The Engineering Mindset

10 Nov

Today is my three year work anniversary.  I work with a lot of engineers.  And I worked with a lot of engineers at my previous jobs.  And I grew up around a lot of engineers.

Which is probably why I found myself discussing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs with an engineer this morning.

He wasn’t sure about all that self-actualization crap. In fact, he wasn’t too sure about needing anything much.  So I told him I’d give him a random collection of items and he could decide if they fit on the pyramid and where they fit.  The list was:  math, acronyms, pocket protectors, gadgets, beer, free food, duct tape, xkcd comics, science fiction and the verb “fix”. He sputtered out “well, all of those (except maybe the pocket protectors) is an essential need!”  Engineers may not be self-actualized or even believe in the concept (I don’t) but they do have a very distinct criteria of needs!

My engineering coworker, upon hearing this story, immediately retorted with: You forgot about PowerPoint!

Wow.  The truth slapped me in the face.  I didn’t forget about PowerPoint. I  forgot about the greatest engineering need of all – to find something gone wrong or someone saying something wrong and correct them.  Solving the problem is imperative. But searching out and revealing to everyone things that have gone wrong also has its own engineering appeal.  It’s like living in a reality puzzle.  They love it.

Which is probably why I’ve learned to relax.  When they tell me to lose weight so I can run faster, I know it is just them trying to solve a puzzle. They expect me to jump up and down in delight. And when they find that you are one teeny tiny % wrong or a decimal got put in the wrong place, they feel like they just won a trophy.  It’s surprisingly sad/amusing/impressive to watch.

And today, on my 3 year anniversary, I experienced it all.  The embarrassed new hire being told to leave our HR water stash alone.  The director of Reach the Beach catching me wearing New England Relay gear (boy, was that a confrontation!).  The measuring tape and math involved in determining where best to hang the Veterans Day bunting.  The ability to do complex math problems in their head but the inability to read the little “This copier out of paper” sign flashing on the copier screen.  The drunk engineer on his last day, nearly out the door, instructing me that my Benefits policies are wrong (they aren’t) and unfair (they aren’t) and why did I keep him waiting 2 minutes (because he was 40 minutes “late” to his exit interview because he stood outside my door yelling at someone on the phone and I had moved on to other tasks).  The engineer-friend who reminded me that I might be drenched from a lunch rain run and freezing cold and starving (because I had to hang the silly bunting before I could wash up or change or eat lunch) but “at least I had kickass shoes.”

He probably wouldn’t call them kickass shoes except that he has the same pair.

Engineers can be a pretty quick case study.  At least 99% of them 99% of the time.  It’s that 1% that keeps it interesting.  Like, you know, the engineers who suggested I listen to the Wicked soundtrack while running my marathon because it works for them.  Or the engineers that stay my friend even after they leave the company. Or the engineer who, when he tells me, “I moved out of NH 10 years ago when I went to college and haven’t lived there since. But I’m happy to relocate to Boston and be near my family. How about you?” and I respond with a verbatim “I moved out of NH 10 years ago….” looks at me, hurt, and says “Are you mocking me?”  Um, no.  We are the same age, with the exact same life story.  Except that somewhere in the past 10 years you became an engineer.  And I became the person who studies engineers.

Kinda ironic, that.


One Response to “The Engineering Mindset”

  1. Charlie Gutierrez January 16, 2014 at 11:42 am #

    Yeah, there IS something about engineers….. which is why I found this interesting page. Thanks for writing it.

    maker of things

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