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Engineers good business people?

June 23, 2011

Apparently some engineer got booted off some British version of The Apprentice because the British Donald Trump (Lord Sugar?) doesn't think engineers are good at business. The engineer in question goes on to defend himself by citing other successful engineers such as: Bill Gates, James Dyson and Mark Zuckerberg.
Now first of all, I'm not sure a "programmer" is always an engineer. I have mad respect for Bill Gates but neither he nor Zuckerberg completed college. And both are largely known for their programming skills. Given the days of early computers Gates might have more street cred as an engineer since "programming" in its infancy was hardware driven. I'm not saying their both not successful and smart, just that I wouldn't necessarily lump them into an umbrella family of engineers for every single purpose. James Dyson, however, designed the best vacuum I ever used and appears to be like the Tony Stark of vacuum cleaners. Though I'm not entirely sure he has a degree in education that would make all three of them just general genius types. I mean two of them dropped out of Harvard. You gotta figure in many cases have you the advantages to get into Harvard you're already at a good spot (whether that's social upbringing advantages or just pure raw natural talent).
Second of all, this argument always makes me think of Tom Smykowski from the movie Office Space who defends his job by saying he's necessary because engineers aren't good with people. I know a great many liasons and systems analysts and project coordinators who it would seem have the same responsibility: go between from the technical to the customer (one could almost argue the highly paid Program Manager fulfills this role as well). It's not so much I think that engineers and technical folks are not good with people, but that their technical skills are valued in such a way that's how management wants them to spend 100% of their time. Versus you can hire somebody else to be the facilitator or communicator. But it does seem to be the trap that engineers and probably scientists fall into.
What do you think, does that hold technical people back? What about the other way, are liasons and communicators valued in the same way technical employees are?
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