The Anonymous Engineer
Civil engineers can at times be difficult to work with. A necessity to have on a team, but not something you seek out and get excited about. Where does this difficulty come from? Why does working with engineers have to feel insufferable sometimes? I think part of it stems from the fact that civil engineers are aware that our role is not glamorous. We don't typically design things that capture people's imagination or inspire awe. Certainly there are some great feats of engineering that are well known and timeless and awe inspiring, but at a project level the bulk of our work is spent trying to go unnoticed.
Whether our efforts are literally out of eye sight because they're buried or so expected and plain that there would be no reason to take note, people tend to only have an opinion about our work when there is a problem and thus opinions are greatly skewed in a negative way. This is a fact that most civil engineers have come to understand. However, I don't think anyone really comes to accept a fact that their very best efforts will necessarily go unnoticed. That doesn't feel good to anyone.
At times I think we compensate by over-valuing our role. We can't help but to search for our own satisfaction. We overstate our importance in meetings because subconsciously we crave recognition, but it can have the negative effect of seeming arrogant, smug, or intellectually elite, when in reality a civil engineer is a wonderful and smart person just like every other team member. Combine this with a gravitation towards social awkwardness (there, I said it) and it can make engineers downright unpleasant to deal with.
Another negative that can derive from this need to self-satisfy is that an engineer can lose sight of what matters to the client when they're subconsciously searching for something to make themselves feel valued. An engineer may overthink something. Over design it. Search for the BEST design when a good design will do perfectly well. We may get focused on some minute detail and miss other more relevant ones because we think this thing is particularly cool and we need to insert that value or coolness because it doesn't come from the outside. We might find satisfaction in the relaxing nature of a round number like 1.0% instead of 0.973% and work hard to tweak the design until we get there instead of just rounding it up and moving on. If we really accept that our goal is a design that simply has no problems there should be no reason to push the design further than achieving that goal. Some other engineer might appreciate the effort, but for everyone else, including the client, it just looks like unnecessary time and money. We'll have taken a job with little recognized value and devalued it even more.
I think there is a solution to this problem of feeling undervalued and then subconsciously lashing out or sabotaging a project. We need to redefine what our purpose is and what success is. We need to find a purpose that can be outwardly appreciated by others and that will allow us to let go of feeling like our plans or reports are paramount. If we look to service as our goal we can stop worrying about designing the BEST plan and instead focus on the best plan for YOU. And those efforts will not be unnoticed or forgotten by those you serve. When we define our job by our service we won't feel a need to jockey for position on teams or care a lick if our product is treated like a commodity.
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Pearce Wroe, PE