There was a time when there were illiterate people and a few who could read and write. The modern age equivalent of that is: people who know programming languages and people who don’t. Our lives are dependent on technology more than we like to admit. We also know that having a set of skills that are niche, on which people are dependent on and something that cannot be replaced by computers because computers are dependent on those skills, in a dire need in this age. But being the only engineer in the room is not an easy thing. Why?
1. Asking non-technical people what they need.
Every engineer hates the horror of asking normal people what they need when it comes to the inception of projects. Almost everything people say sounds like this: I want ‘A’, no but our creative team thinks ‘B’ looks cute. The lawyers and CAs suggest ‘C’ is the best approach. Then the big boss will get up, repeat everything and by leveraging years of experience he will come to the conclusion that actually ‘D’ is the alphabet that they want you to type, because ‘Screw the team and screw logic!’
2. When the MBA who came along with you starts interpreting facts.
This is exactly how it sounds like “I think what you really need is a ‘B’ or ’C’ written as ‘A’ because screw the English language, who decided that something that sounds like ‘bee’ or ‘cee’ cannot be represented with the symbol ‘A’, there shouldn’t be restrictions on how the symbol ‘A’ should be pronounced.” Controlling the urge to not hurt someone is something that keeps the engineer silent until this moment. It is good to wait out the whole chaotic thought process and to step in only when everyone is confused and helpless.
3. Reiterating what they actually wanted.
This is when the engineer points out: “Actually what you want is an ‘A’. Let me just write that down for you so that we do not deviate from the initial requirement”.
4. This is when your boss steps in guns blazing.
Let’s not completely reject their suggestions, why can’t you just write ‘B’ and ‘C’ using the symbol for ‘A’ as well? We might have to bill them for more amount of time but just write ‘AAA’ and they can pronounce these as they wish.
5. The war between the bosses.
The client somehow understood that they are being conned here, the mention of billing is something that jump starts brain functionality for everyone in the room and they all start howling about ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’. The key is to zone out at this point and pretend like you are paying attention.
6. The superpowers of a coder.
It is not easy being the only person whom people think of as a wizard capable of bending the laws that govern the universe. The secret is providing a solution that is just workable enough and makes everyone happy. It’s not the best solution but let’s face it, one has to shut down logic when they are ‘On Salary’ and the bosses are egomaniacs. So the engineer gets up and speaks the beautiful words to sheer brilliance that brings a smile to everyone. “I’ll write ‘A’ on one side of the card and ‘C’ on the flip side, satisfying the basic requirements, the lawyers and the CAs and put it inside an envelope that has a pretty ‘B’ on it. But to satisfy the boss, there is a need to give an extremely complicated explanation as to how all these symbols can also be pronounced as ‘dee’. The key is to state that extremely complicated explanation in a manner that sounds so obvious that anyone who questions it might risk sounding like an idiot.
7. Sweet revenge.
Well, everyone knows that the big boss will make you rework to get the right amount of billing hours so the key is to chill and take your own sweet time because you have a brilliant solution that nobody actually understood and more than that they do not understand the process. So the quicker you serve it, the more they will nag and the more number of alphabets will come in to cover those hours. All of this will only end with your beautiful and simple masterpiece to turn into a matrix of bugs and errors. So every time someone asks you about progress, open up the most monstrous tools on the three screens connected to your desktop and start explaining everything in great detail. Nothing scares a non-coder more than those creepy things that do not look as pretty as they do in sci-fi movies.
8. Cover your ass.
A great person once told me, “To err is human but to blame it on someone else shows management potential.” The most important task is to share just enough information that a non-coder can digest, something that does not stir chaos and confusion and allows you to keep a few tricks up your sleeve in crisis situations where you can be the voluntary savior instead of the scapegoat.
9. Know what’s “need to know.”
If you have niche skills or you have become a subject matter expert at things that were shoved your way because nobody else wanted to touch them, do not give up the throne because you are bored of being the go to person in all similar situations. You are only as valuable to the employer as the number of things that they are dependent on you for and the day you give those up, you are as replaceable as anyone else during budget cuts.
10. Never argue on the relevance of business trips.
The business trips clients pay a butt load of money for are mostly a complete waste of resources. This is not your place to argue or educate anyone with more logical and economic ways of making things work. Think of it as a free vacation with an AMEX card that you can swipe without a care in the world because you don’t have to pay the bill. Enjoy it while it lasts and don’t get stingy on the budget, it’s not your money! Stay at five star hotels that you cannot afford, enjoy the change of scenery and wine and dine like a boss. You earned it!