People who work in the fields of science and technology are not like
other people. This can be frustrating to the nontechnical people who
have to deal with them. The secret to coping with technology-oriented
people is to understand their motivations. This chapter will teach
you everything you need to know. I learned their customs and
mannerisms by observing them, much the way Jane Goodall learned about
the great apes, but without the hassle of grooming.
Engineering is so trendy these days that everybody wants to be
one. The word "engineer" is greatly overused. If there's somebody in
your life who you think is trying to pass as an engineer, give him
this test to discern the truth.
Engineer Identification Test
You walk into a room and notice that a picture is hanging crooked. You...
A. Straighten it.
B. Ignore it.
C. Buy a CAD system and spend the next six months
designing a solar-powered, self-adjusting picture frame while often
stating aloud your belief that the inventor of the nail was a total
The correct answer is "C" but partial credit can be given to
anybody who writes "It depends" in the margin of the test or simply
blames the whole stupid thing on "Marketing."
Engineers have different objectives when it comes to social interaction.
"Normal" people expect to accomplish several unrealistic things
from social interaction:
In contrast to "normal" people, engineers have rational objectives for
- Stimulating and thought-provoking conversation
- Important social contacts
- A feeling of connectedness with other humans
- Get it over with as soon as possible.
- Avoid getting invited to something unpleasant.
- Demonstrate mental superiority and mastery of all subjects.
Fascination With Gadgets
To the engineer, all matter in the universe can be placed into one of
two categories: (1)things that need to be fixed, and (2)things that
will need to be fixed after you've had a few minutes to play with
Engineers like to solve problems. If there are no problems
handily available, they will create their own problems. Normal people
don't understand this concept; they believe that if it ain't broke,
don't fix it. Engineers believe that if it ain't broke, it doesn't
have enough features yet.
No engineer looks at a television remote control without wondering
what it would take to turn it into a stun gun. No engineer can take a
shower without wondering if some sort of Teflon coating would make
showering unnecessary. To the engineer, the world is a toy box full of
sub-optimized and feature-poor toys.
Fashion And Appearance
Clothes are the lowest priority for an engineer, assuming the basic
thresholds for temperature and decency have been satisfied. If no
appendages are freezing or sticking together, and if no genitalia or
mammary glands are swinging around in plain view, then the objective
of clothing has been met. Anything else is a waste.
Love Of "Star Trek"
Engineers love all of the "Star Trek" television shows and movies. It's a
small wonder, since the engineers on the starship Enterprise are portrayed
as heroes, occasionally even having sex with aliens. This is much more
glamorous than the real life of an engineer, which consists of hiding from
the universe and having sex without the participation of other life forms.
Dating And Social Life
Dating is never easy for engineers. A normal person will employ
various indirect and duplicitous methods to create a false impression
of attractiveness. Engineers are incapable of placing appearance above
Fortunately, engineers have an ace in the hole. They are widely
recognized as superior marriage material: intelligent, dependable,
employed, honest, and handy around the house. While it's true that
many normal people would prefer not to date an engineer, most normal
people harbor an intense desire to mate with them, thus producing
engineer-like children who will have high-paying jobs long before
losing their virginity.
Male engineers reach their peak of sexual attractiveness later
than normal men, becoming irresistible erotic dynamos in their mid
thirties to late forties. Just look at these examples of sexually
irresistible men in technical professions:
Female engineers become irresistible at the age of consent and remain
that way until about thirty minutes after their clinical death.
Longer if it's a warm day.
- Bill Gates.
Engineers are always honest in matters of technology and human
relationships. That's why it's a good idea to keep engineers away from
customers, romantic interests, and other people who can't handle the
Engineers sometimes bend the truth to avoid work. They say things
that sound like lies but technically are not because nobody could be
expected to believe them. The complete list of engineer lies is listed
- "I won't change anything without asking you first."
- "I'll return your hard-to-find cable tomorrow."
- "I have to have new equipment to do my job."
- "I'm not jealous of your new computer."
Engineers are notoriously frugal. This is not because of cheapness or
mean spirit; it is simply because every spending situation is simply a
problem in optimization, that is, "How can I escape this situation
while retaining the greatest amount of cash?"
Powers Of Concentration
If there is one trait that best defines an engineer it is the ability
to concentrate on one subject to the complete exclusion of everything
else in the environment. This sometimes causes engineers to be
pronounced dead prematurely. Some funeral homes in high-tech areas
have started checking resumes before processing the bodies. Anybody
with a degree in electrical engineering or experience in computer
programming is propped up in the lounge for a few days just to see if
he or she snaps out of it.
Engineers hate risk. They try to eliminate it whenever they can. This is
understandable, given that when an engineer makes one little mistake, the
media will treat it like it's a big deal or something.
Examples Of Bad Press For Engineers
The risk/reward calculation for engineers looks something like this:
- Space Shuttle Challenger.
- Hubble space telescope.
- Apollo 13.
- Ford Pinto.
Risk: Public humiliation and the death of thousands of
Reward: A certificate of appreciation in a handsome plastic
Being practical people, engineers evaluate this balance of risks
and rewards and decide that risk is not a good thing. The best way to
avoid risk is by advising that any activity is technically impossible
for reasons that are far too complicated to explain.
If that approach is not sufficient to halt a project, then the
engineer will fall back to a second line of defense: "It's technically
possible but it will cost too much."
Ego-wise, two things are important to engineers:
The fastest way to get an engineer to solve a problem is to declare
that the problem is unsolvable. No engineer can walk away from an
unsolvable problem until it's solved. No illness or distraction is
sufficient to get the engineer off the case. These types of
challenges quickly become personal -- a battle between the engineer
and the laws of nature.
- How smart they are.
- How many cool devices they own.
Engineers will go without food and hygiene for days to solve a
(Other times just because they forgot.) And when they succeed in
solving the problem they will experience an ego rush that is better
than sex--and I'm including the kind of sex where other people are
Nothing is more threatening to the engineer than the suggestion
that somebody has more technical skill. Normal people sometimes use
that knowledge as a lever to extract more work from the engineer.
When an engineer says that something can't be done (a code phrase that
means it's not fun to do), some clever normal people have learned to
glance at the engineer with a look of compassion and pity and say
something along these lines: "I'll ask Bob to figure it out. He knows
how to solve difficult technical problems."
At that point it is a good idea for the normal person to not stand
between the engineer and the problem. The engineer will set upon the
problem like a starved Chihuahua on a pork chop.
The Politically Incorrect Collection