Go shift your own bits…

I always thought that engineering was about working together. Don’t get me wrong it often is. But in the year I spent in industry I found a really unique type of snobbery between different disciplines in the R&D department I worked in. I didn’t actually notice this snobbery until I needed help. I was given a new project; me being the student I was very excited to have a whole project to myself from design concept to finished product.

When I started my industrial placement I was very specific about not being able to do or wanting to do any software. I hadn’t gained any confidence in the subject when I was at university; and so didn’t particularly want to set myself up for a fall. The new project I started working on involved writing the software for the product. Now the project manager probably asked a little bit much of me here. I already had a major project on the go, as well as lots of smaller day to day tasks. But wanting to impress I thought I’d have a good crack at it.

Software is hard, especially when you’ve never really done anything like it before. I’ve always tried to help people where I can, seems daft to let someone struggle; gets the job done quicker. Now discipline snobbery doesn’t work like that. I sat with the software guys at lunch, they were always friendly easy going, a little bit weird but hey, who in engineering isn’t? I thought given we were working for the same company, the same aim, the same projects we’d all be in the same boat. Nope.

I have never been made to feel so small. Asking about things which I didn’t understand seemed natural and so I asked. Being told to wait days for small problems like: syntax errors to be looked at, getting laughed at for not knowing that parentheses meant brackets, and being explained what bit shifting was as if I couldn’t count to 10 put me off ever asking for help from software again. Not everyone was like this I’d like to add, just a few “special” members of the team. At the end of the day I couldn’t understand why someone asking for help was being rejected, kind of made you not want to bother. This kind of snobbery is what holds back companies, people feeling that because you don’t understand then they shouldn’t respect you is awful. I almost felt myself doing it, and felt really ashamed. People should respect you for asking, for trying to understand.

I ended up being able to write the software with a lot of self teaching, and some long hours reading datasheets from Atmel. I’d like to say a massive thank you to the people at Atmel for writing SUCH extensive documentation about absolutely everything, you guys are amazing! I look back at my log books and realise that for someone with software experience it would have been so easy to explain some of it quickly, reducing the time taken for me to complete the project and I guess increasing company efficiency. Engineering today surely requires the co-operation of different disciplines. Jack of all trades wont cut it. In my project I was lucky that the software requirements were simple and that I was able to understand it all, but I really feel for people on the tail end who aren’t lucky enough to figure it out themselves.

At least now I can tell software to go shift their own bits.

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