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Engineers, scientists, programmers, and other odd people

Posted on September 30, 2011 in Humor

Extract from Scott Adams' The Dilbert Principle, Chapter 14.

People who work in the field of science and technology are not like other people. This can be frustrating to nontechnical people who have to deal with them. The secret to coping with technology-oriented people is to understand their motivations. This chapter will teach you everything you need to know. [...]

Social skills

It’s totally unfair to suggest — as many have — that engineers are socially inept. Engineers simply have different objectives when it comes to social interaction. ``Normal'' people expect to accomplish several unrealistic things from social interaction:

• Stimulating and thought-provoking conversation

• Important social contacts

• A feeling of connectedness with other humans

These goals are irrational and stupid. Experience shows that most conversations degenerate into discussions about parking spaces, weather patterns, elapsed time since you last exercised, and — God forbid — feelings.'' These topics hardly qualify as stimulating and thought-provoking. Nor are they useful. Engineers realize that making personal contacts is not valuable in their occupation. For them it’s notwho you know that matters, it’s ``who knows less than you do that counts.

Nor is there much tangible value in feeling connected'' with other humans. That stuff is best left to the poets and the multilevel marketing organization. To an engineer, mostnormal'' people are intellectually indistinguishable from Mexican jumping beans with faces. Feeling “connected” with carbon-based dolts holds all the joy of being handcuffed to a dead zebra — it sounds special, but it can get old fast.

In contrast to ``normal'' people, engineers have rational objectives for social interactions:

• Get it over with as soon as possible.

• Avoid getting invited to something unpleasant.

• Demonstrate mental superiority and mastery of all subjects.

These are sensible goals and ones that can produce great joy. The social skill of an engineer must be evaluated on the basis of these rational objectives, not on the basis of bizarre and nonsensical societal standards. Viewed in this light, I think you’ll agree that engineers are very effective in their social interactions.

It’s the ``normal'' people who are nuts.

Fashion and appearance

Clothes are the lowest priority for an engineer, assuming the basic thresholds for temperature and decency have been satisfied. If no appendages are freezing or sticking together, and if no genitalia or mammary glands are swinging around in plain view, then the objective of clothing has been met. Anything else is a waste.

If you think about it logically, you are the only person who doesn't have to look at yourself, not counting the brief moments you look in the mirror. Engineers understand that their appearance only bothers other people and therefore it is not worth optimizing.

Another plus: Bad fashion can discourage normal people from interacting with the engineer and talking about the cute things their children do.

Dating and social life

Dating is never easy for engineers. A normal person will employ various indirect and duplicitous methods to create a false impression of attractiveness. Engineers are incapable of placing appearance over function.

For society, it’s probably a good thing that engineers value function over appearance. For example, you wouldn't want engineers to build nuclear power plants that only look like they would keep all the radiation inside. You have to consider the global perspective. But the engineer’s emphasis on function over form is a big disadvantage for dating, where the goal is to act phony until the other person loves you for the person that you are.

Engineers don’t like small talk because no useful information is exchanged. It is more useful to explain complicated technology issues to any human who will stand still. That way at least some information is exchanged and the encounter is not wasted. Unfortunately, it seems that a normal person would rather have a bushel of pine cones rammed up the nose than listen to a story about technology. But that’s no reason to stop imparting valuable knowledge to a person who doesn't want it.

Sometimes normal people will try to use body language to end an encounter with an engineer. But engineers ignore body language because it is an imprecise science at best. For example, it’s almost impossible to tell the difference between a comatose stare and an expression of interest. [...]


For humans, honesty is a matter of degree. Engineers are always honest in matter of technology and human relationships. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep engineers away from customers, romantic interests, and other people who can’t handle the truth.

Engineers sometimes bend the truth to avoid work. But thanks to the concept of ``common usage'' this is not technically dishonest in the modern work- place.

Sometimes engineers say things that sound like lies but technically are not because nobody could be expected to believe them. The complete list of engineers lies is listed below:

• “I won’t change anything without asking you first.”

• “I’ll return your hard-to-find cable tomorrow.”

• “I have to have new equipment to do my job.”

• “I’m not jealous of your new computer.”


Power of concentration

If there is one trait that best defines an engineer it is the ability to concentrate on one subject to the complete exclusion of everything else in the environment. This sometimes causes engineers to be pronounced dead prematurely. There are numerous reports of engineers who were halfway through the em- balding process before they sat up and shouted something like “I've got it — all it needs is a backup relay circuit!!!” [...]


The risk/reward calculation for engineers looks something like this:

• RISK: Public humiliation and the death of thousands of innocent people.

• REWARD: A certificate of appreciation in a handsome plastic frame.