[HUMOR] Engineers Explained

Mark Q. Maxham (max@research.apple.com)
Thu, 13 Jun 1996 16:30:22 -0700

Engineers Explained

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.


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

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 interaction.

"Normal" people expect to accomplish several unrealistic things from

*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.


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 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 feature-poor toys.


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.


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 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 engineerlike
children who will have high-paying jobs long before losing their

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:

* Bill Gates.
* MacGyver.
* Etcetera.

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

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?"


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.


* 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 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:
* 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 chop.