Earlier in the week, I posted photos of engineering workspaces of the late Jim Williams (Linear Technology) and Bob Pease (National Semiconductor). Seeing those photos prompted me to ask, "What about yours?" How messy are there and, ergo, how much of a genius are you, really?
The photos are rolling in, and we're on the hunt for more!. We'll collect as many as we can as they come in in the coming days, and then we'll put the photos to a vote: Whose workstation shouts most loudly: "genius."
Check them out:
Christopher Nelson, Ft. Wayne, IN
I had to ask: Chris, what's up with the chair?? I actually don't remember how it got there. I am 6'4" and destroyed the first few chairs when I came to work so it is probably one of those. Currently, part of what I do help design computers for audio professionals. This area is a R&D, testing and repair area.
Because they know exactly where everything is (in the place where they last put it) as long as no one comes along and tidies up for them. Or makes them tidy up themselves; once the original where-it's-located connection is broken by tidiness, items will be so well organized they will never be located again.
Yeah, trackballs are great, for that reason and also the reduced grope-around factor. But be sure to get a nice quiet one - last time I used a trackball at work, given my financial priorities and Scottish ancestry, it was a cheap one that made noise. Everyone else said it sounded like I was playing video games.
I've got a cool alternative to the trackball that doesn't need any desk space, it works on the surface of my laptop. Now I can pile the paperwork right up to the edge! See www.futuremouse.com
I don't have a workbench anymore, but still have a messy desk, I'm afraid.
I would love to have the top manager at my last employer be made to look at these desks and then be shown how productive and creative the engineers were. He was one of those types who had outlines on the desk for where the phone and pad should be, and he valued neat far above organized. The same mind believed that all engineering talent was equal. Need I say more?
This is the problem with messy desks. If you work with a lot of hardware and prototyping, you have a lot stuff needed to do your work. Some of my larger prototype projects looked like I had dumped pots of spaghetti on several desks. Then add on to that test equipment, meters, parts, tools, and computers then you have what seems a cacophony of chaos. Surfing this undulating wave of disparate hardware is likely an engineer who is probably the only one in the company that fully understands that it is not chaos in their workspace but progress. Then enters the manager who job is to make everything follow “the plan”, reduce costs, systemize, “motivate” the workforce, and meet deadlines. In other words minimize chaos and promote order. When a manager sees what the engineer is doing, the manager skin crawls and seeks to help the engineer improve his productivity by introducing his version of order. To engineers, this is called stress. Managers look at engineers as hoarders and want them to get rid of the “junk” from previous projects. Then the same manager complains that following projects are continually delayed because the engineer keeps ordering and waiting for parts. The manager wants the engineer to clean up their work area to look pretty for customers who tour the area. Then the same manager complains that the engineer is wasting too much time searching for stored equipment and setting up projects. Then the manager makes everybody’s work space the same size then wonders why the hardware engineer has a rat’s nest of several projects on a single desk unlike the cooperative software engineers who can manage several programs on their computers just like the managers. When I had several desks and a larger room, my productivity increased. There are several other ways managers try to help engineers and then wonder why the engineer has a failure to thrive.
Good comment. I fully agree. I think this might be one of the reasons why there are so few
hardware engineers around. I am one of those and I start to feel like I am getting on my own. From hardware it is easy to skip to software, so no more managers pissin' in your neck ;-) Fortunately I started my own small company 12 years ago, and I can assure you that this boosted up my productivity !! ;-)
At a previous company I had a meeting in my boss's office. To sit down on any of the 4 chairs in the room meant moving a stack of paper 12 inches deep. The stack I moved had a report on the top of it written by my brother. He had left the company 5 years before. On that basis the bottom of the stack was probably an invoice for the Big Bang!
Only 12 inches???
Guess he had a lot of space for more stacks.
You may laugh, but at least there seems to be some grudging appreciation when someone comes around in a panic and a report pulled out of the "mesozoic" layer an inch and a half from the bottom just happens to have the info needed to solve the urgent problem.
Perhaps the real test of genius is step B. Step A is to have the messy desk. Step B is to measure how long it takes the desk owner to find an item in that mess. I'd say that's the real test. I have know people that could take a pile like some of those desks and retrieve any item within seconds.
Of course, if intelligence is determined by how fast one can find any given item, then I would likely register an IQ of around negative fifteen.
Actually for many engineers "organizing" stuff makes it impossible to find anything. My mess is a highly efficient system, for me alone, were I can locate anything quickly. My wife, who was a superb high-tech project manager and is very highly organized has to put little yellow stickies all over, what most all would consider, our logically organized kitchen so I can find stuff when I cook :)
My workbench is usually fairly messy while I am actively working on project. I have a fairly standard suite of instruments that I have set up on my bench. However, I almost always tear down the rest of the test set up and re-build a new test set up from scratch when I transition to a new board/project. This means putting (horrors!)EVERYTHING including test leads and probes away.
I do this mostly to make sure that I have everything hooked up properly. I have been bit too many times thinking that the set up was correct when in fact, some remnant of the previous project was still connected and screwing up my measurements.
Some are seeking truth from politicians - totally wrong place to search for;
others think that employees are inspired by a 5S-conformant desk - well this might be fine for shared working areas;
many might believe that a messy desk by itself is a sign for genuity - for sure you NEED genuity to handle such a desk.
While I never had the pleasure to meet Bob personally, I really liked his writing which covered much more than analog stuff.
For sure, any 5S reminder in our office puts a smile on my face - Bob simply didn't care about.
What I will keep in mind is Bob's helping hand.
An obituary for Prof Rosalyn Yalow appeared a few days ago:
which includes a picture of her at her very cluttered desk. Allowing a modest extension of the 'engineering workspace' definition it is worth noting that she was awarded the 1977 Nobel prize for medicine and physiology although originally trained as a physicist. The account is worth reading for what she had to overcome in recognition of her work.
Thank you. So many work wonders yet get so little public recognition. This is another example of hard-achieved progress simply taken for granted because it does not involve touchdowns, goals, runs, or baskets.
I happen to know her son. She both changed the world and raised good kids at the same time.
And Amen for @zeeglan's comments about progress without sports. Name me 10 jocks that changed the world - it will take a while. Name me 10 nerds - just point to most of the people around you.
A long time ago we needed to have some metal
castings milled to avoid shorting PCB etch when the castings were assembled to the PCB. We found a provincial government supported (NOT USA) shop to do the work.
When I brought the castings and rework drawings to the shop I was surprised to find it incredibly clean. And only 3 staff - a receptionist, a head honcho, and the machinist that actually did all the work.
Clean = no work in progress. Our tax dollars at worst.
A recent place of no-longer employment had a rule that all useful under-bench junk be moved to the warehouse when VIP visitors arrived. Then of course the warehouse organizers would move the junk somewhere else and fail to keep records of the new locations. ie, permanently lost.
The real funny thing was these VIP visitors had no technical clue whatsoever. Our chief chimpanzee had a habit of wiring test racks with 100 ohm twisted pair connected directly (no balun) to 50 ohm coaxial cable when the TP ran short. Of course the VIP visitors were not technically astute enough to realize this was not acceptable. Still, when dealing with dummies, who cares?
Another similar con was to order all employees to park their cars in the front parking lot to make the place look busy for the visitors. Usually the employees parked in the rear parking lot.
The company? Think "I Cannot Believe this Schist"
I had HP as a client in the mid-90's (the real HP...). A hardware guy had all of his instruments tied down to the back shelf of his workbench - I wish I had a picture. Each corner had 1/2" all-thread, and side-to-side was 2" angle iron. This was in Santa Clara, building 52-upper.
His actual bench was messy, of course.
A former co-worker (a EE) once pointed out that, no matter the size of the work surface, you always have the last 6 inches for the actual thing you are making.
Great pictures - fond memories of previous lives.
The category of management and hr that gives me the most amusement is the ones who think they know how to improve the productivity of people.
But rather than waste verbage with the myriad ways that those people are absurd, I will simply say that these pictures are of the work places of people who truly accomplish meaningful things.
The reason, I believe, the mess is what it is has to do the the degree of focus the individual has on the task at hand. They are more interested in pursuing whatever their objective is at that moment rather than worrying about tidying up. The latter is wasted energy because it does not support pursuit of the objective. Most engineers, and I include myself among them, get so focused on whatever they are thinking about in a development/debug mode where you are pursuing an answer....nothing else matters. Thus the issues with messy desks, hygeine, eating habits, stackup up Red Bull cans etc. People could take a lesson from being so single minded about a particular task. The pursuit of perfection is messy.
I saw Pease's cubicle first-hand, and the photo in this article does not do it justice.
I felt really bad for the folks who had to help him move from Building C to Building D. Because he was so senior, he eventually ended up with two cubicles. One for all of his clutter, and one for his desk (and more clutter).
Well said Realsena
But I write if you allow me. Engineers are "In in solving mode" for more complexe Technical problems, but seem might lead to ignore simple things and seem "messy" from a different perspective;the general perspective. But leaving as it is might be simplest way, leaving room for...comments