It's time to bring beer out of the closet in engineering offices.
Engineers work extraordinarily hard, harder I'd argue than almost anyone except fishermen on "Deadliest Catch," coal miners, Rush Limbaugh's crisis-management consultants or Navy SEALS.
One of fuels to maintain a high level of engineering operational readiness is caffeine, through delivery mechanisms like coffee and tea, Red Bull, DynaPep and disposable hypodermic needles (c'mon, tell me you haven't at least thought about it).
But caffeine can be taken too far, as I heard this week from analog engineer and EE Lifer Chris Gammell. He wondered aloud on Twitter (@Chris_Gammell) whether his new in-cube coffee maker might be prompting him to partake in too much caffeine and get a little too ENERGETIC AND JITTERY and then wear down the carpet between his cube and the nearest caffeine-explusion room.
A modest proposal
In my lifelong quest to be helpful, I suggested he add a beer keg to his cube to balance things out. This prompted embedded engineer and Drive for Innovation star Scott Wohler (@swohlereng) to raise a number of helpful design considerations.
The usual Twitter hilarity followed, but it got me thinking (yay, finally!): Because engineers and beer go together just like, well, engineers and caffeine, beer needs to become more institutionalized in the work place. It needs to come out of the closet, literally and figuratively.
After all, beer is a staple in many business segments already.
- Big-time brewers, for example, usually offer free beer for their employees and look at how successful they are!
- Bars, believe it or not, make a killing off beer.
- Unless you're the Boston Red Sox, New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals and one or two other Major League Baseball teams, beer is an integral part of your employees' jobs.
- Many of the innovations that came from Sun Microsystems are traceable to interactions that came about during that workstation company's famous beer bashes.
Beers and engineers
Beer should be more incorporated into engineering environments for many reasons. Chief among them is that beer and scientists enjoy a collaborative relationship
, despite a notorious Czechoslovakian study some years ago (since debunked
) that beer and science don't mix.
Beer is also a well-known social lubricant
. You've hit a wall with a prickly colleague over the right way to route a dense pcb. Re-approach the topic after offering your colleague a lunchtime brew. Your boss is making completely asinine project deadlines? Beer will help relax him and those.
Lastly, what better team-building exercise
than to conceive, design and implement a beer-delivery system in the engineering department? There's no reason that college kids should have all the fun these days amid the whole maker/hacker phenomenon.
Think about the connections between your daily design tradeoffs and the beer-delivery architecture:
- Is it practical to devise a distributed distribution scheme in which multiple kegs serve one or two engineers? Pro: You'd avoid lunchtime and "rush-hour" pulls on the keg to be sure (when the beer would slow to a trickle). Con: How do manage a distributed refrigerator system's power consequences when your CFO is trying to win carbon credits as part of his bonus plan??
- Should you have a "cloud" system in which a single (presumably mondo-large) keg serves the entire department via individual taps? (Remember, the farther the tap from the keg, the more you need to carbonate your beer for optimal pours; where do you store the CO2?). It boggles the mind.
Now I know what you're thinking… HR will seem reluctant at first (they always are, because "fun," "creative," and "different" are not words found in HR Policies and Procedures, Vol. 918.104.22.168-a).
But offer your HR VP a beer, sit him or her down and explain the salutary effects of the occasional barley pop. And close by reminding him/her that some of the greatest design engineers of the 1970s and 1980s were not shy around beer.
Remind him or her that today's work environment is all about self-esteem
, and there's nothing that improves self-esteem like a couple of carbonated fermented beverages. High self-esteem scores are crucial to the annual "satisfaction in the workplace" surveys that the HR folks are being bonused on (hint-hint).
I could go on, but my mug just went dry. Share your experience
In any event, this should arm you to pitch the idea to your management. And for those bleeding-edge EE Lifers who have already installed a beer-delivery and productivity-enhancement system in their work places, please send in your photos, designs and experiences
and we'll share them with the group.
(Below are some inspirational stories