Posted by: nedpelger | February 19, 2010

Why are Engineers Killing People?

The single engine plane that crashed into the 7 story IRS building yesterday in TX had an engineer at the controls. As I read his online suicide note I wondered why so many engineers have recently ended in tragedy. I thought of the engineer in FL who shot 6 of his co-workers because he was laid off and “Left to rot”.

Both these guys are about my age and seemed to be seething with rage. Joe Stack, who flew the plane into the IRS building, wrote that “I’ve had all that I can stand.” So what’s going on?

We all know engineers tend to have poor interpersonal skills. I remember an elementary school teacher saying she spots the future engineer easily, he’s the kid that fixes the zippers on the other kid’s winter coats. He or she tends to like focused problem solving better than playing. Most engineers love solving technical problems and just put up with people.

Society reinforces this behavior, by consistently claiming the need and value of engineers, in order that America can better compete with the rest of the world. Youngsters are told that becoming an engineer is a lucrative career path.  Then the difficulty of engineering school further reinforces the concept that engineers are special and valuable.

The poor people skills coupled with the sense of a promise made but not kept can lead to bitterness. Sometimes an over-blown sense of self emerges, a sense of unappreciated greatness. Most engineers have a touch of this and some are fully self-involved.

So how should you deal with engineers? My soon to be released Construction Phone App: Communicate Better with  Personality Profiles gives a few pointers.

  1. Prepare and plan and then prepare and plan some more. Don’t just shoot from the hip and expect things to go well. Force yourself to provide as many details and as much analysis as you can stomach.
  2. Be prepared for the engineer to not trust you and maybe not like you. Being prepared can help you not take it too personally.
  3. Be on time or even a bit early. Remember, punctuality is a sign of integrity

Wise people learn from tragedy. Work on your people skills. Get better every day at relationships, humility and understanding truth. If you strive thus, life just keeps getting better.


  1. Great post. Engineering is a very difficult degree to get, but doesn’t really pay what it should. This definitely makes a lot of engineering a little bitter.

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