I was both elated and discouraged when I saw this item on the Associated Press newsfeed: "Wozniak to hoof it on 'Dancing with the Stars'." The story said that the Apple co-founder and circuit design expert Steve Wozniak will be among the 13 celebrities who will compete when the series resumes on March 9.
It's nice that a genuine, hands-on engineer and entrepreneur is getting a moment under the studio lights and some celebrity glory. It's also nice that this exposure gives engineers a chance to prove that they, too, can be like "normal" people and have some light-hearted fun. Sure, being on the show involves study, hard work and practice, but that's something that engineers are used to.
The problem I see is that these sorts of entertainment events are a one-way street. It's as if the world of entertainment is allowing a few outsiders to join in the fun, but no one is going in the other direction.
Have we seen a reality show where a celebrity actually endures an internship with an engineer during the months of a design, development and debug cycle?
How about one in which the celebrity has to sit through brainstorming sessions, while overworked, deadline-pressed engineers try to figure out what's really not working in the prototype and how to verify that debug hypothesis?
Or where engineers are pushing the state of the art in a new IC design, and have to figure out how to test it when it comes back from the fab--and also verify that the tests results are valid and not artifacts?
Never mind, it's not going to happen. What bothers me is that Wozniak has to appear on "Dancing with the Stars" just to show we are regular people, rather than have a show which demonstrates this in its own right. Even programs with lots of high-technology veneer, such as the CSI series, don't do this, since they are involved in an after-the-fact analysis of what happened.
That is very different from the upfront nature of the creative product design and development process, with its frustrations, dead-end paths, changes in marketing goals, deadlines, prototypes, debugging, supplier issues and, of course, pricing pressures.
Or how about taking a look at leading-edge science or engineering R&D, which has a unique set of frustrations and demands?
I'm not living in a dreamland where any of this will happen. But it's important to think about the continuing implications to our profession of trying to fit into the mainstream, when what you are fitting in with isn't really where you are, or even where you want to be.
How about some reciprocity, folks?