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Are the best engineers OCD?

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old account Frank Eory
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re: Are the best engineers OCD?
old account Frank Eory   8/6/2012 8:05:14 PM
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The best engineers are obsessive, but that doesn't mean they suffer from OCD, which as you said is an anxiety disorder. It is one thing to obsess about details of a circuit, to make sure every parameter variation has been verified and simulated or tested and that no failure mechanism has been overlooked -- that is called being thorough. It is quite another thing to repeat the same behaviors over and over, especially when the purpose of repeating them is simply to avoid or to relieve unfounded anxiety. Another acronym that I think we overuse is ADD. In my observation, the best engineers are able to hyper-focus when they need to -- dive into a task and get completely immersed in it, shutting out all other distractions until the task is completed. Hyper focus (too much attention) is often considered to be a symptom of ADD, even though we tend to think of ADD as an inability to focus. But it's only a "disorder" when it becomes a problem, or when it exceeds some threshold that we collectively think of as normal behavior. It's ironic that those with an inability to focus for long periods of time -- those with more typical ADD "distraction" tendencies, are often seen as being successful multi-taskers -- people who seem to be able to make regular incremental progress on multiple tasks, even if some of those tasks fall behind schedule and some never get completed at all. The ideal engineer has no "disorder" at all, but has a tendency to obsess over details to the point of being thorough, and has an ability to tune out distractions and focus attention for a prolonged period of time to accomplish a difficult task.

EREBUS0
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re: Are the best engineers OCD?
EREBUS0   8/6/2012 8:11:34 PM
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I don't believe that the passion to make things work can be compared to OCD. Creative people are always driven to perfection when pursuing ideas never before made real. Engineers do not suffer from a disorder. Others suffer from a lack of vision and dedication. Just my opinion.

Brian Fuller2
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re: Are the best engineers OCD?
Brian Fuller2   8/6/2012 9:44:06 PM
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Frank, what an excellent, thoughtful and articulate comment. You hit the nail on the head, brother! Hope you're keeping the AZ heat at bay!

old account Frank Eory
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re: Are the best engineers OCD?
old account Frank Eory   8/7/2012 4:14:07 PM
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Thanks Brian. A few trips to northern AZ this time of year provide a nice break from the heat. I may need to update my profile pic with a new one...also taken in Sedona :)

DCH0
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re: Are the best engineers OCD?
DCH0   8/6/2012 10:24:23 PM
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Obsessive, Compulsive. Why is this a disorder? It is just a survival skill!

Brian Fuller2
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Brian Fuller2   8/6/2012 11:02:07 PM
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@DCH touche! Reminds me of something I read a few months ago... those of us alive today are descendant from ancient beings who refused to dismiss the rustling in the nearby grass as the wind.

GordonScott
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re: Are the best engineers OCD?
GordonScott   8/7/2012 7:46:49 AM
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I think probably we all have little bits of obsessive+compulsive behaviour. Habitual behaviours are similar. We 'have' to do them. OCD is where that behaviour becomes excessive. It's fine to double-check before you leave the house that the doors and windows are locked. If you have to do it more times, it's probably OCD. It's definitely OCD if you always have to do it, for example, an exact multiple of four times. As DCH said, it's a survival skill. I remember an example from some years ago .. a brand-new right out of the packaging toilet brush dipped into a glass of water and someone then invited to drink the water. They wouldn't. Probably neither would I. It's illogical, obsessive, compulsive ... and normal.

chrisshore
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re: Are the best engineers OCD?
chrisshore   8/7/2012 10:08:11 AM
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I think a good engineer is obsessive about detail in the same way that a good surgeon is. And, in the same fashion, is capable of focusing completely on a single task to the exclusion of all external distraction. These are very valuable qualities in people whose occupations require them to get things right first time.

CameliaTex
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CameliaTex   8/7/2012 2:04:43 PM
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I see a difference between OCD and a good Engineer ( or anybody being the best at anything, for that matter). Professionals that excel at what they do have a goal in mind, they know what details make a difference in their performance/product, vs OCD people just obsess but I wonder if they have a plan in mind or they chose the detail/behavior to obsess with. A good Engineer will know when and when not to zoom in a particular issue. Having Priorities make the difference, in my opinion.

Duane Benson
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Duane Benson   8/7/2012 5:43:27 PM
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I would say that a good engineer has controllable. voluntary compulsiveness. He or she can turn it on or off as the situation requires.

krwada
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krwada   8/7/2012 5:49:34 PM
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no no no!!! It is measure once ... cut and cut and cut till you only have a piece of stubby wood left. Then go out and get another piece of wood .... along with a bigger more powerful saw ... and maybe a new laser measuring device too!

Brian Fuller2
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re: Are the best engineers OCD?
Brian Fuller2   8/7/2012 8:48:28 PM
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@Krwada, you are singing my song! My wife said to me the other day "why do you buy more of the power tools you already have?" I didn't understand the question. I still don't.

kciszewski
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re: Are the best engineers OCD?
kciszewski   8/8/2012 12:11:27 AM
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There's an old joke: sometimes you have to shoot the engineer so you can ship the product. Some engineers don't know when good enough is good enough.

old account Frank Eory
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old account Frank Eory   8/9/2012 9:32:56 PM
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The need for shooting the engineers to ship the product usually results from unclear requirements and/or unrealistic schedules. Since by definition, the urgency to ship only arises at the end of the development cycle, the area that gets short-changed is verification, not design. There's another saying: The things that we didn't verify are the things that aren't going to work.

Chuck Sampson
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re: Are the best engineers OCD?
Chuck Sampson   8/29/2012 7:52:50 PM
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Good comment, Frank. The saying I like is "Never enough time to do it right-Always enough time to do it over."

an_m
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re: Are the best engineers OCD?
an_m   8/8/2012 10:15:37 AM
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OCD. Might be a little diss empowering to people that do suffer from OCD, but yes, Its interesting the number of what I would call good engineers I know who are colour blind, dyslexic , have dyscalculia et all. we do seem in my none random sample to have a dis proportionate amount of such. so may be a slight odd streak is needed to be a an engineer.

I_B_GREEN
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I_B_GREEN   8/8/2012 2:56:35 PM
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We are imperfect. If perfection is a need or want then the retrise go up exponetially with presion needed or wanted. OCD is when you just want it and dont need it. If you need it this is just good engineering with an apriciation of the human condition.

I_B_GREEN
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I_B_GREEN   8/8/2012 2:57:44 PM
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orthogonal coded digitization? :)

MarvA
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MarvA   8/8/2012 3:50:32 PM
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My wife says that I am "different". I know that in her mind she is being kind. But she is also realistic and counts on my skills and judgement to fix things and/or buy the right stuff that will work. I take being "different" as a badge of honor. She asks me how something works and I tell her what I think. She asks me where I learned that. I say, "I don't know. It's just obvious." I almost transferred out of Engineering to Physics when I was a sophmore at U of Arizona. I was impatient to get to transistors. The basic courses were going too slow. My major professor calmed me down and told me that I would get plenty of that in time. He said that they were first teaching me how to think and solve problems. He was right and I have spent my career doing just that as an EE. However, it took me a long time to learn that you're not supposed to be solving a problem when you're talking (listening?) to your wife. Actually, I haven't really learned that one yet, even after 46 years.

mr_bandit
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mr_bandit   8/9/2012 8:48:34 PM
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It took my wife about 5 years to start to grok what is involved about marrying an engineer (she was a Marine - very straightforward, all guns ablaze). After 20 years, she will still look at me and comment "You are a freak of nature". It does take a bit of OCD/Aspergers to do what we do - details *count* in this biz - failure can mean people die. the only real difference between a doctor and an engineer is time involved and people impacted. Most doctors have a short time with one person. A standard engineer has more time, but impacts a lot of people. Otherwise, the basic skills are the same, only the domain-specific knowledge is different. This also applies between types of engineers, of course.

Phred128
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re: Are the best engineers OCD?
Phred128   8/9/2012 11:58:40 AM
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My wife tells me I'm OCD, but I prefer to think of it as paying attention to detail. If I put all the tall glasses in the right side of the top rack of the dishwasher because it is deeper than the left side, it is not OCD. It is logical. It was made for this. Why is such logic so difficult for some people?

Calvinator
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Calvinator   8/9/2012 6:41:52 PM
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Phred, we're on the same wavelength, and our wives are on theirs! I end up reworking the dishwasher packing almost every night for the exact reason you state. Seems obvious why it should be that way. And in that light of the "obvious", my wife told me that in their day camp they asked the kids to look up at the puffy clouds above and imagine what they would taste like. After various kids said things like "cotton candy" or "flowers" (huh?), they got to my daughter: "Maybe just... wet". Seems obvious, right? My wife says the kid is just like her dad. Good kid! Engineer one day!

DutchUncle
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DutchUncle   8/9/2012 7:33:21 PM
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Yes. (to a degree short of pathology.) None of these attributes are all or nothing; there is a wide spectrum of degree or intensity to each. All of them are useful at some level, in some circumstances, possibly under conscious control; all of them become pathological in their extremes, particularly when they cannot be controlled. Humans would not have these attributes if they were not useful to have survived. And maybe the reasons humans are social is precisely because different attributes are needed in different situations: the team needs the mercurial scattered-attention person to notice signs of food or hints of animal attack, and the focused methodical person to make tools and plan for winter. It's not strange that these opposites attract; it's the way our ancient ancestors stayed alive.

old account Frank Eory
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re: Are the best engineers OCD?
old account Frank Eory   8/9/2012 9:43:04 PM
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I literally laughed out loud at Phred and Calvinator's dishwasher packing comments! The efficient loading of the dishwasher is one of my pet peeves with the wife and kids. How hard is it to look at the racks, look at the pile of dirty dishes, and figure out how to fit as many of them in there as possible? Apparently it's more difficult than I thought. After all these years, they still don't do it right -- to the point where it's sort of a running joke at my house.

JeffL_2
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re: Are the best engineers OCD?
JeffL_2   8/9/2012 10:38:16 PM
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Forget engineers, virtually every MANAGER I've met has shown obvious symptoms of OCD - by which I mean they've all been obsessive about making absolutely certain no engineer has the ability to spend any money or make any use of corporate resources (computer time or software tools) or get access to anyone else who DOES have any authority to actually make a decision or to authorize any of the above items. Then they tie everyone up in meetings six hours a day, all for the purpose of trying to discover why nobody ever makes any progress on their work objectives. Forgive me if someone thinks I'm making a joke here, I've spent most of my career working on contract for some of the most prosperous aerospace and commercial outfits out there, and eight times out of ten my description is perfectly accurate! Whether engineers "have issues" or not seems irrelevant by comparison!

TFCSD
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re: Are the best engineers OCD?
TFCSD   8/22/2012 5:13:40 PM
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Amen, brother! I can sings a few hymns of that same tune in harmony. Rule #1: Man-agers are never the problem. Rule #2: If Managers are wrong then goto Rule #1 (deliberately used "goto" ;-))

haroon3059
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haroon3059   8/10/2012 5:11:13 AM
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I'm an engineer who is now currently in my fourth year of medical school. OCD is not really the correct term to use in this situation. One of the important aspects of the disorder is that it is ego-dystonic. This means that the disorder bothers the person. The person wishes he/she doesn't have it. Also, another important aspect is that it causes problems in the person's life. People with these disorders cannot mentally stop themselves from obsessing about certain things. The only way to counteract the obsessions is this compulsive behavior, such as turning on and off a light 7 times or tapping on the table 8 times. These people will have severely increased anxiety if the light was switched on and off only 6 times, or if the table was not tapped an even number of time. These obsessions and compulsions affects the person's life in a way where they may not be able to keep a job because they are always late to work due to the light switching. They often have problems in their family and social life because they will be afraid to leave the house because of their obsessions-compulsions. What I believe most engineers have is something called obsessive compulsive personality disorder. This is a personality disorder that is actually ego-syntonic, meaning the person doesn't really see it as being a problem. It does not cause any problems with work, family, or social like. These are people who seem very thorough, hyperfocused, and are perfectionists. These are the people who will see a painting on the wall that is slightly tilted and want to make it level. I would also say, these are the people who will spend a lot of time making sure that the components and wires on their solderless breadboard are always at 90 degree angles. Of course, all of this is based on my memory of the diseases, but if you want to see the full definition of both disorders, you can find it in ther DSM-IV, which is basically the Bible of Psychiatry.

Jongleur
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Jongleur   8/10/2012 1:14:26 PM
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I see more Asberger's folks than OCD folks in the engineering profession. One of my degrees is in psychology, even though I've been paid as an engineer for 30 years. When I eat M&M's at the table, I don't line them up according to color the way my wife does. I do think i's obvious how dishes should be loaded in the dishwasher, but a good engineer, and especially a good manager, can tolerate others doing a functional though less than perfect job, or else he has to do everything himself.

cdhmanning
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cdhmanning   8/15/2012 11:30:29 PM
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OCDs are probably good at getting loose ends tied up and making sure code is well tested etc, but they tend to lack the creativity required to generate new stuff. Creativity is inherently messy. Sometimes you need to just cut without even measuring once, let alone twice. Different personality attributes have different pros and cons. It is important to bring together the correct sets of attributes to build effective teams.

TFCSD
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re: Are the best engineers OCD?
TFCSD   8/22/2012 6:12:01 PM
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I would not call it OCD, but justified paranoia. If you are an engineer and you do things correctly for years you might get an atta-boy (but no raises) and maybe a certificate in a plastic frame saying atta-boy in a fancy ink jet font. Do one thing wrong and getting fired is the first offense. I believe most OCD in engineers is really covert obsessive risk aversion and it is proportional to the OCD of the man-agers and culture an engineer has to work under. As for Asperger’s syndrome in engineers, that might be a cover for “ass-bigger” syndrome that is suffered by many 2+2=5 non-engineers (i.e. kick down, suck-up sycophants found mainly in sales and other “people persons” whom we all cherish at work) who can afford to be impolite and label engineers who dare say 2+2=4 or “it depends” as “weird”, “strange”, “nerd”, or some other degrading open ended fuzzy words. Most normal engineers who are under constraints will ship products that are “close enough” (i.e. much documentation) to avoid getting fired and if allowed will improve a product till it is “perfect”. Under these circumstances there might be an unusual engineer who gets stuck in a “halting problem” and as the compsci joke goes, how does one solve a halting problem in a computer? (A: shotgun). Alas, engineers are the default trained professionals society depends on to see the esoteric unexpected consequences so most ordinary people can safely and unthinkingly use technology and we get ridiculed as our reward.

Chuck Sampson
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re: Are the best engineers OCD?
Chuck Sampson   8/29/2012 7:55:02 PM
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Remember just because you're not paranoid, doesn't mean there isn't someone after you.

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