My brain is in a state of constant conflict. The war is between my creative side and my inner engineer. I seem, at times, to be able to negotiate a truce between these forces, so I have become the self-appointed ambassador for my brethren. It is an ugly war that usually ends up with hurt feelings and bewilderment. You may have a similar response as you deal with my kind. We are creatures who really have your best interest at heart but, our amazing lack of people-skills, tendency for recreational problem solving and general alien approach to life make our interactions sometimes, well, unsatisfying. In the spirit of harmony, I offer this insight into the brain of an engineer. If you are willing to step over a few Legos and old Erector Set parts, I will be happy to show you around.
You’ve got a problem-I have questions
Ok, so you have asked an engineer about your problem. Let the inquisition begin! Just know, the number of questions will be proportional to our comfort with the subject. I must stop here to explain the lingo. To us, life is an equation. We love words like proportional, exponential, variable, relationship… Those words help us bring order to our scary world. Anyway, we will question you on every conceivable facet of your problem. Be warned, our questions may be seemingly unrelated, arcane and sometimes personal with no regard to your dignity or discretion. While you answer our questions, many times we make notes and draw pictures. Doing this is not a sign of disrespect or a lack of engagement, it helps us focus on your problem. Sometimes, after you are totally exhausted, we will feel we have accumulated enough data
I love data
Engineers feel that with enough data we could solve world hunger, answer the questions of human mortality and cause world peace. Data, we feel, is a gift from God. It should be shared freely and given with glee. We love to manipulate it, organize it, order it and arrange it. We make bar-charts, graphs and histograms from data. We formulate equations and create solutions from data. We love data.
I never have enough napkin drawings and lists
Once our data has been organized and we have properly stabbed entropy in the eye, the real fun begins. We get out our green graph paper or fire up the Excel spreadsheet. This decision is primarily dictated by the age of the engineer. Come back later for an in-depth discussion on that topic. We live for this phase of the problem-solution flow-chart. At this point, if one graph is good, three are better. A sketch or list of the pertinent facts will be produced to scale. We draw, edit and re-edit beautiful flow charts, decision matrices and back them up with solid charts and graphs. Those charts and graphs should describe the exact nature of the uncertainty and the relationship of all the variables in a potential solution.
Off to Engineer Mountain
Once we have checked-off items one through three we then must retreat to engineer mountain to ponder the results. This is a solitary affair and you are not invited. Engineer Mountain is really not a place but, a state of mind. Sometimes this physical place could be a Hacky Sac on the lawn or an office or the conference room. During this phase of problem solving, human interaction is not welcomed nor is it necessary. If human interaction becomes necessary, like some warning of impending doom, you know, fire, earthquake, tornado and alike, the process must be started again. We feel the process is most like building a pyramid. Blocks must be placed sequentially with the details of the solution confronted and overcome one at a time. These parts of the solution must be tested independently in a sort of thought experiment. Cause and effect are very interesting even entertaining. We like this process to build on itself to an apex of complete and orgasmic; clear-cut and final; breathtaking and brilliant, solution. Any disruption to this process will cause us to begin the process again. Should we be disturbed, you should expect a mix of anger, incredulousness and confusion on our part. We may not react well. It also may take an exceptional effort to gain our attention while we are on Engineer Mountain.
When I deliver your solution
Once we have properly studied your problem, sometimes days or weeks later, we will show up, many times unannounced and without an appointment, with our solution to your problem. If you have forgotten all about it and don’t even remember your question, just play along. This might require your whole repertoire or expressions, body language and listening words. Words like brilliant, inspired and grateful are always welcomed.
I hope this has helped. We are also able to answer questions on our feet, however, we always reserve the right to go through this process anyway. We love thought experiments of all kinds and usually can’t resist redundant and unwanted analysis. If you have moved on and find one of us presenting you with this kind of solution, simply refer to item five. We may resist immediate answers but, many times you will find our solutions in this scenario just as useful.