March 2nd, 2005

senior project

analyzing your coworkers for fun and profit

If you're ever in an engineering department (as I am, 60 hours a week) and need to judge people quickly, I've decided the best way to do so is with the prefix-factor conversion test. You just look up from your desk and say, "Pico... that's ten to the minus ninth, right?"

It seems to me that of all the dumb little things that are on that first test of our freshman year, those prefixes are the most forgotten, which is why this is fun. We manage to remember our resistor color codes. the obvious formulas like P=VI stick in our heads. But not everything can make it past that first weekend of hard drinking, so scientific prefixes are the first to go since they're in the appendix of every single textbook we own anyway.

So here's what engineers say to the question:

"Shit, I have no clue."
Explination of response: None needed.
Personality: This person is not an engineer. This person is an intruder who should be taken down.
Reason for being an engineer: opens door to future in management or marketing.

"Yeah, ten to the minus ninth sounds right."
Explination of response: Engineers love to act like they know what they're doing all the time. They also avoid taking risks at all cost. So since this is the confident, no-risk way out, it's a sadly typical response.
Personality: Either too stupid to know the difference, too chicken to call you out, or too lazy to think about it. Either way, this is not a good engineer.
Reason for being an engineer: the paycheck.

"I can't be sure, but I can tell you it's in my pocket reference, thirty feet away."
Explination of response: There's a lot we need to know in life, so eventually most of us get over the idea of knowing it all and just learn when to look it up.
Personality: Confident, established engineer with nothing to prove or hide.
Reason for being an engineer: Just kept embracing practicality until they fell into it and got it all over them.

"I can't be sure, but I can tell you it's in my pocket reference ON PAGE 8, thirty feet away."
Explination of response: Not only smart, but has a sense of humor and pride in supplying any knowledge, even if it's not exactly what you're looking for.
Personality: Same as above, confident, established engineer with nothing to prove or hide, but the geek factor in this case is about ten times that of the normal, non-numbered answer.
Reason for being an engineer: Born that way.

"It's on Google."
Explination of response; Same as above except younger and cooler.
Personality: Closet computer nerd who shuns old-fashioned book things in favor of much more expensive methods.
Reason for being an engineer: Wants to take over the world.

"No, pico is ten to the minus 12. Nano is ten to the minus 9."
Explination of response: Paid too much attention in school.
Personality: Might come off as an asshole to some, but we fellow engineers know that they're smart as hell and call it like they see it. Go them.
Reason for being an engineer: It's either this or living under a bridge.

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Alright, so go brush up on your prefixes and look smart :)