When you think of the word “engineer” what typically comes to mind?
It’s probably some antisocial stubborn introvert that stays tied to his desk and hates people, right?
I’ll be the first to tell you how unbelievably inaccurate that stereotype really is.
The idea that all engineers like to do is lock themselves in their office and churn out ideas and solutions with as little human contact as possible is silly when you think about it. No one single person can possibly have ALL of the ideas. One person may be much better at keeping track of minute details that many would miss, and another person may be good at keeping the big picture in mind. Of course there are people in between as well. You may be really good at analog design, but your buddy is a digital guru, and you’re working on a mixed signal device such as a data converter. You have designers that are masters of layout of silicon and designers that are masters of layout for evaluation boards. The more I learn about my position, the more I realize it takes an army to get a product out the door, and no one person could possibly do it all on their own.
To do all of this we have to actually talk to other people and collaborate (gasp!) and in a global company like Analog Devices, you have to be wary of cultural differences across borders as well. At least a handful of us need to be bubbly to help get a project done by inspiring collaboration and talking to people. But at the same time, a handful of us have to be the ones that sit glued to our desk hammering out ideas. And still others have to be able to orchestrate it all without missing a beat. You have the detail-oriented people and the big picture people. If you really look at it, we need all kinds of people to be engineers in order to get a big project done. Come to think of it, I’ve only met one person in the last 5 years that actually fit the engineer stereotype in its entirety. One out of thousands…pretty slim!
"We dare to try the things
most others would only dream of."
I think it’s time we rewrite the stereotype. We are engineers - we invent the future, we're creative, we think outside the box, we dare to try the things most others would only dream of. We are men and women from all different backgrounds across the globe working together hoping to change the world. It takes more than a group of antisocial introverts to make a change that big!
At ADI, we say we're "ahead of what's possible" and I think that's a much better stereotype for engineers. I'm excited to find out what this phrase means to each individual engineer I meet in my career. I think if everyone had this sort of "look to the future" attitude we can do some amazing things - and I've got a good feeling so far that everyone here has that childlike enthusiasm for what we do and how we are reshaping the vision of the future.
What are YOU doing to challenge the engineer stereotype? Let me know in the comments below! I’ll highlight some of the best responses in the next post.
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There are some characteristics that are common to good engineers. A non exhaustive list includes :
- ability to learn huge amounts of information in a short period of time
- *very* detail oriented for the things that need it
- usually holds multiple opinions on a subject, some of them mutually exclusive at the same time
- is curious
- is quite willing to share information (asked for or not :^)
- reads both technical and non-technical subjects
Of course, these are not exclusive to engineers. I *do* think they are common to all types of nerds (and I include the medical field and all other technical fields).
I am a west coast nerd. (There seems to be differences between east and west coast nerds, but they are too subtle for this discussion.) I have asked roughly 100 of the nerds I know in the Bay Area how close they are to the profile in Appendix B. A Portrait of J. Random Hacker - and everyone fit 98% or better. (I used to take my son with me to science fiction conventions when he was young. We would play a game "Spot the Nerd". It is remarkable the number of us who mark ourselves via t-shirts..) (I recommend reading the Hacker Dictionary links on that page. How about a game of scrabble with that dictionary - how often do you get to use "FORTRAN" in scrabble?)
A simple culture example: On the west coast (and I assume on the east coast), you are assumed to know how to use chopsticks. And yes, I started my son on chopsticks at age 2 (and how to solder). He was *doomed* to be a nerd.
While at a dinner party with a group of CPAs (Certified Public Accountants) a while back, the conversation among several of them drifted into what they thought of other professions. Keep in mind, this was a private conversation and their normal inhibitions were weakened by several glasses of wine. As they moved through each profession, the common theme was, "they think that they know everything!" One them stopped the focus on this topic as one of them talked about Doctors, then Engineers...
Person #1, "Doctors think they know everything...."
Person #2, "Yeah, engineers think they know everything too!"
Person #1, "Well, they do."
Person #2, "Yeah, I guess they do."
While I thought that was funny (and never shared that I was an engineer), I didn't agree with the stereotype. I don't think that I know everything and most of the engineers that I have worked with realize more about what the do not know (and are trying to learn) than spend time bragging about what they do know.
When we get right down to it, stereotypes tend to break down with time and experience. After all, we engineers are people too and have a lot more common with other professions than we all may realize.