas and challenges.  Get shake 'em up, Mister Takashino, howevver you say that...

the drizzle on the road
Friday, September 12, 2003

Engineers contain the seeds of their own destruction. Most of us suffer from the "brightest student in class" syndrome and we go through life continually needing to do the very hardest thing to prove to ourselves and to everyone else that we still "have it." Our perfectionism makes us demand the best from everything and everyone else, just as we try to make our own work product perfect. Even though our employers "love" our product, absolutely everyone who works around us in a professional capacity generally hates us for our obsessive tendencies.

Most engineers who love their talent and the work are also incredibly naive and are susceptible to manipulation by flattery or by unrealistic challenge. 

So, engineers, by their very nature - the perfectionism, the naivete, and the work ethic - burn themselves out.

There's a famous sign on a bridge in Trenton, NJ - the famous "Trenton Makes - The World Takes". When I saw it for the first time it made me think simply - "weary bitterness". Well, you could replace "Trenton" with "Engineers" and you'd have the truth ...incorrect grammar aside...

Bored Bystander
Friday, September 12, 2003

I've seen that sign, many years ago when it took me 4 days to hitch hike from Saginaw... anyway, yeah the Trenton sign.  Man, that's a parable wrapped up in itself.  Weary worn out industrialism run amock -- bitter, like a 50 year old DB admin mulling over his pension.  Ouch.

The perverse opposite of the Mellencamp song "Minutes to Memories": "I worked my whole life in the steel mills near Gary, like my father before me I helped build this land, ... you are young and you are the future, so suck it up and tough it out, be the best you can".

In both cases old people giving advice, one full of challenge and hope, the other bitter and despair.

the drizzle on the road
Friday, September 12, 2003

Engineers are obsessive, but I have no problem with that.  In fact, I'm grateful for it every time I drive over a bridge or take a plane flight.

What does trouble me, though, is the tendency for engineers to think they're being tough and realistic when in fact they're just being rude.  We're not good with people, folks, and we need to get better.  I realize that most of the motivation for moving engineering jobs overseas is financial.  But when a company tells you, in effect, that they'd just as soon deal with someone half a world away as with you, you start to wonder whether the way you deal with people is a plus or a minus.

Hardware Guy
Friday, September 12, 2003

An analysis:

That "rudeness" comes about because the obsessive engineering mind wants issues stated precisely, it wants to fix all problems, and the engineering mind wants total comprehension in all bystanders. We want to be understood and we want everyone to understand everything that we do.

When we do our job - being precise, stating facts, and fixing problems - and get handwaved off patronizingly as being anal and irritating - the more "confident" among us raise the volume level and stridency.

I hear you, but the way you're stating the problem it sounds like the common unilateral blame of antisocial engineers.

I hold that we "get" that way for a reason. IE: the happy-face marketing driven soft sell culture of denying problems is absolutely maddening to the poor haggard bastard who actually gets charged with fixing those problems that everyone else flippantly denies. Or, we just don't like to produce a piece of shit, even though we're being told that it's not our job to make it "perfect".

It sounds like I'm doing more stereotypical engineering whining :-) but I'm simply stating the most common interaction pattern between engineers and normal people that I've observed for 20+ years.

Bored Bystander
Friday, September 12, 2003

"What does trouble me, though, is the tendency for engineers to think they're being tough and realistic when in fact they're just being rude."

Uhh. I have one project where management reduced the 9 week timeframe to 3.5. Right now I have problems with this, but maybe I'm unrealistic because in the last 8 years non of these type of projects was finished on deadline, or the client rejected because of quality issues.

I'm unrealistic because I'm not ready to work 16hours/7 days to make this project.

I'm unrealistic because when I say we should reduce the scope I get the following "this is an important client and we need to do it anyway".

I'm unrealistic because when I ask on the more-or-less exact scope I get "we cannot manage this client, so anything comes in we must do it".

I'm unrealistic because I believe that there are different places (not wonderland, but better than average).

Friday, September 12, 2003

I don't know what to say, I love these guys (but only if they're good at their job), and respect them whatever job they find themselves doing.  Like neiklot (Arthur Decker) at Amazon:

1 out of 5: "He was not time efficient in delivering the textbook and was very rude."
Date: 05/18/2003    Rated by Buyer: princesskarla02
"RE: princesskarla02-I CANCELED THIS ORDER- this moron does NOT read her e-mails!"
Date: 05/18/2003    Rated by: neiklot

1 out of 5: "Very bad communication -Choose a better guy to buy from."
Date: 05/14/2003    Rated by Buyer: bal_balaji
"RE: bal_balaji-I do NOT sell books to people who DON'T understand ENGLISH!!"
Date: 05/15/2003    Rated by: neiklot

3 out of 5: "the service was o k, I had to wait acouple of weeks."
Date: 04/23/2003    Rated by Buyer: willgo35
"RE: willgo35-this buyer is a LIAR/JERK-as his CD was delivered within 7 days!!!!"
Date: 04/24/2003    Rated by: neiklot

Maybe he's a crazy guy from Georgia, but he was really nice to me in our emails.

There was another case of this car mechanic I met in the midwest, this really professional guy who people paid for PREVENTATIVE maintenance.  They'd come from other states, especially women, because he was unfailingly honest.  He once hit my friend on the back of his head playfully with some rolled up paper, because my (smart) friend did something dumb like starting up a finicky envirocar too quickly or something.

People just don't know how grumpy some good people can get.  A really effective salesman in the car industry just wouldn't shut up about work when we talked at the bar.  Yesterday, I downloaded some Casey Kasem recordings, of him swearing at all the stupid things he has to read on the radio.  Sometimes when you become your work, it starts using your emotions.

I'm sure the little guy running around inside my processor has a lot of rants about the algorithms in the software I run...

Tayssir John Gabbour
Friday, September 12, 2003

I think there was a thread on here a year ago or so about "Chronic Complainers," where someone was kind enough to point out that there are different kinds of complaints.  Some are justified, some are not, and some fall in a middle ground where a large number of them just seems excessive.

This thread is about the latter two categories, particularly the final one.  There's a big difference between someone who complains because they're being asked to do something that's literally impossible, and someone who complains about almost everything they're asked to do and almost every aspect of their job.

Part of the problem, I think, comes from engineers who don't respect others.  Have you ever met an engineer whose every problem with their PC was caused by "those #*$% Microsoft programmers"?  Someone who never has a kind word for marketing?

That's the sort of thing that frustrates me.

The Pedant, Brent P. Newhall
Friday, September 12, 2003

The light that burns twice as bright, burns half as long.

Friday, September 12, 2003

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