Design Con 2015
Breaking News
News & Analysis

So Much Work, So Little Time for Engineers

8/19/2014 09:00 AM EDT
38 comments
NO RATINGS
1 saves
Page 1 / 2 Next >
More Related Links
View Comments: Threaded | Newest First | Oldest First
NavmanWireless
User Rank
Rookie
About this post;
NavmanWireless   8/19/2014 10:48:33 AM
NO RATINGS
Excellent! 

zbo
User Rank
Rookie
bad managers
zbo   8/19/2014 8:52:12 PM
NO RATINGS
There are just people out there that shouldn't be managers. Actually, let me rephrase. There are managers out that that us as engineers shouldn't take crap from and bother working for. I've learned enough that life's too short to be involved in bad work.

 

Scenario #1 - you're employed and have been looking elsewhere. The manager interested in having an interview should never call the person out of the blue if that person has an email address in the resume. If the manager is asking for basic things that are already in the resume, he has not taken the time to review it. This is a job you should not waste time persuing because that would be an idiot you'll need to deal with - unless you're out of work and need the money

 

Scenario #2 - Manager should be looking out for his/her team members. If you're in a meeting with other teams where the other team is reporting a problem with the project, don't start immediately putting blame at your own guys in front of other people without fully understanding the situation.

 

Scenario #3 - There are managers that solely care about numbers and bookings. They're pure sales weasels, not there to manage. Well, I guess 'manage' would be the appropriate term, since they're not there to 'lead'.  In any case, they are ones that are so disconnected with technology, people that work for them, completely disregards effots that their team puts in, show no remorse when people from his team leaves. They're so high up in the food chain that they're most interested is how much commission they get from bookings.

 

zeeglen
User Rank
Blogger
So true!
zeeglen   8/19/2014 11:19:39 AM
NO RATINGS
Good blog!  Tells it like it is.

jeremybirch
User Rank
CEO
Re: So true!
jeremybirch   8/19/2014 11:56:36 AM
There two things that are a bit sad about this:

1) it repeats the mistakes of the past. For a ling time at large Japanese corporations there was an expectation that workers would not work 9 to 5, or even take their annual leave. This reached ridiculous levels where on top of a multi-hour commute workers were not meant to leave their desks, and when the bell rang at 5 pm no one moved, waiting until the 7pm  "doors being locked" bell before stopping. This bred a culture of stretching the day's work to fit the hours ie not more productovoty but just longer hours.


2) how many really tough problems do you solve when you are not staring at them but instead you are doing something completely separate, like walking, reading a book, even sleeping? By working long hours you don't necessarily get to the solution any quicker and you do weaken yourself physically and mentally, and damage home life (which is after all what the work is meant to be paying for, isn't it?)

 

Measurement.Blues
User Rank
CEO
Re: So true!
Measurement.Blues   8/20/2014 9:54:11 AM
NO RATINGS
how many really tough problems do you solve when you are not staring at them but instead you are doing something completely separate, like walking, reading a book, even sleeping?

We've all come up with ideas when we're not staring at our work, but how much of our time is spent on "busy" work, the kind that has to be done but is monotonous, requiring no thought? We often need to longer hours just to do that.

Anand.Yaligar
User Rank
Rookie
Re: So true!
Anand.Yaligar   8/20/2014 12:29:53 PM
NO RATINGS
I think attending client calls (unless you are in a core company like IBM Research, Microsoft Research, Google etc) is what gobbles up most of the time of engineers. I've heard such junior engineers spending their time playing games on the office PlayStation, and they couldn't go home because the client calls would have come at any time. So they were made to sit all through the day.

jimwilliams57
User Rank
Manager
Very accurate.
jimwilliams57   8/19/2014 11:57:46 AM
I've worked in many environments during my career, roughly two-thirds of which were with companies that understood engineering and were willing to allow the engineers to make decisions.

It is the employers that describe themselves as "marketing companies" that seem, in my opinion, to have the most difficult time with engineers. The marketing companies that I have worked for have been very unbending regarding requirements, decisions, and schedules. The engineers were treated like robots that were expected to produce error-free results according to the schedule created by management. While at one of these marketing companies, when a product didn't meet sales expectations the engineering team was informed that we "had failed" and were expected to make it right so that sales would increase.  The product met every requirement, including the ones that engineering had argued against or in need of improvement.

MeasurementBlues
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Very accurate.
MeasurementBlues   8/19/2014 3:22:27 PM
NO RATINGS
I once worked for such a "marketing" company doing tech support and then management wanted to devlop its own products. We hired several engineering consultants and I was the project manager/test engineer. As we kept adding more projects, allof them fell behind and we switched gears whenever a customer screamed "where's my product?" Marketing then accused engineering (me) of deliberately delaying the projects in an effort to keep my job. That's the last thing I wanted to do, for I knew that completing a successful project was a better way to keep my job.

Management also didn't understand the need for things like test equipment and bought on price alone.

And of course, I still had to do the tech support for the other product line, products where were imported and sold under the company name.

 

MeasurementBlues
User Rank
Blogger
Do more with less
MeasurementBlues   8/19/2014 3:33:12 PM
NO RATINGS
The management battle cry for every business. Engineers are not alone here.

mosspp
User Rank
Freelancer
Re: Do more with less
mosspp   8/22/2014 3:56:42 PM
NO RATINGS
I remember the first time many years ago when a pointy-haired manager said to our team, "we just have to do more with less."  I thought, yeah I can see where this is going.  Eventually we'll be asked to do everything with nothing.

kfield
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Do more with less
kfield   8/31/2014 11:13:03 AM
NO RATINGS
@mosspp "I remember the first time many years ago when a pointy-haired manager said to our team, "we just have to do more with less."

 

I would love to see some very specific examples of "doing more with less," and the associated trade-offs. Like, does quality suffer?

BobsView
User Rank
CEO
Re: Do more with less
BobsView   9/2/2014 8:59:18 AM
NO RATINGS
Do more with less?

I wonder if the investors will take their own advice:

"Be happy with less!"

 

 

perl_geek
User Rank
CEO
Queueing delays
perl_geek   8/19/2014 7:01:46 PM
NO RATINGS
I don't know if it's the same with hardware, but my experience with software development has been that a great deal of time is wasted and delay caused by incorrect division of work.

Any time responsibility is split between people or groups in a way that causes one group to wait on another's output, or separates decisions about interacting parts, it has two effects. Projects take longer than they should, because what one group finishes languishes in a queue until the next group can pick it up, (e.g. prototype production to testing). Meetings held in an attempt to communicate what is needed, tie up people who could actually be doing work, if they knew what had to be done. Everybody spends a lot of time not achieving anything, rushing to overcome delays, reworking what was done badly because it was rushed, or just not what was really needed.

Some of this is what "Agile" methods attempt to address. Small groups, properly balanced teams, and short feedback cycles help. Reporting methods that don't create more work than they measure are important. too.  (The Duke of Wellington made a relevant remark on the topic: see http://kevinstilley.com/bureaucracy-select-quotes/ )

 

zeeglen
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Queueing delays
zeeglen   8/19/2014 8:35:39 PM
NO RATINGS
@perl_geek I don't know if it's the same with hardware,

Take my word for it, hardware development is just as buggered up.  Management at work ...

Anand.Yaligar
User Rank
Rookie
Managing work hours
Anand.Yaligar   8/20/2014 12:27:20 PM
NO RATINGS
 "The claim is real -- engineers are busier than ever, but it's management's job to set the priorities and fight for more resources," Foster stressed."

Managing work hours is crucial if you want your engineers to stay focused and competitive. Most engineers fail to do this, and thus it is the managers job to force them into a fixed regime that includes adequate rest and excercise.

rick merritt
User Rank
Author
Productivity
rick merritt   8/21/2014 3:38:00 PM
NO RATINGS
All the new ways to communicate (Skype, Fbook, Twitter, Chat..oh and email) have afforded us new ways to talk to anyone, anytime and create new virtual communities, but they have also created a time sink.

When I first got on Facebook a colleague said "Welcome and say goodbye to anoither 45 minutes a day!"

 

kfield
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Productivity
kfield   8/31/2014 11:14:07 AM
NO RATINGS
@rick merritt "All the new ways to communicate (Skype, Fbook, Twitter, Chat..oh and email) have afforded us new ways to talk to anyone, anytime and create new virtual communities, but they have also created a time sink."

You didn't mention the time spent avoiding being found as well!

DrFPGA
User Rank
Blogger
Engineering is Fun
DrFPGA   8/21/2014 6:29:21 PM
NO RATINGS
Well- it seems to me that many (well at least some) engineers work long hours because they are having fun. Getting paid to solve puzzles, build things and be creative- living the dream...

kfield
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Engineering is Fun
kfield   8/22/2014 11:06:46 AM
NO RATINGS
DrFPGA: Well- it seems to me that many (well at least some) engineers work long hours because they are having fun. Getting paid to solve puzzles, build things and be creative- living the dream..

I think you make a really good point. THe complaint is rarely "i had too many puzzles to solve," it's usually around busy work, meetings, and silly management edicts that frustate engineers the most.

DrFPGA
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Engineering is Fun
DrFPGA   8/22/2014 11:21:51 AM
NO RATINGS
just other puzzles to solve- how to manage your manager, how to prioritize, how to find the right company to work for, etc... (Maybe not the type of puzzles most engineers were trained for however!)

DrQuine
User Rank
CEO
Taking Up Engineering Time
DrQuine   8/22/2014 2:02:58 PM
NO RATINGS
As multi-tasking expands, the associated inefficiencies become more burdensome. Time accounting when working on multiple projects becomes an increasing burden as does reporting progress to multiple managers and the associated meetings overhead. Finally, managing the computers adds to the burden: when a computer demands 20 minutes to install a critical software update or shutdown, productivity suffers.

kfield
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Taking Up Engineering Time
kfield   8/22/2014 2:27:54 PM
NO RATINGS
@DrQuine  "As multi-tasking expands, the associated inefficiencies become more burdensome."

The question is whether anyone can really multi-task well, we all talk about the need to do it, but I am sure performance overall suffers.

CC VanDorne
User Rank
CEO
Re: Taking Up Engineering Time
CC VanDorne   8/25/2014 1:53:13 PM
NO RATINGS
And now for something completely different:

@Kfield, I dig your caricature.  Where did you get it done and can it be made available to us out here in the trenches?

kfield
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Taking Up Engineering Time
kfield   8/31/2014 11:10:30 AM
NO RATINGS
@ C VanDorne @Kfield, I dig your caricature.  Where did you get it done and can it be made available to us out here in the trenches?

 

You mean this?

 

This is the full image:  

Dan Guidera, the guy who also does our cartoon did it for me. i Love his work, he also made me a witch for Halloween! I can get you in touch with Dan if you'd like one of your own--he can work off of any photo!

 

 

David Ashton
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Taking Up Engineering Time
David Ashton   8/31/2014 5:58:01 PM
NO RATINGS
@Karen...Love those rosy cheeks!!

kfield
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Taking Up Engineering Time
kfield   9/2/2014 12:17:01 PM
NO RATINGS
@David Ashton "@Karen...Love those rosy cheeks!!"

Thank you David, I blush easily!!

Max The Magnificent
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Taking Up Engineering Time
Max The Magnificent   9/6/2014 11:26:41 AM
NO RATINGS
@Karen @Davd: @Karen...Love those rosy cheeks!!"

Thank you David, I blush easily!!

 

That brought a flush to my cheeks...

(and my face went red as well! LOL)

MalaysianEngineer
User Rank
Rookie
Didn't Silicon Valley bring back the long work hours?
MalaysianEngineer   8/22/2014 7:36:26 PM
NO RATINGS
Read somewhere that the trend for longer working hours was due to the fact that silicon valley engineers worked so hard in the 1960s and 1970s that it was promoted as a culture of excellence to the rest of the US?

Got this from an article http://www.salon.com/2012/03/14/bring_back_the_40_hour_work_week/:

"The first is the emergence of Silicon Valley as an economic powerhouse in the late 1970s. Since WWII, the valley had attracted a unique breed of worker — scientists and technologists who carried with them a singular passion for research and innovation. Asperger's Syndrome wasn't named and identified until 1994, but by the 1950s, the defense industries in California's Santa Clara Valley were already drawing in brilliant young men and women who fit the profile: single-minded, socially awkward, emotionally detached and blessed (or cursed) with a singular, unique, laser-like focus on some particular area of obsessive interest. For these people, work wasn't just work; it was their life's passion, and they devoted every waking hour to it, usually to the exclusion of non-work relationships, exercise, sleep, food and sometimes even personal care. The popular stereotype of the geek was born in some real truths about the specific kinds of people who were drawn to tech in those early years.

The culture that grew up in the valley over the next few decades reflected and valorized the peculiarities of what Lockheed's company psychologists were calling by the late '50s "the sci-tech personality." Companies broadened their working hours, so programmers who came in at noon and worked through till midnight could make their own schedules. Dress codes were loosened; personal eccentricities were celebrated. HP famously brought in breakfast every morning so its engineers would remember to eat. The local 24-hour supermarket carried microchips alongside the potato chips, so techies working in their garages could stop in at 2am for snacks and parts."

 

Perhaps they expect all of us to be the same as those quoted in the article above?

 

Although I do admit that I spend most of my weekends working on my pet projects, it would suck if I had to do company work.

 

 

MalaysianEngineer
User Rank
Rookie
Didn't Silicon Valley bring back the long work hours?
MalaysianEngineer   8/22/2014 7:36:32 PM
NO RATINGS
Read somewhere that the trend for longer working hours was due to the fact that silicon valley engineers worked so hard in the 1960s and 1970s that it was promoted as a culture of excellence to the rest of the US?

Got this from an article http://www.salon.com/2012/03/14/bring_back_the_40_hour_work_week/:

"The first is the emergence of Silicon Valley as an economic powerhouse in the late 1970s. Since WWII, the valley had attracted a unique breed of worker — scientists and technologists who carried with them a singular passion for research and innovation. Asperger's Syndrome wasn't named and identified until 1994, but by the 1950s, the defense industries in California's Santa Clara Valley were already drawing in brilliant young men and women who fit the profile: single-minded, socially awkward, emotionally detached and blessed (or cursed) with a singular, unique, laser-like focus on some particular area of obsessive interest. For these people, work wasn't just work; it was their life's passion, and they devoted every waking hour to it, usually to the exclusion of non-work relationships, exercise, sleep, food and sometimes even personal care. The popular stereotype of the geek was born in some real truths about the specific kinds of people who were drawn to tech in those early years.

The culture that grew up in the valley over the next few decades reflected and valorized the peculiarities of what Lockheed's company psychologists were calling by the late '50s "the sci-tech personality." Companies broadened their working hours, so programmers who came in at noon and worked through till midnight could make their own schedules. Dress codes were loosened; personal eccentricities were celebrated. HP famously brought in breakfast every morning so its engineers would remember to eat. The local 24-hour supermarket carried microchips alongside the potato chips, so techies working in their garages could stop in at 2am for snacks and parts."

 

Perhaps they expect all of us to be the same as those quoted in the article above?

 

Although I do admit that I spend most of my weekends working on my pet projects, it would suck if I had to do company work.

 

 

Reverse Engineer
User Rank
Freelancer
This is news?
Reverse Engineer   8/23/2014 10:51:36 PM
NO RATINGS
I don't recall hours being shorter in the good ol' pre-internet days.  But silly cost cutting and management interference (especially with schedules and resources) is worse than ever.

Sure, productivity is higher because tools are better and information easier to get, but projects are so much bigger and complex they trip over themselves, in no small part to overblown features that may get little or no use.  Yet management techniques haven't scaled up to properly coordinate these huge productions so chaos is barely contained.

Whatever happened to small is beautiful?

jimwilliams57
User Rank
Manager
Re: This is news?
jimwilliams57   9/2/2014 9:05:56 AM
NO RATINGS
@Reverse Engineer: But silly cost cutting and management interference (especially with schedules and resources) is worse than ever.

Back in 2001 I worked for a startup not far from Silicon Valley. Most of engineering was working 50-60 hour weeks when management asked us for a detailed schedule of all remaining work. After we delivered the schedule, they compressed what we had supplied into 80 hour weeks and gave it back to us with the instruction that we were to work 12 hour days, 7 days a week until all work was completed. The result was total rebellion. From that day forward, roughly 95% of the engineers started working strict 40 hour work weeks and the company soon went out of business.

RDC IP
User Rank
Freelancer
Theoretical limit
RDC IP   9/1/2014 1:01:50 PM
NO RATINGS
cutting jobs will reach a theoretical limit when a single engineer has to attend two meetings at the same time in different locations.  development plans, ratings, six sigma, iso 900x, all are a waste of time.

docdivakar
User Rank
CEO
Re: Theoretical limit
docdivakar   9/2/2014 11:55:40 AM
NO RATINGS
@RDC IP I have had consecutive F2F meetings scheduled in buildings separated by 5 miles, one of which I have had the pleasure(?) of waiting at a railroad crossing several times during my tenure at that company! I don't know how people who schedule meetings don't get the fact that if one meeting ends at 3:00PM, another one 5 miles away can not start at 3:00PM if a required attendee has to attend!

Regarding your comment on dev plans, six sigma, etc., I have led many successful implementations of them. Many meetings scheduled were working meetings, often "standing only" type meetings where people realized the wisdom of getting to the point quickly!

MP Divakar

kfield
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Theoretical limit
kfield   9/2/2014 12:16:25 PM
NO RATINGS
@docdivakar "Many meetings scheduled were working meetings, often "standing only" type meetings where people realized the wisdom of getting to the point quickly!"

Absolutely love the idea of standing-only meetings, talk about a fantastic way to keep it short!

docdivakar
User Rank
CEO
A fact of life?
docdivakar   9/2/2014 12:12:31 PM
NO RATINGS
Many of us who are in startups routinely put in 12+ hour work days and it has become the norm. Silicon Valley in general has many engineers who routinely work long hours into the evening.

In many big name companies that have fitness rooms, yoga sessions, cafeterias, etc., long hours at office does not necessarily mean long 'productive' hours! I would argue that one can get the same throughput by focussed and targeted work hours in eight-hour day and do everything else like yoga, fitness, away from office or at home.

MP Divakar

_hm
User Rank
CEO
Re: A fact of life?
_hm   9/4/2014 10:15:07 PM
NO RATINGS
@MP Divakar: Yes, I very much have same idea. If you work real 8 hours a day, you can do have wonderful achievements. Do not play truant make work looks like 12 hours a day. 

Avinash Jois
User Rank
Rookie
Engineering productivity
Avinash Jois   9/6/2014 9:48:04 AM
NO RATINGS
Engineering productivity cannot always be measured in number of hours....8Hrs of work life per day only brings more discipline into your life. I believe productivity is more a function of non linear aspects like passion and motivation for work rather than hours especially for start ups.

zeeglen
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Engineering productivity
zeeglen   9/6/2014 11:10:41 AM
NO RATINGS
@Avanis Engineering productivity cannot always be measured in number of hours


Especially when the task demands some creative problem solving.  Sometimes the mind cannot be pushed to instant solutions in an 8 hour time frame. The answers often come at home after an evening or weekend of thinking about the problem.

Flash Poll
Like Us on Facebook

Datasheets.com Parts Search

185 million searchable parts
(please enter a part number or hit search to begin)
EE Times on Twitter
EE Times Twitter Feed
Top Comments of the Week