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Why engineers and IT programmers have it tough at work

September 8, 2008

The classic engineers mindset is programmed for precise and linear thinking. For every additional effort that you put in, you’re conditioned to expect a corresponding increase in result. Its very logical, very scientific and sets you up beautifully for a rude awakening in the corporate world.

My first few months in the workforce was a baptism of fire. Sometimes I wondered how 16 years of education could make one so ill-prepared for the workforce. When your role model is not the smart guy from Stanford but the uneducated millionaire, you know something weird’s going on.

Even today, colleges still don’t get it. They haven’t woken up to the necessity of teaching the art of ass kissery and handling office politics to prepare you for what’s out there. That would be such a great course for engineers and IT programmers, people who work their butts off and grumble they never get the recognition they deserve.

But then again, if everyone came into the workforce ready to fight office politics, would any work get done? It kinda fits into another theory I have – that the longer you serve in a company, the less productive you become in absolute productivity terms, because you spend more time developing perceptions and outmaneuvering people. Notice how company performance tanks when it doesn’t inject ‘new blood’ routinely, a.k.a the new broom syndrome.

No, you go to college to get only 50% of what you need. I’d put the other 50% on gut instinct – the ability to be at the right place at the right time. If you’re lucky you’re born with it. If not you’ll just have to content being a back room engineer / programmer. And maybe dabble a little in feng shui for some heavenly support. 🙂

The thing about gut instinct is it can defeat any advantage you get from a formal education. Scenario: An uneducated guy with a killer instinct bets on a horse. He wins a million. He then hires a professional accountant to set up a bookie operation. He makes more millions. The certified accountant gets $5,000 a month.

This might explain why there are uneducated millionaires and why hordes of educated people work for them. If you’ve got it, a formal education may not be that critical. The question is do you have it.

Me – I’m working on a magic pill that will increase your gut instinct and make me super rich. Kidding.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. angeles permalink
    September 8, 2008 11:40 am

    objection again! 😛 not only engineers, programmers have it tough leh… translators have it tough too 😦

    blue pill? red pill? :mrgreen:

  2. September 8, 2008 8:24 pm

    Accountants have it tough too… imagine crunching all those numbers and counting all the moolah (THAT’S NOT THEIRS!)

    Just my 5 cents opinion, apart from gut instinct, I think uneducated millionaires have two additional advantages:

    1. Dare to Fail!
    They are willing to take calculated risks. Most educated people are not *so* trained to run the treadmill, they would feel lost without work.

    2. Fuzzy Logic
    Without going through rote and structured learning, less educated millionaires learn to rely on their gestalt feel of things. Guess it’s the synergistic combination of using both left and right brain that makes them successful. Look at Steve Jobs… now that’s an entrepreneur that has a feel of what gadgets are going to take off and what’s not.

  3. Damien permalink*
    September 9, 2008 8:04 am

    @angeles, I thought translators have it easier because they can translate their colleagues behavior better than anyone. 🙂

    @avatar, imagine those bank tellers who count other people’s cash. Your points affirms how school and real life can be complete opposites of each other. In school everybody is afraid to fail. In life we cannot be afraid to fail (in Hong Kong very few people succeed without being a bankrupt first). In school we’re told to focus on one thing and do it well. In real life we end up doing what needs to be done, even if we know nuts about it (I consult in brand strategy and keep my own co. accounts even though I’m an IT programmer by training!).

  4. LC Teh permalink
    September 9, 2008 8:31 am

    Going back to basics. It’s what you expect to find at the end of the rainbow. Societal norms have each of us expecting gold. Unless you can imagine all that glitters ain’t gold, you’ll just keep following that guideline.

    Most success preachers make the same old lines of how much we own to become our yardstick instead of how meaningful our life is. I’m quite sure Bill Gates was just chasing his passion of creating useful software and finding it more meaningful than chasing a piece of paper. Becomming the richest kid in the block was just a bonus along the way.

    I think if we focus on why we’re doing what we’re doing, we’d be happily whistling at work instead of griping at why, with our qualifications, we’re earning less than the guy who dropped out.

  5. September 9, 2008 10:13 am

    maybe that’s why i never encourage people to dig deep into their books at the uni. try to involve more in societies, clubs, student rep council. Fr there, you will be able to gain experiences which you might use in the working world.

  6. Damien permalink*
    September 9, 2008 1:21 pm

    @lc, but isn’t money = meaningful life for most people. Craftsmanship is long dead and work is just a means to an end (money).

    @alvin, yeah a balanced learning is the way to go. Funny though, being an American educated guy who got credit taking a course in bowling, I find the British system less accomodating towards balance. Its just an observation I have after working with people from both sides.

  7. September 10, 2008 9:51 am

    yeap. the American based education is more well-rounded whereas our education sys (based on the UK) is more exam-oriented. Maybe that’s why you can see we’ve been producing more robots than actual human? same goes for UK

  8. Damien permalink*
    September 10, 2008 10:10 am

    UK lost nearly all of its manufacturing assets to US and Germany in the last decade. Rover, Jaguar, Cooper, its all gone, except maybe for Rolls Royce. What they seem to be good at now is financial services and tabloids. But I don’t know how much of that is symptomatic of British education.

  9. LC Teh permalink
    September 10, 2008 10:30 am

    “work is just a means to an end (money)”…huh?
    talked to your dad about this one?

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