Engineers - How To See The Extraordinary While The World Labels Them Ordinary

Photo by Luca Onniboni on Unsplash

“What? You work with Engineers? … Why?” I hear this often. People’s surprised looks and long pauses always make me smile inside.

Yes, I work with Engineers and I love it. What makes me different and not part of the norm is that I am not an Engineer by profession nor by trade. One day after being asked again and again about why I chose to work with Engineers, I decided to own my difference and write about Engineers.

My enthusiastic thought was that if I write about WHY I do what I do, interview a sample size of Engineers and non-Engineers from every industry, and share the summary of my data, the answer would shine through the words clearly and with conviction.

So, here it is, in plain words: I am passionate about working with good Engineers to transform them into great Engineers.

My intention with this article (and the ones to follow)

The first question I ask myself when I decide on doing something is “What is my true intention here?” and unless I can verbalize it, I postpone the doing. Finding meaning in what I do represents a meaningful life to me [meaningful=adjective, having a serious, important, or useful quality or purpose] and it is my way to hold myself accountable for living every day with purpose.

My intention with this article is:

- I want to bring a different viewpoint to non-Engineers about Engineers,

- I want to build the skeleton for a bridge between Engineers and those who work with Engineers,

- and I want to awaken the greatness in the good Engineers.

With that intention, I felt an adrenaline rush and I immediately started creating inside my 100 billion brain cells my project plan for this article. I felt like somebody turned the switch ON for my analytical brain and it signaled with a loud beep that the wheels were turning. The brain is an amazing organ that is fascinating to observe when fully engaged. Within the next 15 minutes I had it all visualized and figured out. I knew what I had — my WHY and my love for writing — and I knew what was missing — the data to reveal the objective truth.

Those who know me, I am sure are smiling now and would be telling me that I came up with this idea for this article just to have fun in collecting the data, sorting and analyzing it, in order to turn it into a magically simple and consumable set of information.

And they would be right. Where others struggle and see data overload, I am fully engaged with my left-brain cells and ride them like roller coasters in a theme park. The ride will be scary and surprising at times, but I do it for the joy and laughter.

Why I love working with Engineers

Before I can take you on the ride with me, I want to share my story of WHY I love working with Engineers.

One day I was driving back from the middle school where I had just picked up my son. My daughter was in the car with us and we were making our merry way back home on the same route as we did many other times. At one of the many traffic lights that we had to cross through, I was the first car waiting in the line.

The light was red. I remember feeling content and joyful. Both of my kids were healthy and smiling at each other. I intentionally noticed these small moments in life and stored them in my “life is good” memory box. I wanted to remember them later, too when my kids were all grown-up.

Anyway, the light turned green and I was back in the moment. All the other cars stopped, and I started moving into the intersection when I sensed some movement on the left side of my peripheral vision. I turned my head only to see that it was a white car approaching at a high speed. What happened next was one of my life changing moments.

The second turned into a sequence of scenes about my past and future life. I slammed on the brakes as hard as I could. And while my body was automatically recognizing this movement (pushing on the brake pedal), my mind felt detached. My whole life flashed back in front of me like a deck of still images that got animated to create the illusion of movement. My brain also “told” me that I would be dead soon. I felt the excitement for the expected — like I was calmly waiting for the moment. I was so sure that it was going to happen… because my mind wouldn’t lie to me. Or would it?

The car squeaked and I heard things move in the car. As gravity was forcing some objects to fly and shift, the chassis of the car has been forced to stop its forward movement.

I really thought that was it for me. No more memories, no moments of life. No more of… anything.

The next part of that second contained an image of a white car driving by really fast in front of my car approximately an inch away from hitting it. An image… because it felt like I left that moment. The shock the three major stress hormones — the adrenaline, the cortisol and the norepinephrine — shut down my body and my brain.

The next image that I remembered was the face of a fellow driver from across the intersection. His mouth was wide open and his eyes were staring at me. Like he saw a ghost. I looked at my car and I looked in the intersection, then I looked back at him. I was in the middle of the street; nobody and nothing was moving. I sensed time has stopped in that moment.

I looked at my car again. It was untouched. “Maybe I was alive, and nothing happened to me…? Maybe I just want to believe that…? Maybe …? What is reality now…?”

Then my son spoke up from the back seat: “Mom, your brakes worked!” I took a deep breath.

“I guess they did! My brakes worked.” I replied. And I slowly let off the brakes while checking the intersection again for any other movement. My foot pushed the gas pedal in a familiar way and the car was moving again. “Let’s go home.” I said. That is all what I was able to say.

Once my brain’s chemical levels balanced out and my breathing returned to normal, I realized what had happened. I was alive because … BECAUSE my brakes worked; because … an ENGINEER has designed them to work. And not even one, more than one Engineer, many Engineers. And that is WHY I want to work with Engineers.

Because Engineers help us be alive, feel alive, and experience life to the fullest.

I am 100% sure that at least one Engineer is responsible for making something in your life right now safe, reliable and functional.

Think about it…

· When we drive on paved roads in our cars over bridges and freeway overpasses to get to our work, among others we could thank a civil, a chemical, a mechanical, an electrical, a mining, a petroleum, and a vehicle Engineer;

· When we buy food and prepare dinner for our family and friends, among others we could thank an environmental, an agricultural, a materials, a biochemical, a utility, a thermal, an energy, and a materials Engineer;

· When we buy a plane ticket on our smart device over the internet to go fly to our favorite vacation spot to relax, among others we could thank a computer, a software, an information, an electrical, a mechanical, a manufacturing, an aerospace Engineer;

· And when we go to the hospital to check on our loved ones, among others we could thank an environmental, a biomedical, a chemical, an optical, a biotechnical, an architectural, an industrial Engineer.

What I learned from interviewing Engineers

· I learned that how the world sees Engineers and how Engineers see themselves is different.

· I learned that how the world perceives Engineers and how I perceive them is also different.

· And I learned that how Engineers see themselves and how I see them is similar.

My intention is to provide a new perspective to both the world and the Engineers about how else this relationship could be perceived.

I have interviewed a sample size of Engineers, and those who work with Engineers yet are not Engineers themselves. The data shows what I have been experiencing myself: two different point of views that are sometimes connected but most of the times are miles away from each other.

Maybe by building a bridge around communication, trust and creativity you will be able to cross with me to the other side of the possible.

I am outgoing, I love people, I play the guitar, I draw, and I paint. I have learned how to share my feelings and how to listen. Your stereotypical Engineer is a male, analytical, detail-oriented, always right, know-it-all, has hardly any communication skills and is a pain to work with. I am totally the opposite.

1. Communication

Photo by Santtu Perkiö on Unsplash

The data shows that those who work and collaborate with Engineers do not think Engineers have good communication skills. They perceive their interactions with Engineers to be as difficult as speaking in a different language, as boring as listening to a long speech that does not make sense, and as painful as being lost in a discussion with no end in sight. In addition, the interactions might also include questions that you have never thought of and are difficult to answer. These interactions with Engineers are sometimes more blunt, direct and honest than one might be used to in a business environment.

The bridge

The data also shows that Engineers have developed strong skills in listening, connecting and translating what is being asked of them into creative ways to meet their customers’ needs in more efficient and faster ways. They are comfortable with the abstract and understand that others need concrete steps and processes to break down the roles and responsibilities in a non-technical way.

I see myself as part of the world’s elite jack of all trades as an Engineer. I have a desire to create new and better things, to understand how the parts connect and to improve the world around me. My customers usually cannot articulate what they really want, so it is my job, as a computer engineer, to translate back to them what I heard them say and connect it with what they want to use it for. I create what is possible beyond what they know is possible.

Their thoughtfulness and deep knowledge into specific areas coupled with the ability to see the big picture and how each piece is connected within, gives Engineers a leg up in recognizing valuable solutions and in integrating the impossible into the possible. Engineers also see both sides of the coin: the potentials and options for disaster. The motivation behind asking questions is to coach others to gain self-awareness of their own limitations and to self-question their own beliefs.

There are amazing engineering communities across the globe. The web has created smaller and highly focused groups around specific topics with depths and breadth of knowledge that was non-existing just a few decades ago. These small communities promote open communication and open flow of ideas while creating high quality and valued publications that are made available to anybody who is interested.”

Note: The desired skill among Engineers here is the ability to convey important messages to different kinds of audiences using a simple and concise communication method.

2. Trust

Photo by Jeffrey Grospe on Unsplash

The data shows that when interacting with Engineers, others perceive Engineers as know-it-all, slow to change, and resistant to new ideas and processes. Engineers are also perceived to love analytical work including building and following their own processes. This behavior is interpreted by others as rigid and close-minded in an environment where change is the expectation and projects have a short-term timeline. Since, Engineers are rarely seen as stakeholders or a vital part of the team, they are seldom consulted for their professional opinion at the beginning of a project plan. The rest of the team has trouble understanding them, does not trust them to deliver on time and on budget or feel accountable to communicate all the details with them. Some data also reveals that Engineers are perceived to design ‘cool’ things that are in fact difficult to manufacture, are not customer friendly nor useful for the end user.

The bridge

This finding surprised me the most. All the data points to what I call The three main pillars of engineering education. Engineers are trained to master these three core behaviors over many years of education and many years of field work as Engineers. When these behaviors are strictly applied to lifeless objects and concepts, a clear separation emerges between Engineers and those who have not been trained as Engineers. However, when applied to living beings, human interactions and relationships, a new and thought-provoking viewpoint emerges.

The three main pillars of engineering education are:

1. understanding the world in its details,

2. respecting each piece as it is vital to the health and existence of the whole,

3. and using curiosity to look beyond what is possible now and envisioning the future.

Engineers do not just apply these three behaviors to parts, processes and designs. They apply them to people as well. Engineers seek deep understanding of the human psychology and physiology, they respect human nature, and are curious about the present and the future of our humanity. As a result, they operate at the highest level of care for humanity. For them, being right and doing things right matters because the well-being and the existence of the world depends on them. Engineers carry the problems and the solutions of our globe on their shoulders.

I love my job as a mechanical Engineer. I totally see the extraordinary side of being a female Engineer. Every day I get to build trust with other groups — or even other engineering groups — by partnering with others to break the status quo and to think about new ways to communicate the impossible yet in a non-challenging, non-threatening way. I am encouraged by my leadership to go outside engineering and to find common ground with others. The challenge is that people do not know how to do that with us, Engineers.”

Similar to a surgeon, Engineers can analyze and find the best solutions for people and are highly respected and trusted for their skills.

They also understand that the most valuable gift to give is to respect and to honor others’ thoughts and beliefs. An Engineer will meet you where you are in your personal development.

Trust is strongly connected to the environment Engineers work in. Feeling safe to explore what ifs, to discuss possibilities, to experiment and to fail is highly sought after in order to reach potential as an Engineer.

You just have to have the right positive attitude. Your technical skills will guarantee you a seat at the table, but your curiosity will earn you your next invitation to a different table. Because curiosity dresses you up as interested, open-minded and willing to learn new concepts. That is my recipe for success.”

One leader of an engineering department opened up about the struggles he faced: “Others lock us, Engineers, in a box and put labels on the outside of it like too stiff, too technical, cares only about fixing the problem and not about relationships. It took me a good part of my career to break out of this box and step into who I am today. Today, I build relationships and support my team to be daring to break out of the box faster than I did.”

Note: The desired skill among Engineers is to build up their empathy in order to better understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within that person’s frame of reference.

3. Creativity

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

On the surface, the majority of the data shows that people who work as Engineers are not perceived as creative types nor are they expected to be creative [creative = in the way society has shaped us to view those who manifest creativity: by creating art that is displayed for admiration or common use]. Also, the majority of the Engineers I spoke with did not consider themselves creative either. A pattern that was clearly causing separation between what Engineers do and how they are expected to work.

Yet, creativity has shown up consistently as directly connected to how Engineers perceive their purpose in an organization and their role on a team. When asked to further consider what an Engineer’s mission and purpose is, both Engineers and non-Engineers changed their minds. Thus, the data also shows that engineering and creativity go hand in hand.

The bridge

I consider Leonardo da Vinci an Engineer who had strong scientific knowledge and a very creative mind. That is the Engineer that I want to become.”

Engineers have a very high sense of responsibility towards doing things right and making sure things last for years to come. This long-term thinking together with their deep sense of caring is their motivation to explore new and creative ways to approach problems, to discover new solutions, and to expand their knowledge. Thus, data shows that Engineers are highly creative and enjoy learning beyond their perceived knowledge boundaries.

I think people do not take the time to think through what it really takes to innovate and change and become more efficient. They do not appreciate the dedication and persistence of engineers to realize ideas. The world just sees that ‘the gas mileage is better’. When the reality is that the amount of engineering skills it takes to create, to collaborate, to champion and to communicate an idea is amazing.”

They operate on the premise of “let’s agree to disagree” while keenly focusing on integrating and bridging two seemingly unrelated concepts or ideas.

Engineers also wisely choose how and when to use their experiences, knowledge and good judgement. They do not want to appear wise and are humble to acknowledge their wisdom.

Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is botanically a fruit. Wisdom is choosing to not put it in a fruit salad.”

The data was 100% consistent in showing that Engineers have a creative side outside their work environment. All of them do or are involved in something creative that only a few co-workers know about at work.

Note: The desired skill among Engineers is to build a power base network that supports them in achieving their highest potential while contributing to making a difference in people’s lives.

Imagine for a minute

Think about an Engineer that you work with or know of. Now, imagine with me that this Engineer is standing in front of you and is honestly wanting to improve their current working relationship with you. This Engineer is asking you to share how their interactions are perceived by you. In your head, without saying a word, you have already started the list. This Engineer is good at knowing the details, providing lots of information, suggesting a solution, telling you what to do next, and… But how do you feel about this Engineer…? Do not say it out loud, we are still in your imagination. Notice your feelings and what interactions are surfacing into your consciousness. How would you benefit from truly improved interactions? What new value could this relationship bring to you?

Now, imagine this same Engineer. This time you think about this Engineer as your friend, somebody that you trust, respect and enjoy being around. You feel connected to who this person is, and what this person is about. Most importantly this person knows you, what you are about and how to support you in your work, career, family and personal development. How do you feel about this Engineer now? What has changed in your perception? What is now the true value of this relationship for you?

Closing/Conclusion

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

By now, I realized that the journey in writing this article had a deeper purpose for me.

I shared my WHY and my intention to create a common ground for those who want to build their own bridges using communication, trust and creativity. My belief is that by engaging in a conversation around this topic, Engineers and those working with Engineers will start shifting their perception of each other. What would it happen if you shift your communication, your trust and your creativity by only 1% …?

What did I learn about engineers? To my surprise, I discovered that Engineers have an innate authentic sense of caring for humanity. I discovered a high level of caring for others and a unique creativity that integrates the impossible into the possible.

Yet, for a while, I did not see the core magma of what fuels their intimidating and larger-than-life responsibility to do the right thing.

Engineers understand that their ideas, designs, innovations, creations have the possibility to change our world (for the best and for the worst): how we communicate (smart devices), how we travel (self-driving cars), how we heal (bioprinting), how we age (nanorobots), and how we build (tools with virtual and augmented reality).

What if you think about your Engineer friend as your surgeon who will operate on your beloved family member? I had a surgery myself in my life and I was blessed with fast recovery. Do you want a different outcome for your loved one?

· Do you want your Engineer to not be sure of what they are doing as a sign of lack of confidence and trust?

· Do you want your Engineer to only partially do the right thing in situations that matter for you?

· Do you want your Engineer to perform with mediocrity “your surgery” and sabotage your recovery towards a healthy life?

Some people choose to accept ‘Yes’ to these questions and label their interactions with Engineers difficult.

I choose ‘No’ and I am determined to find those who also believe Engineers help us be alive, feel alive, and experience life to the fullest.

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The Engineer Whisperer. Transforming great Engineers into impactful Engineers. Coach.

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Andrea Clough

Andrea Clough

The Engineer Whisperer. Transforming great Engineers into impactful Engineers. Coach.

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