Why engineers will always be lousy politicians and pundits

Its political season here, and the media (both old and new) are filled 24/7 with politicians, pundits, and consultants who are analyzing, assessing, and forecasting. I'm so sick of the meaningless energy dissipation that I have pretty much shut off the TV and radio, and restricted my web sites and surfing time severely.

It's not that I am not interested in these elections in themselves; no doubt, they are important. But when I see the typical behavior and messages of the players, I get major mental aggravation.

Why? First and least offensive is their “spin”, putting as good an interpretation on the facts as possible. It's like the old joke about a race: “our guy came in second, while your guy only came in next to last”–but you don't mention that it was just a two-person race!

Second, and more offensive, is the smooth way these people evade questions asked. Imagine your project manager asks, “hey, did you get that dissipation under budget?” and you answer “that's a good question, but instead I'd like to point out that we did get the speed up 20% above plan.”

Finally, there's the absolute ease with which these people make predictions and then have no shame or contrition when they are repeatedly wrong. Instead, it's just on to the next prediction. If you modeled system performance and were off by 50%, you'd not only try to figure out why, you'd likely hesitate before making your next bold statement.

This behavior is very far removed from the non-software world of analog designers. When a vendor gives you a sample part and data sheet, you should be able to get the part to do what the data sheet says (assuming you have the proper test setup and expertise). There's no facile, glib suggestion to “ignore our 90 dB SNR claim, but look at that dissipation, and we promise an uncommitted internal op amp, maybe by next quarter.”

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