Monday, August 20, 2012

Sometimes Engineering Isn't a Team Sport

I'd like to think that engineering is different than most professions. We work as a team to get something out the door. It's impossible to do something single-handed. Yet, that's not what my mentor would have you believe.

My mentor is a great guy and a great engineer, but he uses just about every smarmy, sleazy trick in the book to get himself ahead. Here's the thing: when you are good at what you do, no one contemplates for a second that you might be throwing someone else under the bus.

I've lost track of how many ideas he's stolen from me at this point. I admit part of it is my own fault. There are a lot of times when we'll just be talking, discussing ideas for one of my designs and I'll bring up a good idea. Since he's got at least ten years experience on me, it's nice to bounce ideas off someone who will be able to tell you if there's something unforeseen that could hinder it. The problem then arises when he passes the ideas off as his own later to the higher ups.

Here's the thing, I would NEVER take credit for someone else's idea. As someone who's job is basically creating ideas, that's about as low as you can go. It's like plagiarism. It's important to add the footnote of "When Blah Blah and I were talking earlier, he mentioned..."

And there's no real good way to call someone out when they don't give you credit. What are you supposed to say? "Hey! That was my idea!" I'm usually just left sitting there, with my mouth open in disbelief, wondering why this guy thinks that he should get to shine for my idea. Does he really believe that if I shine, he can't shine, too? Everyone already knows he's a much better engineer than I am, so why does he feel the need to keep me down?

He found a new way to outshine me last week. A problem had been brought to his attention and he was to find a solution. My only involvement at all was that he told me about the problem and we spent some time brainstorming some potential solutions. Easy enough, right? Just brainstorm until we brought the problem in front of the large group to get input. This was his baby and I was just the sounding board.

Once in this meeting, he said, "Carolyn has a topic" and through me under the bus. This was most definitely not my topic, but OK, I would just explain things to the best of my ability. At first, I actually thought he was doing me a favor because my biggest critique is that I don't speak up enough in meetings. This meeting was just to define the constraints and get some feedback before we started working on it. Low pressure situation.

As soon as I had finished explaining the problem, I mentioned several of the ideas we had discussed and the benefits of each. Turns out, though, he already had the perfect design in his back pocket. So here I am, bumbling on and on about these ideas we'd come up with together and he swoops in with the perfect idea, makes it very clear it's his idea, abandoning any responsibility for the other ideas I've already outlined. Somehow, all the crappy ideas were now mine and good thing he was here to save the engineering day!

Look, I understand that there is an inherent competitiveness in any job situation, but this guy is supposed to be my mentor. He's supposed to be showing me the ropes. He's supposed to take me under his wing. Doesn't he realize that when I look good, it makes him look good too? He's supposed to look out for me, not be the one I need to look out for.

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