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Prashoman

If life gives you lemons, make lemonade. But what would you do if life gives you an engineer ?. Most people I know would do the same , squeeze every bit of life out, though I’m not sure whether they enjoy the drink.

Engineers are not like other people. Co-existing with them can be very frustrating to people around, especially classmates. A programmer is an engineer and it is safe to generalize on engineers as a species.Let me try to give you an idea of how the world works from an engineer’s point of view.

For the record , I wasn’t born as an engineer. I became one due to an accident with a liquid lunch, a couple of hard disks and a pentium III . Those who are born engineers know how to deal with it, I didn’t . What follows is not their story, it is the story of the stupid catastrophe and its consequences. For your sake , let me try to explain the noble, well-reasoned motives behind what the so-called ``normal people’’ perceive as odd behavior.

Social Skills

It is totally unfair to suggest – as many have – that engineers are socially inept. Engineers simply have different objectives when it comes to social interaction.

“Normal” people expect to accomplish several unrealistic things from social interaction:

  • Stimulating and thought provocation conversation
  • Important social contacts
  • A feeling of connectedness with other humans

These goals are irrational and stupid. Experience shows that most conversations degenerate into discussions about weather patterns, the equally unpredictable Indian cricket team , classmates and harsh comments about our beloved HOD . These topics hardly qualify as stimulating or thought provoking, nor are they useful in anyway.

Engineers realize that making personal contacts is not valuable in their occupation. For most, it’s not what “whom you know “ but “what you know” that counts. To be more precise “ who knows less than you do” that matters.

In contrast programmers have a set of rational objectives for social interactions

  • Get it over with as soon as possible.
  • Avoid getting invited to something unpleasant.
  • Demonstrate mental superiority and mastery of all subjects

These are sensible and practical goals and often a source of great joy as well. Social skills of a true engineer should be scaled by these 3 parameters rather than any nonsensical societal standards.

Fascination with Gadgets

In general the universe falls into 2 important categories , things that need to be fixed and things that will need fixing as soon as you have had a few minutes with it.

Engineers like to solve problems. This is often percieved as a good thing. But if there are no problems available, they are equally prone to creating their own. Normal people don’t understand this concept. They believe that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Engineers think that if it ain’t broke, it doesn’t have enough features yet.

To an engineer the world is full of sub-optimised and feature poor toys. That’s a good thing society wise. If it hadn’t been for this compulsion we would have never seen the wheel because some Neanderthal (presumably an MBA) will convince everybody that the trapezoid has better braking and we’d have a bumpy ride through life. And of course we’d still be having meetings about fire, and about “if fire was a good thing, why isn’t everybody using it already ?”.

In general we’re non-conformalists , aloof of the mob mentality mainly due to the reasons said above about social interactions and “connecting” with other people. But that’s a long way off the point.

Fashion and Appearance

Getting a mate is never easy for an engineer. Most ordinary people will employ their repertoire of indirect and direct duplicity to create a false impression of attractiveness. Engineers are incapable of placing form over function.

That’s a good thing. I don’t want a car that looks like it works, I want it to work first and look good later. Though that assumption might be due to the engineer hardware in my brain. Well the point is, people will pretend to be someone else till the other half starts to fall in love with the real person. The engineer’s direct methods are usually doomed from the start.

Engineers are not likely to engage in small talk. A question about the weather might trigger a response of how weather prediction works and why actually doesn’t work in general boring the subject in concern. And they are usually impervious to body language, not that they’re not clever enough to note that, they just don’t take it seriously.

Thankfully there’s one consolation. Engineers are widely recognized as excellent marriage material. High pays and a general lack of social interaction with the other sex make them very attractive to a female looking for a ``meaningful relationship’’.

Honesty

For humans honesty is a matter of degree. Engineers are always honest in matters of technology and human relationships. Truth is often brutal and engineers never spare anyone. That’s why they should be kept away from romantic interests , parents and other people who can’t handle the truth.

But engineers do tell lies. They are often white lies , where you never say anything untruthful, but more of implication. But this is not technically dishonest, thanks to common usage.

There are some things an engineer says that sounds like a lie, but are not because nobody is suppose to believe them anyway. The complete list of engineer lies are:

  • I won’t change anything without asking you
  • I’ll return this tomorrow
  • I’ll have to upgrade this
  • I’m not jealous of your new computer

Frugality

Engineers are frugal by nature , but this is not due to any trace of cheapness. It’s just that every spending situation looks like a problem of optimisation for an engineer. Of course this is one of the reasons why Engineers have trouble getting a date with one of the other sex, honesty being the other.

Advice

Engineers are often delighted , even anxious to share their wisdom. This is often irritating to ordinary human beings who fail to understand the fact that the engineer’s logic provides him with insight into any field of expertise. Normal people put too much value on the word ``Experience’’.

Powers of Concentration

This is the infallible test of an engineer. They have the uncanny ability to concentrate on one single subject to the complete exclusion of everything else in the world. Usually there are only 2 ways they come out of the trance , they get hit by lightning or their computer gets hit lightning. Such concentration in anything except their looks is impossible for most of the female of the species. This is another reason why engineers are mostly male, alone and happy about that.

And this often causes them to miss important meetings, forget anniversaries etc.. losing the girl. This is turning up a good number of reasons why the true engineer rarely becomes a party animal.

Risk

Engineers understand risk much better than business men. This is unfortunate as most business men fail to acknowledge risk and hope to get lucky . Those who do, go on to scoff at the pussilanimty of the engineer and the technical world in general. But that is not so, engineers with their infinite logic and general self-awareness know what taking risks might bring.

So engineers try to build low-risk things like Television Sets, Bridges, Tunnels and World Trade centres. Though I sure think they didn’t count on a large well fuelled plane hitting it dead centre. But sailing a huge ship through a sea full of water and not predicting that it will meet a huge chunk of ice smells too much like an upper management risk-taking venture. So here’s the risk of engineering disasters versus the rewards they bring.

Risk Reward
Public humilation and death of thousands of people. A certificate of appreciation in a plastic frame.

Being good ,well meaning people Engineers discuss and generally fixate around the fact that risk is not good. You might argue that the engineer compulsion of fixing everything is risky, but after all it’s fixing things that are broken.

Ego

Ego-wise engineers consider two things important:

  • How smart they are.
  • How many cool gadgets they own.

Let me share a little secret with you. The fastest way to get an engineer to solve a problem is to declare it ``unsolvable’’. No engineer can walk away from an unsolvable problem. No distraction is sufficent to get the engineer off the case (See Swordfish for a distraction worth getting off). These challenges often become personal - a battle between the engineer and the laws of nature.

An even better way is to suggest that someone might be able to solve it better. In my personal opinion , members of the female sex are often seen using this on normal humans. In other words, or actually simpler words , engineers are amazingly jealous about professional ability.

Engineers keep themselves well supplied with machines to operate, repair and play around with. This is driven by a deep and mysterious ability to hear machines talk and often to talk back in their language. Machines are their friends and they understand machines. An engineer surrounded by machines is never lonely and is never judged by appearance. These are friends. So it should be no surprise that engineers invest so much of their ego in what ``kind’’ of friends they keep around.

Normal people are at a loss to explain why engineers will forgo food , sleep and television to solve a problem. When an engineer succeeds in laying a problem to rest, he experiences an ego rush which is better than anything physical. This soon becomes an addiction and you have an adrenaline junkie who gets his kicks out of solving problems. Here we come back to compulsive problem solving and why engineers even quit wild parties to finish up on work. This rush which works better than Wine, Women or Gambling together forms the basis of why engineers are engineers.

Conclusion

I think we have come full circle with an engineer’s mind. I hope you had a nice read of this entire article. It has been inspired by the life of a lot of great men in general and hopefully as insightful as it was entertaining. Tell me your personal opinion about this page sometime.