General Engineering Introduction/Communication/Slackers

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Slackers/"Hard to Work With" or Communicator/Cave Dweller

Slacking versus Hard to Work With[edit]

The tendency in student projects is for one student to do all the work. This student wants to win friends and influence people. This person succumbs to the peer pressure of turning I into We. Others benefit without working or "slacking" and the I student experiences massive frustration. On the next project, the I student isolates them self, does random independent work. The hard work turns into "hardToWorkWith." Everyone looses.

In any group of engineers, these roles have to be filled: communicator and worker. Both have to be equally valued. Immature student teams turn the "excellent communicator" into a "slacker" and the "hard worker" into "hard to work with." Why?

The world needs engineers that work hard and communicate well. The best communicating engineers turn into highly paid project managers. The hard working engineers earn patents and/or move closer to the highly paid "first hired expert engineer in this subject". The world needs both.

One of the most interesting sources of "slacker" is cultural. It is associated with how different cultures perceive time. Engineering needs to encompass "polychromic time" much more than most other disciplines, precisely because most projects are open ended. They can not fit into the "monochromic time" expectations of the US.


If you have slacker tendencies, this means you have a gift of communication. You just don't value yourself ... yet. School will not value your work as much as business will. You may like the art part of engineering more than the math and science. Stick with it. Listen to complex theories. Shrink these to a short sound byte. Ask this type of question "do you mean .......?" Go for the big picture; a larger scope. Increase the presented context with your questions. Don't try to dive into the details. Risk being stupid. Frustrate others with questions that pull them out of their mind tunnels of concentration. Don't be intimidated by fellow students who can correct details the professor is scribbling.

There are people who naturally can concentrate. They don't have to struggle learning this. They have a different set of problems. Learn from them how to open your mind tunnels. Work on your weakness. You may not want to live there. But you do need to empathize with cave dwellers. Your goal is to do what they can not. Learn to take their work and hand it to society with your words describing how life will change for the better. Concentrate on presentations and documentation.

Four undergraduate years of engineering will be the most rewarding, challenging and invigorating experience of your life. Risk being stupid. Only half of engineering is tunnel vision, living in one's mind, writing software and filling pages up with drawings and math. Remember ... A students become professors and B students end up working for C students.

Cave Dwellers[edit]

Suppose you have the ability work alone. You can work hard, work endlessly, and work with joy. Suppose engineering, science and math classes are very rewarding. You would rather learn from the text book than listen to someone talk. Suppose you are just a nerd in all other classes. Labs require you to educate others. Engineering projects are not a nerds revenge. Don't turn everyone else into a slacker.

Look at the most irritating professors. They are you. The ideal math/science/engineering professor has the emotive kindness and bossy bullying skills of an english professor. But these gifts coupled with the ability to do calculus on the fly in front of a class are rare. Find a forgiving "communicator" and practice. Work at running out of your tunnel at a moments notice and being kind to people. Warn people. Ask them to be understanding when you known you are running out of your mind tunnel into the daylight without time to adjust.

Cave Dweller percentages increase at the more selective, higher average SAT score colleges. Transferring to one of these can make the average Cave Dweller feel like a regular person rather than a nerd. Working at jobs with many other engineers can make the average Cave Dweller feel normal. Working alone as the only engineer in a non-engineering company is a cave dwellers's nightmare that requires a very strong, understanding manager.

The most important thing a Cave Dweller can do right is appreciate communicators. Number one it is important to not turn them into slackers. Give them the Gantt Charts. Give them the list of 1000 tasks that need to be done and let them coordinate people and summarize. Hand them more raw, unpolished details and let them shrink them to presentation sound bytes. Don't berate them if they are not 100% technically correct. Value their time as much as your own. The atom cost of most material in homes is around 5%. The rest of the cost is marketing, transporting, packaging, and supporting which all involve communication. Don't inflate your ego at the expense of people with different gifts, even in the engineering context.