[OK, calm down, there's no need to get angry at me, at least not yet.]
Here's what I mean: "lazy" is not the same as "sloth". When you are slothful, your preferred activity is to sit around doing nothing or very little, and avoid work. That's not engineers.
But when you are lazy, you look to do things in the most efficient way possible, so you don’t have to re-do them, or so you have time for other things. In this sense, being lazy is just a complement to being efficient and productive—but without all the "running-around, looking-busy" mode we often see.
Yes, some of that hustle and bustle is someone getting a lot done, but often, they are trying to play catch-up due to poor planning or ineffective execution of the task.
But a lazy engineer:
•looks at what has to be done, then tries to figure out what tools, techniques, setups, fixtures, and jigs will allow the overall project to be done better and faster—even if it means taking time up front to plan or create these items.
•understands that such a modest initial investment in the above items can pay big benefits later on via smoother project development, better documentation, or fewer mistakes and re-spins.
•is often (not always) organized, so as not to waste time looking for a file, note, component, or other items.
The problem is that management often mistakes such laziness for outright slothfulness. I did so, too, once, until I got smarter.
Here's why: Back when the Earth was still flat and microprocessors were just starting to rule the land, our four-person product development team (two of us for circuits, one for software, one for system integration) also had an assigned technician. This fellow never looked like he was doing anything. He moved slowly, deliberately, and methodically. At one point, management asked us if he actually did much of anything.
Reality was that he was extremely efficient and cool under pressure, and we could never keep up with him. We'd give him a set of tasks, and he'd go off and make list of what he needed, get them, pull things together, and then do them. (Ken V: if you are reading this, it's you.) He also knew everyone in the shop area, and so could get things like rough-cut prototype RF shields made on the side, without formal paperwork.
So, hail to the laziness of engineers, I say. But don’t worry, I won’t be telling the general public that good engineers are also lazy—they would very likely misinterpret my point.
Have you ever had a similar encounter with lazy-looking engineers who were also very efficient? Or had cases where the outward appearance of a member of your team was actually very different from their actual contribution, like our technician?
(And you can get angry at me now, if you still want to.) ◊