May 30th, 2016

planet

how engineers think about people

sandokai asked me: Do you think like an engineer, and if so how do you think this affects who you are as a social being (including romantically)?

Long rambly post ahead, sorry about this one. I re-read it to see if I needed to be more focused and finally decided to give up and post.

And a disclaimer: there are many types of engineers and we don't think one way. At times in this entry I didn't do a great job drawing the line between how I think and how all engineers think - obviously I'm not qualified to speak for all engineers. So if you're an engineer and disagree with a point on this, say so, it's interesting, we can still be cool :)

First, there's a common intersection between being an introvert and an engineer that's hard to untangle, so I'm not sure which chicken/egg is to blame for all my differences. There are things I'm okay with that not everybody is. For instance recently I listened to a podcast on ghosting and how mean it is... I love ghosting! Ghosting at parties is the only way I know how to leave, I hate spending 30 minutes telling people goodbye and I REALLY hate when people stand in my doorway yammering on with their coats on because they just keep thinking up shit to talk about. And relationships? Yes I tried to ghost on a relationship once. It was the best. It worked because the guy slowly realized we weren't going to be together. Men say they want blunt honesty but when you actually do that, they flip their shit on you about how "this was all so sudden!" and "you've known for a long time you just wanted to say this and you HID it pretending everything was great meeting me every night didn't you!" When you kinda just gradually get too busy for them they feel like they have figured something out or they are making the decision that you're not giving enough and they let you go and they might say they're insulted by the ghosting but in the time it took them to figure that out, they came to terms with it and aren't flipping out.

There's a lot of people I just don't like and I don't feel bad about it. There's a lot of people who don't like me and I've learned to accept it. I frequently feel really really awkward. There are some people though who make me feel at ease the moment I see them, no matter how long it's been or even if we just met, and those are the people who I try to be better friends with.

I hate social niceties. I like IM at work, because you can just shoot someone a question... "what light was that again?" On the phone you have to say "hi how are you? do you have time for a question? that's all I needed..."

I did once date a guy who said emotion wasn't for engineers at all. If we weren't passionately in love, that was okay, because passionate love was some hollywood movie conspiracy, we are smart enough to just identify compatibility and should go with that because there's not some magic extra spark. He really thought like an engineer.

He ended up being wrong. We can be passionate and magical, there is something we can't explain, I'm happy to say. Maybe it's better because I didn't assume it would happen.

I have insensitive thoughts that I keep to myself. When I hear that someone's great grandmother died my head always goes "well yeah she was 97" when on the outside I know I'm supposed to say "I'm so sorry for your loss, you must be devastated." I once took out a life insurance policy by telling agent I needed "just enough to get me in the ground if I kick it" and she corrected me, saying that's called "final expenses". Oh yup that's it. I sometimes think I was so obsessed with statistics when I was pregnant because I just wanted to know my odds, and when I know my odds I know my risk, and I could say "okay that's the risk I have to accept". So the 30% miscarriage risk, the 1 in 5000 SIDS risk, I just had to know the numbers and obsess for a bit. There are very few funerals I've been to that affected me deeply, the only ones that did were for tragic losses of kids, and even then I was trying to logically figure out why I was so much more sad about these, and the bad insensitive part of me wondered if it was a return-on-investment issue... you invest so much in a kid in order to see them turn into bright adults, when the worst happens it's like a project you spent 10 years of your life on just sink away.

And speaking of kids, I trust doctors more than most women I talked to about pregnancy. The other women were pretty sure the doctors were just trying to schedule c-sections to make their golf games in time, and vaccine companies were just trying to make money off us by selling unnecessary and potentially harmful snake oil. But as a scientist I knew that those vaccine doctors were vaccinating their own kids, just like I fly my own kids around in airplanes we make, would you accuse me of wanting the airplanes to fall out of the sky just so I could sell more spare parts? I am part of that system of the scientific method so I assume good faith. I know what the Toyota engineers were thinking when they heard of uncommanded acceleration - they wanted occurrence rates and wanted to know if anyone had duplicated the problem, when the media just wanted to tell personal stories. (actually, I think I wrote a whole other entry on this topic of engineering and safety issues)

So we get accused of being insensitive and not caring about people because when one accident happens and the non-engineers say EVERYONE DROP EVERYTHING we rationalize and say "Well how about we have four people drop everything? With an intern, to learn on this!" Not nice. We ask the wrong questions. We aren't interested in the youth and beauty of the people hurt, we ask about coefficients of friction, flammability requirements, whether the specifications were followed, and all that is not sensitive. We do care about people and do love people but we also have this other place, and it doesn't look right to everybody, and that's why we're different. I read books on people and use methods to figure them out when it's not natural, that's my strategy, everyone and everything is a system. When I'm at peace I know I'm doing the right thing.