So it has come down to cracking down on mental illness rather than gun controls. This hits home for many careers. If you work on Wall Street, if you are a mouthbreather from right side of Congress or you are a lawyer (with the exception of patent attorney, which makes you a cousin to all engineers), you have zero compassion for others, that is a form of mental illness for which there is little chance for a cure and will get an exemption from the coming witch hunt.

Engineering has often been called a disease, and I completely agree. The mental illness of engineers is Aspergers Syndrome. Asperger's is a part of the Autism spectrum. You can take a test to see your degree of Autism here.

Update June 2013: our tally on microwave engineer Autism scores shows an average of 24 and change... we are a pretty introverted group for sure! Thanks to all those that contributed. Now can we all just be left alone to work out some math problems?

I scored 32, how about you? Send us your results and we'll compile and post some statistics on the Microwave engineers. No worries, we won't post any names!

Here's an article on how autistics can thrive in high-tech jobs. As if we didn't know that! Software giant SAP recently announced a hiring goal of 1% autistic people.

Perhaps another measure of Asperger's at work is when your company asks you to take the Meyers-Briggs personality test. Once you score anything that starts with an "I" your hopes for landing a cushy management job are doomed. Could this be another form of discrimination at work?

This month, let's look at some quirky engineering behaviors along with advice to managers.

Fear of public speaking

Many engineers have this. One cure is ToastMasters. Often an effective cure is "bigger paycheck". If you are paralyzed by fear when you have to speak, the only way to get over it is to do it enough so that it becomes a normal routine. It is easier to talk about something you actually care about, which is what you will typically be doing. There is nothing worse than finding out over breakfast that your co-worker that was going to do an IEEE talk that afternoon on something you haven't been paying attention to has to be somewhere else and you have to give his/her talk.

Advice to managers: hold a dry run on the presentation if your engineer has this problem. Point out that he/she has the most knowledge on the topic and it would be unfair to the audience to have a less-knowledgable person give the talk.


The Arts and Entertainment Channel's show Hoarders has many an engineer in trouble with his/her spouse. Did you see that? How can he live like that? Aw, Honey-Bunny, I'm too busy to clean the garage this weekend....

Some engineers store all kinds of stuff that they acquired through failed programs, retiring co-workers, etc. It is one of the worlds greatest triumphs for an engineer to pull out a bit of hardware and save the day.

Advise to managers: it doesn't cost you anything to provide the hoarder with a couple of cabinets. Make sure the hoarder knows that just hardware should not find its way into deliverable product without some careful screening.

Messy office

Even after repeated "5S" initiatives, some engineers never get in the habit of organizing their stacks of papers.

Advice to managers: if the engineers is a good one, promote him to position where his/her office has a door. Keep it closed. If he/she is not a great engineer, give them a written warning and remind them there is a layoff coming up...


Stimming is self stimulation, many engineers exhibit it. Two common ways are rocking in a chair, or twirling hair until it is in a knot. The only known cures are 1. oil the legs on the chair so it doesn't disturb office mates, and 2. short haircut or baldness.

Below, Arman puts stimming in perspective. Bravo!




Foot tapping, nail biting, coin and key jangling, these are all types of stimming. Lenny Small's love for petting rabbits in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men was a form of stimming.

At the far end of the spectrum, there is head-banging and hand flapping. Chances are that an engineer that exhibited these traits as a child has had to learn to control himself in order to keep a job. Below is a cover of the Ramones song, Suzy is a Headbanger, a ukulele version. Do it one more time for me!




Advice to managers: oil up that squeaky chair. Don't put the stimmer in the same office with anyone that suffers from the next affliction...

Sound sensitivity - Misophonia

Some people have a real problem hearing certain sounds, especially if they are repetitive. I am sure this is part of the Aspergers spectrum, but to my knowledge it has never been the subject of a serious scientific study. There are a lot of people out there with this condition, just search on misphonia on youtube and you can turn up videos such as this:



Also known as Selective Sound Sensitivity Syndrome (4S) and related to hyperacusis, there is no cure, only avoidance.

I have this. There is some risk in discussing it, as once you come out of the closet, your "friends" will use it to bug you. To those friends, I will remind you that now that I have written this and you have been warned, we could both lose our jobs over this but your last day might be spent in some degree of physical pain....

Here are some things I can’t stand hearing…..

  • Laugh tracks on TV comedies (can’t be in the room when this is on)
  • Snoring (can’t sleep for even a minute if I hear it, if I am ever in jail I won’t last more than two nights)
  • Dripping faucets
  • Eating noises (not a problem in a restaurant, but listening to someone eat in a quiet house drives me insane)
  • Coughing, hiccupping, repeated nose blowing, disgusting throat noises (by other people)
  • Coin or key jangling
  • Loud toilets (I never flush in the middle of the night it is too stressful)
  • Banging doors or cabinet drawers (might explain why I leave cabinets open sometimes)
  • Card shuffling, especially on airplanes. You only need to do this four times to ensure randomization, so just stop it for Christsakes!


I also kind of dislike the “stingers” that a certain style of music to used back in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  Listen to the theme from the Flintstones….

Flintstones… (bwaap)
Meet the Flintstones (bwaap)….
The modern stoneage family  (bwapp wappa wap wap)



The Mogilla Gorilla theme is just as bad, or maybe worse:




This may or may not be related, but I can only talk on the phone with my left ear, which puts me in a minority of right-handed people. My hearing in the right ear is fine, I just don't listen well with it. I listen much better to printed words than spoken words. I can't participate in a meeting where two groups are talking at the same time, at this point in my life I will just walk out of the room.

Related to this is an aversion to being subjected to semi-random yet repetitive motions, either visual or unseen but felt (like someone thumping on the back of an airline seat).

Advice to managers: don't put the sound sensitivity patient in the same office with a guy that is stimming, he won't get any work done and eventually you may have an ugly scene on your hands. In meetings you need to enforce the "one person talking rule".

Smart phones

The smart phone is one of the greatest developments for engineers. Now you have the ultimate distraction. Sure, we all made fun of managers with Blackberries a few years back, but now a lowly shlub can bring an iphone to a meeting and play with it. How often can you check the news? There is always new stuff going on, so you can check it all the time!

Advise to managers: if you want participation in a meeting, you will have to collect the smart phones. Unfortunately, you don't get to keep yours...

Aversion to conflict

Many engineers won't speak up at a meeting when they know a group decision is wrong. I know of an extremely smart man, who, if he ever says "are you sure this is a good idea?" , means "you are an idiot, go back to the drawing board".

One sign you don't like conflict is what news channel you listen to (if you listen to news at all). Many engineers prefer NPR to the Fox network, they are on opposite sides of the conflict spectrum.

Hopelessly unaware of pop culture

Every time I tell the story of Harvey H. I get yelled at but I will risk it here. Back in high school Harvey's family moved from some place in Mississippi to New Jersey, where I went to school. We were mean to him, that is standard practice at any high school, spreading rumors that his mother must have ate mud when she was pregnant with Harvey. In English class we were assigned to bring in a record of a popular song, I couldn't tell you what I brought in and it doesn't matter. But Harvey brought in a 78 rpm recording of Al Jolson dating to 1927. Of course we all made fun of this, and someone smashed that record before we even heard it. I'd wager that record would be worth some money today. Harvey, if you are listening, I offer my sincere apology for your mistreatment and I hope you are doing well.


Like Harvey, many engineers won't understand a reference to Gangnam Style or whatever the latest K-pop is (which I admit I won't know about until it is over).

Advice to managers: if anyone is constantly making sport of your best engineer because he says "ehhhhh" in a feeble attempt to imitate The Fonz, fire those bullies as Harvey's revenge.


Counting up seemingly useless data, Aspergers' and autisics are often obsessed with numbers. You might have an engineer that could tell you how many stair steps between his car, his cube and the cafeteria. No, you will likely have more than one engineer that knows this.

Advice to managers: take him/her to Vegas!


246 Toothpicks

Obsessive-compulsive disorder

Many engineers will work a problem to death if you let them. This is also related to poor time-management, and inability to concentrate on two or more problems at once.

Advice to managers: the cure for OCD can be attempted at performance review time, when you point out that the engineer needs to take responsibility for completing more assignments, not continuing on one assignment forever. Good luck!


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