Thursday, October 07, 2004

Life After Engineering School is an article I wish I had read years ago.

Setting priorities can be particularly difficult for young engineers. “Engineers are less equipped than the average professional to deal with their lives,” says Selinger. “When students finish engineering school, their lives have been so ordered with courses, they’ve been, in effect, buried alive in the boot camp of engineering school. They must be weaned from the days when professors set their priorities—to the real world, where they need to know how to sort their tasks.”

It isn't so much being weaned but not taught how to do these thing. In school we never had to practice any of this. Teachers and professors gave you something to do and you did it. School has never taught real-world skills and if the parents are too busy to teach them at home they never are taught.

Every engineer has to live through school and come out the other end, according to Selinger. “Engineers have very prized technical skills,” he notes. But the engineers who do well will know how to handle those soft skills like dealing with budgets, and interacting with lots of different kinds of people.

It reminds me of a great quote from "We Got Fired!":

"Lesson one: The person who knows "how" will always have a job.
Lesson Two: The person who knows "why" will always be the boss."

Engineering is a lot of fun, because solving problems is fun, but I realize that I have never been given all the information needed to actually solve the problem. Beyond known knowns of the technical side of the problem, there are the known unknowns is the budget side, the political side and the business side and probably a couple of unknown unknowns.
The trouble is the lack of information and context. Engineers like to design the best possible solution to the problem, but if we don't know about several large issues, given nothing more then a trade-show deadline that obfuscates the real issues, then we cannot bring our full creativity to bear on the problem. Essentially, we are working with several key assumptions that based on incorrect data.

I wonder if this might be why small startups do so much better then big companies because the goals and vital information are out in the open and everyone knows what they are. In large corporations "need to know" is popular but no one really knows what someone really needs to know to get the job done.

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