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Two types of engineers

· 4 min read

A wise man once observed, "There are two types of people in this world: those who divide people into two types and those who do not." Perhaps it was Steve Martin; I don't remember.

In that same vein of reasoning, I have found that there are two types of engineers:

  1. The engineer who believes that his job is to make things simple, and
  2. The engineer who believes that his job is to make things complicated.

I call the first type Simplifying Engineers and the second type Complicating Engineers. I despise the second type of engineer. He is obnoxious to industry.

The Complicating Engineer believes that his job security requires that the current problem never be solved. He thinks that if the problem were ever to be solved, he would be out of a job. He speaks in overly complicated language, using abbreviations and technical jargon that makes little sense to anyone. He uses every chance he can to intimidate others around him into thinking that he is smarter and knows far more about the subject than they do. He intimidates them into thinking that they could never possibly even understand the problem that he is solving.

The objective of the Complicating Engineer is dependence. He wants those around him to believe that they are utterly dependent upon him. In this way, he makes himself critical, irreplaceable.

The Complicating Engineer hates outsiders. He immediately gets into "pissing contests" with outsiders such as technical salesmen. That is, he spends the whole meeting trying to prove that he knows more or discrediting the statements of the outsider. He is very insecure by nature; he feels threatened by every new thing. If someone should appear more knowledgeable than he, then he might be perceived as replaceable.

The Simplifying Engineer is another creature entirely. He believes that his job is to solve the current problem as quickly and as efficiently as possible. There are an infinite number of problems to solve. The Simplifying Engineer believes that he makes himself valuable by solving problems quickly and earning the right to solve more challenging, critical problems.

The Simplifying Engineer communicates well and attempts to help everyone understand the problem and the solution. He speaks with analogies and metaphors to convey technical issues in a way that is understandable to other professionals. (The other professionals have their own jargon and abbreviations, after all.)

The Simplifying Engineer has no need to intimidate those around him. His record of success speaks for itself. The Simplifying Engineer is not insecure. He looks forward to engaging outsiders and learning something new.

Standards efforts

All too often I see the clash of these two types of engineers in technology standards efforts. There will be a clash whenever and wherever these two types of engineers meet. One group will gain dominance over the other. In far too many cases, the Complicating Engineers drive out the Simplifying Engineers from the standards development process. Most of the time, the Simplifying Engineers become too busy in actually solving problems to continually fight the Complicating Engineers in committees. In some cases, the Simplifying Engineers actually win the first round and solve the problem. They move on and the Complicating Engineers move in to create version 2 and 3 of the standard.

Complicating Engineers love getting involved in standards efforts. Understandable, managers are more than willing to send Complicating Engineers to these long meetings in order to get them out of the way.

Complicating Engineers never want the standard to be finished. When it's finished then they will loose their excuse for jetting off to Europe or California.

Complicating Engineers make complicated standards that cannot be reasonable or effectively implemented. The purpose of standards is to lower the “friction of commerce”, as Adam Smith might have put it. The more convoluted the specification, the less value it actually provides to industry. However, the more convoluted the specification, the more valuable the men that actually created the specification become to the companies that are forced to implement it.