Why Stereotypes Exist: The Engineer Edition
Let’s just get this out of the way first: I’m an engineer. A mechanical engineer, to be exact. (Well not really “exact”, since I took a somewhat temporary position outside of engineering to fast track my way to a promotion in 2010. But by education and training, I am for all intensive purposes an engineer. Just work with me on this.)
With the term “engineer” attached to yourself, people assume the following things:
- You have no social skills.
- You’re boring or lack excitement.
- You have either no personality, or way too much personality (often described as quirky).
- The English language is your enemy… you cannot spell, let alone write very coherently.
- The typical dork stereotypes: pocket protector, sci-fi fan, etc.
- You have no fashion sense. This usually includes wearing short sleeve button down shirts.
Of course, I’m just covering the basics here. There’s plenty of additional stereotypes attached to engineers, and I’m not even going to attempt to cover them all. Instead, I’m going to be the one that tells you that they’re all true… Well, for the most part anyway. In college, most of the engineers there seemed more normal. By “normal” I obviously mean they aren’t boring, personality-lacking dorks. So really, it fools you into thinking “hey, maybe this is one stereotype that isn’t real, I could end up working with normal people after all!” This all comes to a grinding halt the second you interview with any engineering manager from any business. Well, I guess you become skeptical at that point. But the nail in the coffin either occurs after your 5th interview, or you finally start your first engineering job… whether it be an internship or actual full time position.
So what happens to all of those guys you went to college with? (And when I say guys, I literally mean just guys. Out of the 50 or so mechanical engineering majors I graduated with, there were 3 girls, and one of them was essentially a guy for all intensive purposes.) Well, apparently the “normal” engineers spread so thin that we rarely end up working together. Instead we get thrown into the lion’s den with the stereotypical engineers, sucking the life right out of us. (If you want to get all Freudian on me, it’s possible that I use sarcasm and cynicism to laugh at the short comings of others because the people I am forced to interact with at work are so DULL that I need it to remain sane. But then again, Freud was a cocaine addict and wanted to bang his mother, so who are you to use his tactics on me?)
So yes folks, this is one stereotype that is real. Let me provide you with a couple of wonderful examples.
Donald the Dwarf was my boss for both my internship and first full time engineering position. And really, I was just so lucky to have him essentially guide me into the “real world” version of engineering. He was about 5’6″, so the Napoleon complex was in full force. (Plus his wife was like 5’0″, so their 3 children are doomed… especially his son.) This wouldn’t have been so bad if he was remotely competent as a boss… he was never the kind of guy who could be the top banana, or even play the second banana, he was the role player who had to be given specific tasks to get done, or else he’d end up accomplishing nothing and getting flustered trying to keep up with everyone coming to him for input. But since he was head of engineering, he felt like it was important to stick his nose in everything, understand very little of it, and have absolutely no knowledge as to what really was required to get something accomplished. With a team of only 4 total engineers, you’d think the boss could take a project from start to finish by himself… but nope, not Donald. Donald could do some drawings (did I mention he went to Drafting camp as a kid? Drafting, as in drawing up parts and dimensioning them and stuff… and he bragged to us about it. I’m not making this up), get some stuff quoted, but he had no idea how to actually do anything from there. He couldn’t spell or write very well, so he heard from another engineer that if an engineer can do either of those things well, then he should “question their technical ability”. So despite trying to use that phrase against me all the time, he still had me proof read almost every document and important letter he sent out. So really, he was about 1/3 of an engineer, 1/3 worthless, and 1/3 attempting to play boss.
Anyway, where he fits into the stereotype: he had too much personality. He was the definition of quirky. He over laughed at the worst things, had no sense of humor when it came to sarcasm or wit (causing him to get mad at me on more than a few occasions when I mocked him… not that I would ever dream of doing something like that to a boss I had little respect for), and was overall one of the most annoying people I have ever met in my life. EVER. He once came back from lunch and decided to tell me and one of the engineers about the sexcapades he just had with his wife as a way to try to fit in. This guy didn’t just bang the Bible, he was sleeping with the damn thing every night. Donald once argued with me that dinosaurs were around only a couple of thousand years ago, and that radio carbon dating was put in place by the devil to test our faith. That’s right, an engineer who didn’t believe in science. (Ironically enough, the pastor at the church my family attends also used to be an engineer. And he’s quirky. When I found out both of these people existed, I ran home to check Google and verify the Earth is still round.) Did I mention Donald also had the most hilarious unibrow ever? Well, he did.
In lieu of an actually HAPPY POST for Julie, I will instead dedicate a small section of this post for nothing but happy thoughts, unicorns, and rainbows to prove that there happy moments in my life: As much as I loved working with Donald (I can’t really say I worked for the guy, he wasn’t much of a boss), I have to give the guy credit: Anytime he could help my career as an engineer, he jumped at the chance. He volunteered me for all the corporate training he could to help further my career and bolster my resume. When the company we worked for was combining with another company inside the same corporation, with my job being lost in the process, he offered to be a reference for me in my job hunting despite the fact that the corporation was doing everything within their power to keep me and just transfer me to another division (hey, I impress a lot of people even after only short term exposure, so they were trying to use this as an excuse to move me to a bigger and better company within the corporation). So despite all of his shortcomings, Donald was a really helpful guy. He told me around when I started that he was going to do everything he could to help my career, and in return, he hoped I would stay around for a least a few years. He stuck to that, and I respect the guy for that.
And now back to your regularly scheduled cynical blog…
So at my current job, I have Captain Dork and Dork Underling that I work with. I suppose I should give them names… how about Frank and Bob. After dealing with Donald The Quirky Engineer, I get the complete opposite with Frank and Bob. When I say “opposite”, I mean absolutely no personality… in fact, it’s more like a black hole of a personality, in that they each suck the life right out of you. (Not literally, that would be gross.)
Frank is in his mid-30s. His main talking points consist of “I own a house and enjoy yard work” and “I just bought a motorcycle, I swear I’m cool guys.” Of course, he neglects to mention that he wears a neon yellow jumpsuit everytime he rides it. Frank talks about his friends very seldom, and when he does, he’s extremely vague… likely because they don’t exist. He has a Battlestar Galactica calendar and Star Trek figures in his cubicle, and anytime the IT guy comes around, they discuss Battlestar Galactica in great detail. I’ve actually attempted conversations with him before. Girls? No dice. I would wager almost anything that he’s a virgin. Cars? Well, he drives a silver Toyota Corolla S (the S is for SPORT, because he’s sporty and hip and cool between that and his crotch rocket motorcycle), and only cares about Indy Car racing. Sports? HA. Yeah right. But the fact that I can’t even talk to the guy about any reasonable topic isn’t the worst thing. No, that would be the fact that he does not know when a conversation is over. If he comes to my cubicle and the conversation reaches its natural ending point, he continues to stand there and stare at me. Even if I gesture to turn around, he continues to stand. And stare. It literally takes a “I’m going to get back to work” statement and completely turning around to ignore him before he even gets the hint to go the fuck away. Sigh. Frank wears grey dress pants, or at least something close enough to dress pants, 4 days out of the week, with a various shirt or sweater that it’s obvious his mom or grandma bought him. During the summer, it’s nothing but short sleeve button up shirts. He recently got a promotion to “Engineering Product Supervisor”, which is just a glorified term for “anyone who does drawings on new parts, talk to me first, but I’m not a real boss but I get to feel important like one” (see: Assistant to the Regional Manager – Dwight Schrute). And one (of two) people working “underneath” him is of course…
Bob, who started here about 4-5 months ago. Bob also drives a Toyota Corolla, same year, but his is brown and not the S super sporty model. He’s 30 and mostly bald already, and likes to act like he knows everything about everything regarding business… especially in front of the business leaders. It’s the most awkward thing to watch, yet amusing if you realize what’s happening and don’t feel bad for the guy. Bob and Frank have great conversations about things like motorcycles, work, sci-fi, more work, and their nonexistent social lives. They even live in the same area. In fact, I’m fairly certain Bob is a virgin as well, but he may have tricked a fat girl to sleep with him at some point in the past. It really could go either way with him. Anyway, the only conversation I’ve ever had with the guy that wasn’t about work was about… guns. I’ve tried talking about friends, girls, whatever else with the guy, but he never bites. So he talked to me about guns. He informed me that he had a few of them, and for fun, he goes to the range to shoot at targets. And for the longest time he wanted a pistol, but never had a reason to have one, but now he lives near a pistol shooting range so he has an excuse to get one. And while he was telling me this, it sounded like it was the most exciting moment of his life. Also, I don’t think he wears any clothes that haven’t been washed at least 400 times.
So really, all three of them give engineers a bad name. Actually, I can’t blame it exclusively on them, since the majority of engineers are just like them. So really, they just give me a bad name. I get grouped with them, despite how I have virtually nothing in common with any of them. Yes, I realize the alternative is working in an office full of catty women who are constantly at each others throats, always nit picking and gossiping. (I have those here too, I just don’t work with them directly, but they love to give me gossip or get information from me to add to their gossip.)
I have more to add to this topic, but it’s getting a bit long in the tooth. I was going to add in how I had corporate training with a bunch of engineers from all over the corporation, and out of the 35 engineers there, there was one near my age that I got along with… who at one point asked me, “Dude, in college, everyone wasn’t like this… where do all of the normal engineers go?” I had no answer for him. Apparently we just spread so thin that we never really reconnect, furthering the stereotype, since we don’t really stand out in the work place when we’re on an island.
So yeah, the stereotype is really real. It just doesn’t apply to me (obviously). I break the mold, I’m awesome on all levels. But as for the other engineers, especially Bob, Frank, and Donald, life is just a bit more cruel.