Real Engineers
Posted by Bal Vallah on June 05, 1998 at 03:58:58:

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.


You walk into a room and notice that a picture is hanging crooked. You...

1.Straighten it.
2.Ignore it.
3.Buy a CAD system and spend the next six months designing a solar-powered,
self-adjusting picture frame.

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."

SOCIAL SKILLS - Engineers have different objectives when it comes to social interaction.
"Normal" people expect to accomplish several unrealistic things from social interaction:
stimulating and thought-provoking conversation, important social contacts, or a feeling of
connectedness with other humans. In contrast to "normal" people, engineers have rational
objectives for social interactions: get it over with as soon as possible, avoid getting
invited to something unpleasant,and demonstrate mental superiority and mastery of all

GADGET FASCINATION - To the engineer, all matter in the universe can be placed into one of
two categories: things that need to be fixed, or things that will need to be fixed after
you've had a few minutes to play with them. Engineers like to solve problems. If there are
no problems 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 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 private parts are swinging around in plain view,
then the objective of clothing has been met. Anything else is a waste.

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. By
definition, engineers are incapable of placing appearance above function. 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.

HONESTY - 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 truth. 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.

An incomplete list of engineer lies is listed below.

"I won't change anything without asking you first."
"I'll return your expensive and hard-to-find cable tomorrow."
"I have to have new equipment to do my job."
"I'm not jealous of your new computer."

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.

RISK - 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: Hindenberg,
Space Shuttle Challenger, SPANet(tm), Hubble space telescope, Apollo 13, Titanic, Ford
Pinto, Corvair.

The risk/reward calculation for engineers looks something like this:

RISK - Public humiliation and the death of thousands of innocent people.
REWARD - A certificate of appreciation in a handsome plastic frame.

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 the project, then the engineer will fall back to a
second line of defense: "It's technically possible, but it will cost too much."

EGO - Ego-wise, two things are important to engineers: How smart they are; How many cool
devices they own. The fastest way to get an engineer to solve a problem is to declare that
the problem is unsolveable. No engineer can walk away from an unsolveable 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. Engineers will go without food and hygiene for days to solve a problem.
(Other times because they just forgot.) And when they succeed in solving the problem they
will experience an ego rush that is better than anything you can imagine.

Nothing is more threatening to an engineer than the suggestion that someone 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 Jim 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.

These are the most common signs of an engineer. If the person in question does not exhibit many of
these characteristics, chances are they they're simply trying to get a raise.

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