Jake Trent

Why Engineers Get Taken Advantage Of

We hear stories about engineers being taken advantage of. Surely they aren’t the only people to receive such treatment. There is an impression, however, that this has been the case for some engineers. Why is that? Here are some possible reasons why this might be a thing in software engineering.

Flexible Medium

One of the best parts about software is the flexibility of the medium. You are programming electrons. You can make up whatever you can imagine. This flexibility can also be a liability.

You wouldn’t cover a physical bridge with gold, the cost would be too high. But you can’t see the cost as easily in something invisible like software. Perhaps this is why software engineers are asked to eek out a few more features at the very end of a production cycle.

You wouldn’t build a bridge and then open it without a deck on it. What poor motorists! James Bond might be ok with his car sub, but everyone else is toast. But with software, it’s easy to cut corners and still deliver something that looks fine on the outside. Perhaps this is why software engineers are asked to deliver anyway, even if important features are lacking.

History

It seems there are some markets that are more stereotypical in taking advantage of engineers. The games industry seems especially wont to burn out its engineers in death marches marking the end of products – and sometimes the end of relationships. This might be something related to the publishing cycle of games, a particularly bad ability to estimate complex projects, or just a bad habit of not changing this aspect of this industry.

Always On

The things that software engineers build are often always on. The software might be a part of the Internet. Something on the Internet has global reach. There will be many users’ fingers on the software long after the engineer has gone home for the evening. Perhaps this is why engineers have their personal lives interrupted by work.

However, sometimes engineers do this to themselves, forgetting the operational value of what they do. Their own bad code leads to their own bad experience in production.

Culture and Demographics

Perhaps there are cultural factors leading to taking advantage of engineers. Much of this might be reality or falsly based on stereotypes. If an engineer is a night owl, we can ask him to stay up and finish a task. Or perhaps we train him to be a nigh owl by just such requests.

Maybe there’s a real or perceived picture of an engineer that is young, single, or a loner. This might lead to unreasonable asks of engineers to stay in the office working beyond reason, keeping them alone and single, aging under the flourescent lamps of corporate America. How bleak!

I’m not actually sure why engineers are taken advantage of. Maybe they aren’t any more than anyone else. Perhaps I just know more engineers than nurses. Some engineers actually throw themselves under the bus in fits of false heroism.

What do you think? Are engineers taken advantage of? Or are we past this? Or did it ever happen? What kind of specific environments does it persist in?