Being Geek

I finished reading “Being Geek” by Michael Lopp. I am sure that Panagiotis (one of my “Your People“) will appreciate it more than me. For the first 20 chapters or so I got increasingly bored (to the point that I switched to reading another book). Then in the middle the book changes pace and provides valueable advice on how to prepare yourself before delivering a presentation. The author argues that there exists no good advice on how to write a presentation, I urge people to read Tufte‘s work, or at least “The cognitive style of PowerPoint“. Then the book becomes boring again.

While the book tries to be a personal growth / career book, it deals so much with interdepartmental politics and intrigue that it is no wonder people work overtime. Their regular worktime is spent not on what they are supposed to work on, but on forecasting fault and making sure it is delegated to others. I’ve got two more issues with the book. First, either it is full of grammatical and syntactic errors, or it makes use of so many American idioms that it is difficult to be read by someone for whom English is not a native language.

Second, I am highly irritated by the liberal use of the word engineer and its interchangeable use for computer scientist and programmer. There are people who are none, one, two or even three out of three, but the terms are not interchangeable. My absolute worst was when the author implied that engineers are not good project managers. Oh really? An Engineer knows his science, understands deadlines, knows that has to deliver a withing the budget solution and can manage people. Sorry Rands, I have an army Engineers to prove this. For example, Civil Engineers do this for a living in Greece and in the process manage people (and teams of people) of multicultural, multilingual and varying educational backgrounds. The fact that one can engineer solutions, does not make one an engineer.

I should have listened to Ozan. So why did I buy the book? Kudos to O’Reilly for providing cool bargaining deals on their eBook offers! I bought it in a buy one, get one free offer. Then why did I recommend the book to @stsimb? The book is not without value. I simply found it hard and tiring to decipher it. On the other hand I know @stsimb for ~15 years and can understand that there exist books that he might like while in fact I definitely did not. Given that I read most of the book while in the bus, this was not a total waste of time.

7 thoughts on “Being Geek

  1. “Second, I am highly irritated by the liberal use of the word engineer and its interchangeable use for computer scientist and programmer”

    The (American) ab-use of the word engineer is not limited to software engineers/Computer Scientists.

    * A janitor is now called “Sanitation Engineer.”
    * A garbage collector is now called “Waste Management Engineer”.
    * Modern snake oil salesmanship is called “Financial Engineering” :P.

    Basically, everyone these days is an ‘engineer’, which of course makes nobody an engineer (infinite inflation->infinite devaluation).

    So, don’t take the term too seriously ;).

  2. I haven’t read the book, and I won’t: I like the way Rands writes in his blog but I believe that his style is not interesting for book-length essays. Furthermore, he is a good storyteller, but not a true master mentor (again, judging only from his blog).

    Nevertheless, I will agree with him that the average Engineer (in George’s terms, not in Rands mixed up notion) is not necessarily well suited for project manager: Managing people can be counter-intuitive for a pure engineering mindset. Of course, any Engineer who is willing to delve into project management is capable of doing it by educating and training himself. But this is very different from arguing that by definition every engineer is a good project manager.

  3. @stsimb:
    I am glad I do not feel alone in boredom

    I found this interesting essay at NSPE that deals with the overloading of the term: What makes an Engineer?

    @Panagiotis Astithas:
    I expressed my certainty on how you would feel about the book right from the start! I guess I do not belong to the target audience of the book.

    @Michael Iatrou:
    I think part of the problem with the book, is that it is a re-edited version of Rands blog posts. I think the book uses 300 pages to say things easily described in 100. That is what causes boredom.

    As for my irritation with the assumption about engineers and management, the facts are simple. After a brief period of apprenticeship a Civil Engineer is expected to run a construction project like a 5-story building alone: Managing teams of workers and teams lead by other engineers (Electrical, Mechanical) while at the same time fulfilling the will of the Architect (and in Greece sometimes even stepping in the Architect’s shoes) and even making the actual sales! The same holds for the other “traditional” engineering disciplines: Either you run the project (manage) or people will die. Whether or not you are a good (project) manager is a matter of POV: Workers might drink water in your name, the client too (for keeping expenses low) but the building might collapse. Blood flow ultimately decides your management quality.

  4. It is oversimplified to qualitatively characterize management quality using a single bit, blood, !blood. Usually, when there is focus on safety, there is enough regulation around so that even the most incompetent manager can deliver a non bloodsheding product (no comments about the delivery dates, the actual development cost or the morale of his team…)

    1. As long as we do not have this, it is not an oversimplification. Engineering is driven (and regulated) by blood. So yes for the purpose of this discussion, given the oversimplifications made by Rands, the definition is more than enough. There is quality (the house does not fall), quality (it is beautiful) and quality (everyone is happy with how the project was run).

      Given who my employer is, I dare not to expand more on the subject. People might start thinking that I am echoing their views, which is not the case. I was simply brought up to become a Civil Engineer- I did not like it and chose EECS instead.

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