Engineering: Where 'Being Geek' is Super Cool
Coming from a profession where jobs are shrinking -- newspapers -- I was amazed to learn that job recruiters are still cold-calling engineers to offer them jobs, as Michael Lopp writes in his new book, 'Being Geek.'
Lopp, who worked at Apple Computer as director of engineering for eight years before quitting in May, told me in a telephone interview that during his time at Apple he was called about once a week by a recruiter. His book, which has the subtitle 'The Software Developer's Career Handbook,' is meant to help engineers and other "geeks," as he calls them, deal with those recruiters, develop their career and find the next, best job that will have a better purpose than their last job.
As a general rule engineers are shy, and they need a map for a job search that can be full of social pitfalls, said Lopp, who lives in Silicon Valley and blogs about being an engineer, Much of the 308-page book is full of what you'd find in other career guides, such as how to figure out a company's culture (listen to the stories employees tell), or how to prepare for a job interview (Google the interviewer). But the most interesting parts are unique to engineers and the issues they face at work.
-- See the average salary of a software engineer.
For example, their shyness helps on the job by getting them to focus on a problem in their work "cave" -- but also makes it difficult for them to network with other engineers they don't know, as Lopp writes: "As a geek, it's going to take quite a shove to get you out of your Cave and into a situation where you're likely to stumble upon Your People.... strangers are, well, strange. They're unpredictable nobodies who have no idea they're supposed to be your new genuine friends."
The chapter titled "The Nerd Handbook" details how to understand a nerd, such as his need to build stuff, his sensitivity to drastic changes in his environment, how important his computer is to him, and how he's built himself a cave to work in.
Software engineers solve problems and like to build things, but the difference between them and other people who build things is that engineers build something with their mind that gives them a different sense of satisfaction, Lopp said.
"We don't actually build things that you touch," he said.
Ten-hour days are typical in Silicon Valley companies for engineers, Lopp said, and can add up to 60-hour work weeks. "The 9-to-5 thing doesn't work anymore," he said. "It's whether you get the work done."
Lopp worked at a start-up for four years before going to Apple, so he appreciates all of the hard work and hours that go into a start-up. He encourages college engineering students to work at start-up companies while in college, and to not wait until they graduate to help start a business.
-- See average salaries for all areas of software engineering.
Upsides and downsides
Engineers work in an industry that reinvents itself every two years, which can be good and bad for people who want to experience that high of working life.
"The downside is it's an industry that's ruthless, and moves very, very quickly," Lopp said.
His advice in his book is to go forward in a career search with the next big idea you have and don't let anyone stand in your way: "Try it. You don't need to quit your job and go build the next Twitter. Try it with something small. A thing where you'd normally pre-flight it with your boss, bounce the idea around the hallway a bit, and then move forward. Skip the pre-flight. Skip the hallway, and move on your idea."
That's the best advice of the entire book -- move forward with your idea, no matter what job you're in or want to get to.
Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area.