Sunday, February 27, 2011

Anti-engineer bias

I know its really easy to fall into an "us vs. them" war of words with humanities majors, artists, journalists and other "non-tech" people. I don't want this to be about that.

I like art. I respect it. And I think that the best engineer-artists are like da Vinci, good at both things. I don't mean like English majors who think their effort at a website makes them "techy".
I mean like architects who can design a structure for sunlight, but who also know Maxwell's equations.

But this article from nytimes makes me angry:

It basically blames Nokia's troubles on its engineers.

There were similar comments about why GM and Ford struggled. People asked "are their cars bad because their engineers dominate the work culture and push around the designers?". The article also reminds me of the end of the dot-com era. I remember seeing comedy sketches where developers in jeans coded while their office burned.

Lets be clear. No corporation, especially an American one, has ever loved engineers. Maybe Google comes the closest (and I love Google for it). But most of them force engineers to make a decision in their careers: continue to compute and stagnate; or move into middle management and rise.

It suits the managers to come up with trash like "people person" and push down engineers. They love to avoid having a parallel track for their tech folk. And this idea that designers or artists or some non-tech "creative" person could save the company may be true, but my point is the opposite is almost never true: its rare that the engineers break a company. When have you seen a big tech company collapse because its product didn't work? (Seriously, no Microsoft jokes. We all know Windows is convenient.)

Finally, I really feel that the Times has too many liberal arts majors as editors and tech writers. I can't help but feel there is some Freudian effort to push these stories onto front pages so that these same liberal arts majors feel good about their useless degrees and massive student loans. I think it makes them feel better about not being good at math (Did they try? Anyone can be good at math.)

These sorts of stories keep coming up. Maybe I'm too sensitive to them, but lets send out some of the blame to the GM managers and board members, the greedy venture caps folk in the dot-com era and the CEOs of Nokia.

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