At my recent breathing test, the operator and I were chatting. She was being very descriptive with the answers to my questions about the test. I was discussing protocol and the numbers as they showed on the screen. She tells me that she expected this from me as she saw “engineer” as my occupation prior to the test. In their staff training for giving these tests, the instructor told them to be weary of engineers. They try and understand all aspects of the test to maximize their score she was told. Yes, please.
I never knew this was a thing I did for the longest time. I just always did it. I liked to tear stuff apart to see how it worked. And put it back together. I liked to analyze things and understand their roots, their motivation, their purpose. One time at my Dad’s shop, I tore apart this thing and put it back together. I went to my Dad and one of his employees and was like “I have all these parts left over”. The guy says to me, “That’s the sign of a good mechanic. You can put it back together with less parts than the guy that designed it.” Huh. I always liked that one.
So in my personal life with my family and kids, this sometimes becomes the curse of Dad. If you get me involved, I need to know a lot of stuff. I want to know. Take my wife for example, she is an accountant. She thinks way different than I do about a ton of stuff that would make interesting blog posts yet to come. But one thing is that depth of inquisition on things. Honey, explain to me exactly why I would debit retained earnings in that situation? She says something to the effect of “because that’s how it’s done”. She is right. It’s done that way. But that is not satisfying to me. I feel like I just cheated on a test. I need the real answer.
In this day in age, the Internet is the greatest thing ever for the engineer. The power of the information is usually out there somewhere. And especially in my field. Everything is documented online. We have open source! Back in the day, I would have to just trust my wife and feel unsettled for the rest of my life on that point. Now, I can go do some research and try and understand the why of this mysterious question. Later on, I usually go back to her and say “I figured that out and it makes sense to me now”. To which, she rolls her eyes.
In contrast, if there is an issue that comes at her that isn’t in the type of accounting experience she has, I find that she gets roadblocked. Telling me she doesn’t know anything about that. I then turn my skills on the problem. I am not formally trained in accounting, but I know how to break down problems and deduce reasonable conclusions.
This whole thing I describe has become an issue between us over the years. It wasn’t until a few years back in a big argument session that we broke this down and tried to understand how each other thinks. It’s easy to think she is just stupid or lazy with her thinking. “My god, woman, why would you NOT want to know what firmware version this car stereo is updating to?” I just put it in Evernote.
While in turn, she thought I was being stubborn or an asshole or not trusting. None of that was true. Just different brains working in different ways. But I didn’t get that for a long time.
I had this same battle with a friend recently. Not seeing each other for how we operate differently. It causes confusion. Creates separation. Not good.
When I can’t get a core understanding of something, I fail. This happened to me many times over the years. Incidents at school always were the worst. High School Honors English. I just could not get the “formula” for how that teacher wanted me to write the papers. I don’t really think she could explain it to me either in my terms. I finally gave up and dropped down to regular English and aced everything. Same me. Same writing. Same teacher, even. Weird. Again in college advanced chemistry. I worked hard as anything. I just could not grasp something. I threw in the towel. I didn’t need chemistry anyway as I pointed my self towards electrical engineering instead.
When you work with engineers all day, we just do this ball breaking on a daily basis. Why is that design better? What if we did that instead? It’s all part of the plan to design and validate. I love the word “iterate”. It became popular with the rise of agile software development. But its how I work and live.
At prior jobs, we always had consultants come in and do the famed Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. This always felt like a fun diversion but quite bullshit. I was not a person in touch with their feelings. That may have changed some over the years. Now, I find myself specifically trying to categorize people so that I know what might work better in dealing with them. It’s not always that straightforward. But it’s much easier if you try and work with them, then write them off as uncooperative because they march to the beat of a different drum.
At the end of the day, I usually feel some validation if I can answer yes to one of two questions. Did I learn something today? Did I build something today? Alternating between the two of those. That defines my profession. It defines me.
Get to know yourself.