I'm NOT like you. I'm an Engineer
Distributed Cloud, Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, Quantum Computing, ChatGPT. I know all the buzzwords and the challenges they hide.
Knowing those challenges doesn’t mean I’m more intelligent than you. It means I likely have more technical knowledge and experience implementing than you do.
I’ve been in this business long enough to remember when Cloud was a buzzword and when I heard someone say DevOps the first time. The reality of all these terms is that while they sound simple and are easy to remember, they come with a whole host of challenges — most of which will require more time, effort, and money than most businesses are willing to put in.
They become just another form of bikeshedding, except it’s not a bikeshed. It’s the tallest building in the world, Burj Khalifa.
I Count Buzzwords
My attention is immediately caught when someone utters a buzzword near me, and I often start listening very carefully to the conversation, even if I’m not part of it.
From that moment, I create a counter internally and increment every time that person uses a buzzword around me. I call it my bullshit barometer.
I don’t remember when, but at one point, I started noticing an inverse correlation between how many buzzwords a person uses and how much that person knows about the subject.
Some people are buzzword machines, and often they are the people running the business. C-level staff and department heads are the people who most often trigger my BS Barometer but even seasoned IT staff have done it.
If someone triggers my BS alarm, one of two things will happen. I will either start paying much less attention to what they’re saying or — more likely — engage with them on the subject to find out what they want.
For most, it’s simply to discuss the topic, a sort of “blue sky” meeting on the applications and how the business can benefit from implementing or using the technology. When we get down to cost, man-hours, and estimates, most — if not all — quickly discard the idea.
Know what you’re talking about
Engineers can be a jaded bunch — I know I can be — but we usually know what we’re talking about regarding tech. So you should, too, if you decide that your website, e-commerce, or trading platform should now include Blockchain or ChatGPT.
We won’t be impressed or excited by the buzzword; we’ll more likely roll our eyes or sigh and look at each other with that knowing look. Engineers reading this know the look.
We get it; it sounds simple. But it isn’t. Implementation, integration, testing, and bug fixing can take months, and years later, you may still face problems. It’s the life of living on the cutting edge of technology, and it’s exciting but not cheap nor without risk.
“Engineer [Noun] — Someone who does precision guesswork based on unreliable data provided by those of questionable knowledge. See also, Wizard or Magician.”
To be clear, I’m not saying don’t do it. I’m saying start a dialog with your engineers. Sit down with your team, and start talking it through.
Hear the ideas, the concerns and, most importantly, involve us in the decision process. We want to help the business succeed in any way we can, but despite popular belief, we are neither wizards nor magicians.
Workshops are a great way to bring your whole team together and start looking at the new tech. A structured kickoff workshop can help set a direction for research and prototyping.
Start by talking about what the new tech could do for the business and what benefits it could bring. Agree on multiple avenues of focus, and split off into smaller discussion groups if the workshop has more than five people.
In smaller groups, dialog often becomes more fluid, as people who tend to hold back feel more comfortable speaking up in smaller groups.
Be aware of who tends to hold back, and ensure they get a chance to put in their suggestions. Including everyone who attends the workshop is important at this stage.
Research and Prototyping
Getting constructive proposals and feedback doesn’t come from workshops. It comes from research and prototyping, and it is important to give your team dedicated time to do this.
It’s easy to think spending an hour reading posts on Medium is sufficient, but engineers need time to play around with new technology. These things can take time, and in a busy world, finding that time should be a job for the managers, not the engineers.
Setting aside dedicated time every week, such as 4 hours on Fridays after lunch, really works great. Alternatively, doing it on a Wednesday will give everyone that little bit of a boost which can be helpful to get over hump day.
Set goals for the research, but let the team make their own tasks. Think of it as boarding a plane heading for a destination but letting the crew take care of the rest. You don’t tell the pilot how to fly the plane or the steward how to hand out the nuts either, right?
The flow of workshops, research, and prototyping can continue — for some time — until you have some actionable proposals. From here, everything turns back into familiar territory.
Estimation- and planning meetings are set. Prototypes and proposals are shown and discussed. Tasks are created, estimated, and a roadmap for implementation is finalised.
How your particular business do these things normally is how you proceed from here. Being on the cutting-edge path is not so different from working in familiar territory, especially when setting things in motion.
But remember, estimate is another word for guesswork on this path.
We are not the same
often work in the middle ground between engineers and business people. My job is to tell the business what can be done and what can’t within their desired budgets, and to have engage with the business on new ideas.
Taking advantage of new technology can bring great rewards, both financially and professionally. I believe doing it in a sustainable way is the path to a healthy business and company culture, and the best way to keep your engineers happy.
Some years ago, I read that if you put Blockchain in your business name or description, the valuation could increase overnight. Some business may be tempted to add buzzwords to their business profile, in the hopes of boosting their image and valuation. I don’t get why. I do, but I don’t. I guess it’s because I know that buzzwords are not a silver bullet for any problem and are neither risk nor cost-free.
But more likely, it’s because I’m JUST an Engineer.