Dave Snowden

… when engineers run the world?

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I've fallen behind on this blog over the last week and I have some backfill posts to make on IT Management, the first two parts of the Ring in Berlin and the death of that woman.  But those will come during the week as I have time.  This week I want to focus on issues that relate to the material in our new courses coming up in London, San Francisco and Melbourne.    Today I flew down from Berlin in Krakow where I will keynote tomorrow morning at ACE.  I then get most of Wednesday free as well so I've booked on the Auschwitz tour for the morning, more on that on the day I expect if its something I feel I can write about.  Tomorrow I will be developing the complex domain model and arguing for a form of pre-process before you get into system design.   I'm working on the slides tonight as it needs a picture or two and I'm feeling self-righteous as I have not gone to the Polish drinking house with the rest of the delegates!  More on that tomorrow, hopefully with a pod cast.

I've got a pile of back copies of the New Statesman with me to read and I caught up on the spring double issue on the flight this morning.  One of the book reviews asks the question that forms the title to this post.  One interesting statistic and I quote in full:

Analysing the backgrounds of 178 jihadis, Gambetta and Hertog found that 44 per cent had studied for an engineering degree – while engineers comprised an average of only 3.5 per-cent of the male workforce in their home countries.

… “Engineering is a subject in which individuals with a dislike for ambiguity might feel comfortable” they wrote.  According to a US survey, engineers were “less adept at dealing with the confusing causality of the social and political realms and …. inclined to think that societies should operate in an orderly way akin to well-functioning machines”.

Now I think some of that is a little unfair to some engineers.   I've worked with a lot over the years and I've found that civil engineers in particular live with uncertainty on a daily basis and are story rich in consequence.  However the engineering metaphor that underpins modern management 'science' deserves all the criticism of those quotes and more.

Now I want to avoid the false dichotomy that is often made between techno-fetishist engineers on the one part and new age fluffy bunny lets be nice to everyone types.  The issue for me is when you bring in the engineers not if you do, and as importantly what you do in parallel.  So remember in the real world primary science comes before engineering, and architecture and design before the engineering drawings.  A lot of what we teach on the above referenced courses is not the engineering element, that is already handled well, but what comes before, what you need to do in parallel and how you learn in consequence.   I'll be picking up on those themes over the next week starting tomorrow understanding needs before you start to design the solution and the need for parallelism to come before multiple sequential reruns.