My stepson just left for his first year of college. He wants to study engineering. At least for now. As I hugged him goodbye, I told him that it’s okay if he ever wants to change his mind. The most important thing is that he’s happy, after all.
Plus there’s the fact that I can’t understand engineers.
I first realized that engineers’ brains worked very differently from mine when I was in a marketing class for my MBA. There happened to be a lot of engineers in the class, and it kind of amused me how much they struggled. They were looking for black and white answers, and when they were tasked with putting together marketing strategies and such, they quickly found out that nothing was that cut and dry. There were no magic formulas to help them explain their answers. As someone who had painfully toiled through math classes, it gave me a bit of guilty pleasure to watch them squirm.
But then they just started to annoy me.
Enter the team project. I understand that classes nowadays (and back then – ten years ago) put great emphasis on team projects so that everyone could learn how to get along. And after all, teamwork is often necessary and important in many jobs. But I admit, sometimes I wish I could just do the project myself, especially when someone was a horrible writer…or an engineer.
But I joke. Sort of.
I was paired with an engineer and two research scientists. Fantastic. Three completely logical, left-brained people along with me, the right brainer they will inevitably drive crazy.
The project consisted of this: We were to pick a line of products that our company manufactured (the class was all in the same company) and then we were to go visit an area retailer several times to study how our products were displayed. We’d then write about product positioning, issues with the store in general, store layout, how our brand was perceived, etc.
The company I worked for manufactured consumer products like tissues, diapers, toilet paper, paper towels, and feminine hygiene products. My team decided to go rogue and pick the unpopular choice: feminine hygiene products. I guess I should also explain that when you work for a company who manufactures such products, you grow a little too accustomed to them. The plants that made feminine hygiene products would often have big bulletin board displays with a bunch of different maxi pads stapled to them. And nobody really blinked in eye; it was just your business.
I didn’t realize just how normal this business had become until my team and I made our first store visit. We had decided to visit a big box store, and we made our way to the health and beauty section and finally found all the pads, liners and tampons lined up against a back wall. If you are a woman, you know that it’s pretty overwhelming. All you want to do is grab your normal kind, hide the box under other stuff in your cart, then go on your merry way. However, manufacturers have made this pretty much impossible because there are so many varieties and shapes and wings and scents and thicknesses and lengths and packaging materials. Will I be able to go horseback riding with this one or not? Was that in the commercial? I can’t remember…it’s kind of exhausting. Some previous visitor to that section must have felt the same way because she left an empty nacho container on the ledge next to the tampons. Hell, that chick was there so long she needed sustenance while she made her decision! (Side note: When we visited the same store a week later, the same empty container was still there. Ewww.)
So there we are, four dopes studying the feminine hygiene displays, studiously taking notes, and along comes a woman. As predicted, it takes her a bit to study everything. She is standing there for over a minute when one of my team members – you guessed it, the engineer…who is MALE – casually says to the woman, “So, are you having trouble finding your kind?”
Ah…always the researcher, that one.
Needless to say, the other two teammates (who were women) and I and I looked at each other and openly cringed. He did not just do that. He did not just ask a complete stranger if she was having trouble finding the right maxi pad. And we all got the feeling that he would have gone on with more questions if the woman had not grabbed the closest box and sprinted away.
If I were a less tactful person, I would have blurted out something along the lines of, “What the hell were you thinking? This isn’t a lab at work! You are a creeper who is asking a stranger about her feminine hygiene habits in the middle of a store! Don’t you see anything wrong with this picture?”
But he’s an engineer. So he didn’t.
And so I won’t ever really understand engineers, and that’s okay. I’m glad there are people who actually care how things function, because I never was that person. I just want it to work.
Period. (Pun fully intended.)