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Words of warning August 2, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, engineering, societal commentary.
Tags: ,

Over the years, I’ve heard two phrases that really scare me.

The first is, “I want to start my own business.”  What this usually translates to is, “I don’t want anyone telling me what to do.”  I’ve heard this phrase from people I considered really smart and people I thought were dumb as rocks (and that’s probably an insult to some of the brighter rocks out there).  Usually, it means they think they feel they’re capable of producing better decisions than people they’re working for and/or with.  When you ask what they want to do, they usually have only vague notions.  It’s not that they have a great idea that they feel the world needs, it’s more that they want to get out of a situation where they feel their talents are being ignored and squelched.

What bothers me about this phrase is that, if they paid close attention, the issues they’re having in the work place would probably be magnified if they were in charge of their own business.  Of course, knowing that, I can only hope they realize what they need to do if they ever do start their own business.  (And I say this as someone who *has* run her own business.)  But the real kicker is that starting ones own business has everything to do with being the boss without regard for whether or not you’re actually doing something useful.

The other phrase is one I hear from engineers and engineering students: “I want(ed) to become an engineer so I could make things.”

This one is pretty straightforward – except for the thing which is not stated but implied.  “I want to make things, but I don’t necessarily care how they work.”  Or sometimes, “I’m certainly not going to put in the effort to find out how they work.”  But the absolute worst is, “And I won’t bother talking to people who know how they work because they’re just a bunch of eggheads who live in a virtual reality.”

So in other words, they don’t care about theory or the foundations of engineering.  They don’t necessarily want to try anything new because that just might involve learning something.  It’s almost as if they became an engineer to make something, but they want to be told what to make, sometimes even how to make it.  And, of course, how it’s supposed to work is absolutely irrelevant.

I’m never sure how to deal with these attitudes, but I can tell you that it’s extremely frustrating.  I’ve dealt with it in people I’ve taught as well as people I’ve worked with.  I do realize that people do things for something other than intrinsic motivation (maybe they’re more interested in the paycheck), but I can’t help wonder if people who take these approaches to their careers have missed the point.



1. FrauTech - August 3, 2011

Really agree with this post, especially the first half. I know too many people who want to start their own businesses and have no clear idea of what that would mean. First, that they’d actually have to be reponsible for generating a viable business idea rather than mooching off of one that’s already successful. Second, most of the things people don’t like about their current jobs (long hours, dealing with difficult people) are the worst parts of running your own business.


mareserinitatis - August 4, 2011

In the first case, I can see something with a skill contracting that skill out…but that’s not an option everyone has. And you’re right – the second point is a big issue. Running a business is a LOT of work…and a lot of people don’t seem to realize that…only see the glamorous side.


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