It’s Technical

Sunlit Ballroom (3rd Party Photo)

Last week, I went to Shangri La for a workshop. It was for technical lead engineers, or was it for lead technical engineers, I forget. As I’ve written the surroundings were plush. However, the course content was a bit watery. Corporate education as devolved to a sorry state.

Looking around the classroom, I noticed a certain similarity among the participants. We were all stale, pale and male. All save one, but she was as far as diversity went in this instance. I later learned that the stale aspect of the workshop was to be expected. We were being taught how to train our replacements.

At one time this thought would have had me shaking in my boots, but that was then and this is now. Now time and demographics are on my side. Once, I was the new guy, at the end of a long row of desks. At the other end of this row was the head guy, the guy with the table. For most meetings, we would sit around his table and discuss the problem de jour. Now, I’m the guy with the table, except with the new modular furniture, the table is a tiny, wheeled shadow of its former self.

Joel, our contract facilitator, was a gifted purveyor of the curriculum. He is Seattle-based, Army trained and Microsoft vetted. A former tank commander in Desert Storm, he singlehandedly energized the white spaces between Scooby snacks and lunch.

I must admit that I started this workshop full of premeditated pushback. I did not want to drink the Kool-Aid and become some Stepford engineer. Throughout the white noise portions of those two days, I kept wishing that this meeting had been condensed to just the first morning. That they then had fed us a nice lunch and sent us on our way. This is what the Perma-Bear did. He decided that he didn’t have the bandwidth for this workshop and there was not enough value added for his time. I stuck it out and maybe learned something from this silo of brilliance.

It has been almost a week since the workshop and I have had some time to process. What is the DNA of an engineer? Is it the demanding contrarian, as I have voiced? Is it someone willing to popcorn it out? Or just someone playing whack-a-mole all day? What is the metric? What is the secret sauce? As an engineer, how do you tell what right looks like?

The workshop offered answers to all of these questions. I still reject the psycho-babble offered, but I am intrigued by the questions. How do you pass the baton?

Years ago, my friend Chris, worked at a metallurgical firm. It was the early ‘80s and the Japanese were running roughshod over Detroit. Chris’s middle age boss was all antsy and uptight about an impending visit by a delegation from Japan. Chris could not believe that anyone could care so much about their job. Afterwards, he related a funny story from the visit. Sometime previous, Chris or a peer had taped black paper over the window of a welder’s mask. It was just a grab-ass gag. Through serendipity that mask was handed to the Japanese representative to view an important procedure. He never said a word and no one learned of the joke until afterwards.

The mantra for this workshop was to advise, assist and check. The previous anecdote falls squarely under the third tenet. To advise and assist is more nebulous. Where do these two attributes end and interfere begin? How do you preload a person to be a good mentor? Maybe in this new role, I’ll learn and find out.

1 thought on “It’s Technical

  1. Well I now have two people to supervise, instead of one. The new one (who has worked here for years, but just got shifted departement-wise) came into my office yesterday to tell me her computer screen was not showing anything but black, and did I have any suggestions. I did. I told her to go to IT. My tone was something on the order of, “what can I do?”
    Then later I apologized for not realizing that she was coming to me as her manager, not as somebody who might have a clue on how to revive.
    I will try to remember the Advise and ASSIST mantra.

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