Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Take a Bow

Just about every engineer describes at least one part of his job as being “thankless”.  As a person who works in the measurement world I used to lament: “nobody wants to measure things, they just want to make stuff”. 

Boo, hoo.  Poor me. 

Designers cry how nobody appreciates their sheer genius and their amazing insight.  Production people moan about the struggles of deadlines and budget… and not to mention the ever present quality control pressures.

It’s a wonder that anyone would want to be an engineer…
…but you are one – and that says something about you.

So let’s take a look at the concept of feeling “rewarded”.  To shed some light on this I’d like to tell you about two recent conversations and an old, old story.

Conversation #1.
The topic of “the next generation of engineers” came up among some friends.  One of the guys was talking about a seminar that he attended on the topic of “managing millennials”.  It was interesting to hear of this topic.  Plus it was a catchy title – so I really tuned into what he had to say.  I’m not sure that I agree with all of the generalizations and stereotypes, but there was a general thought many people of the younger generation are growing up with a concept of “you get a reward for simply participating”.  This is indeed becoming a popular trend – the significance of winning and losing are being diminished and effort (or worse yet simply “being there”) is being rewarded.

Conversation #2.
I have a great graphic designer that I get to work with on occasion.  One day we were talking about the differences and similarities between creating software and creating art.  I told him that developing software can be incredibly engaging – it can be something like solving Sudoku puzzles for a living.  He chimed in, “I do a Sudoku puzzle every day on my lunch break!”

An old, old story…
You may have hear the expression “prodigal son”, or “the prodigal son has returned”.  The term is from a Biblical fable or “parable” (kind of like one of Aesop’s fables) which was used to illustrate a point.  The quick version of the story: 1. Son demands inheritance from dad.  2. Son blows inheritance on wine, women and song and hits rock bottom.  3. Son comes back asking for forgiveness.  4.  Dad welcomes him back and throws a party.  5. Brother get’s ticked off asking: “where’s my party?”

I used to take the brother’s side.  After all, where was his party?  However, the dad’s response to him was pretty insightful.  He said something to the effect of “your party is being here with me every day”.  The angry brother didn’t fully grasp that it was much more rewarding to be in a good place every day – rather than deal with the rough stuff that the prodigal brother went through.  Bottom line: the angry brother didn’t realize how good he had it.  He has the privilege of being in a good place.  He gets to be there all the time.

So let’s put the pieces together…

The engineering workplace can be rather thankless.  If you are used to being noticed, thanked and praised you may be in for a harsh surprise.  You may be sitting in a cubicle right now thinking about unrewarding your job really is.  Some of you might have grown up in a not-so-competitive culture and you aren’t used to the lack of “best effort” medals or stickers.  That’s ok.  It’s time for you to pull up your big engineer pants and create your own rewards.  Think about these things…

1. You get to solve puzzles for a living.  That’s a pretty cool job when you stop and think about it.

2. There are many jobs that could be much worse.  Elephants anyone? 

3. You can make your own rewards.  When you hit milestones or have personal victories – take a break.  Take a walk.  Have a coffee.  Grab a candy bar.  Do something to get away for a few minutes.  Call it a mini-vacation for 15 minutes.

4. Do your part to create a “culture of reward” around you.  When you see someone do something cool – acknowledge it.  One thing you will find is that when you start helping others feel good about their work, you will start feeling better and more rewarded yourself.  Who knows it may even rub off.

Remember this: you get to be an engineer.