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
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 moron.
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
"Normal" people expect to accomplish several unrealistic
things from social interaction:
Stimulating and thought-provoking conversation
Important social contacts
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.
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:
Things that need to be fixed, and
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
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
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.
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 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.
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 engineerlike 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
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.
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. The complete list
of engineer lies is listed below.
"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
Space Shuttle Challenger.
Hubble space telescope.
The risk/reward calculation for engineers looks something
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-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 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.
Engineers will go without food and hygiene for days to solve
a problem. (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 involved.
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
Seth Croston Barber <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Last modified: Wed Oct 06 13:29:35 PDT 1999