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“successful family dinner = happy guests and circuit diagrams left on my coffee table. happy father's day to my favorite engineer!” --My sister’s Facebook post following our Father’s Day dinner last night
Among the many characteristics one must possess to be a successful engineer—intelligence, creativity, resourcefulness—one common trait stands out among the rest: passion. I am talking about the engineers that love talking about their work with anyone who will listen. These are the people that I want to work with (and hire) because they take their work home with them.
In this context, I am defining passion as an unwavering obsession with problem solving. At the core of my argument is that very little separates most engineers in terms of innate talent. Yes, some people go to Caltech while others struggle through the bloated lecture halls of large state schools, but fundamentally, we are all comparably intelligent. This is essentially a Nature versus Nurture argument. In my estimation, Nurture (i.e. hard work and passion for the job) always trumps Nature (i.e. innate intelligence and creativity) in the sciences. I am reminded of a quotation from one of my professors in grad school, “The PHD does not tell the world how smart you are, it simply tells everyone that you have a stomach for pain.” Grimly, I must agree. To first order, we are all created equally, successful science boils down to sleepless nights and lots of elbow grease.
Passionate problem solving is equal parts motivation and ownership of a problem. Problem solving without direction is a meaningless exercise. To generate any kind of enthusiasm, we should have a darn good reason why spending time, money and energy of a problem is a good investment (for more, see my first Tips and Tricks Episode 1 ). Usually, the motivation is the easiest part because there are lots of good reasons to solve problems (e.g. it might make you rich, you might cure cancer, you might solve the world’s energy crisis, etc).
The difference between motivated problem solving and passionate problem solving is that the engineer assumes a sense of ownership of the problem. The most successful engineers and scientists carry their problems around with them like a sack of bricks. Solving the most difficult problems requires a significant amount of mental energy. I believe that it is therefore unreasonable to think that real breakthroughs can be timed between the hours of 8 AM and 5 PM, Monday through Friday (excluding holidays). Our brains don’t solve problems linearly, anyway. In fact, problem solving and creative thought is incredibly nonlinear. Good problem solving often occurs in the most inauspicious places: the shower, the coffee shop, the car, my sister’s house. If we (my father and I) confined our problem solving exclusively to the halls of Marki Microwave, I doubt we’d have a viable business. Our passion for our craft and our unrelenting drive to push our technology, at home and at work, keeps our business vibrant and full of creative ideas.
So take your work home. Eat it. Drink it. Sleep it. Your spouse might complain a little, but your customers won’t. In fact, your own children might even love you more for it. Happy Father’s Day, pop.
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