Who’s better: Tom Brady or Steve
the World Cup, I wrote a blog entry
about technology in football (i.e. soccer). Owing to the popularity of that
light-hearted techno-babble and the excitement surrounding the start of the NFL
regular season, I have decided to write another (silly) article about another
(fruitless) pastime of mine: fantasy football. I have done a lot of thinking
about fantasy football (for those of you unfamiliar, fantasy football is
and my conclusion is that it is a superior
waste of time.
Is it reasonable for grown men and
women (usually men) to justify spending several hours a week shuffling starting
lineups and agonizing over opponents and matchups in hopes of winning what
usually amount to about $500 (a.k.a. compensation equivalent to about
$2.34/hour invested) for the champion? Of course not! But, as a self-admitted
(committed?) fantasy addict, I have to admit it is fun, it makes Sundays more
enjoyable, and it has me thinking…what about Fantasy Engineering? Is it
possible to come up with the Engineering equivalent of fantasy football where
we can pick a few categories for engineering skills, such as intellect, or
creativity, or work ethic and score them on a points system? I don’t think
Fantasy Engineering would be very fun, but it has me thinking about how to
evaluate the mostly subjective skills of engineers, and relate them to
My main focus is to evaluate the
various engineering positions. What are the specific traits of these
engineering positions, and how would you quantify the relative value of the
person filling that position? In football, Tom Brady is clearly more valuable
than Alex Smith. Therefore, it is reasonable to argue that in the real life
engineering trenches, some people are more valuable than others. I’ve looked at
past and present scientists and engineers, and tried to come up with my list of
the top ranked “players” in each position. To stay in the football theme, I am
going to create an engineering team which is analogous to a typical fantasy
football team setup: Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receiver, Tight End and
Project Manager/Team Leader.
Charismatic, Superior Communication Skills, Motivating, Organized, Level-headed
Temperament, Broad Technical Understanding, Forward Thinking/Visionary
as in football, no engineering team can be successful without a charismatic
leader. The project leader must be able to organize his team with a calm,
clear, and collected approach (think Joe Montana during the 49er glory years).
The team leader can have inferior technical skills to the other engineers, but
this is compensated for with visionary thinking and the ability to absorb and
evaluate a broad range of technical details. I have worked with PMs with this
ability and it is impressive: you know they cannot do the work themselves, but
they tend to have an uncanny ability to immediately understand the implications
of the technical data. Moreover, the best PMs can take the data, and see how
the results impact the future direction of the company/technology. Most
engineers don’t think with this futurist/opportunist mentality, this is why a
good PM is essential; they don’t handcuff their minds with excuses for why
something won’t work.
Jobs—Does this really need an explanation?
Feynman—The gregarious genius knew more about more topics than just about
anyone to ever live. He foresaw the nanotech revolution, and dabbled in field
far beyond Physics. Read his autobiography or his Caltech Lectures and you’ll
immediately understand why he is, in my estimation, the most well-rounded
scientist to ever live.
Oppenheimer—Oppenheimer oversaw the most ambitious scientific project in
the history of modern science: the Manhattan Project. Say what you will about
the negative impact of the research, you can’t help but admit that the
challenges Oppenheimer faced were immense, and the historical impact of the
success of this project changed human history. Imagine if we could assemble a
similar team of scientists, headed by Oppenheimer, to solve our energy issues!
That’s why he’s #3 on my list.
Brilliant, Hard Working, Focused, Instinctual, Intuitive, Fearless
football, a great running back is a quarterback’s best friend because he takes
the pressure off by keeping the defense honest. In engineering, the project
manager’s best friend is his lead scientist. The lead engineer and the project
manager tend to have complementary skills. What the PM lacks in technical
ability is more than made up by the lead engineer. The lead engineer doesn’t
necessarily need good communication skills because the only thing that matters
Da Vinci—If I had to pick one mind upon which to make a company, it would
be Leonardo Da Vinci. Some might argue that Tesla is a better pick (listed #2),
but Da Vinci lived hundreds of years before the Industrial Revolution. His mind
was so creative and prolific, I can’t imagine what he could have conceived of
with modern conveniences like computers and CNC machines.
Tesla—Look at his resume, its remarkable!
Edison—Despite his achievement of giving us the light bulb, I cannot in
good faith let anyone who would promote DC power distribution be any higher
than #3. Nevertheless, the man was a genius and responsible for countless
advances in technology.
Smartest guy in the room…and knows it!
Terrell Owens. Chad Ochocinco. Michael
Crabtree. This list goes on…Wide receivers are gifted athletes, and they’ll tell you that any chance they
get. In engineering, I find that the theorists are the “know-it-alls”
because they can figure anything out with a pen and paper and they don’t even
need to perform the experiment. A great theorist can tell you the answer long
before you make the measurement, and they love to brag about this fact long
after the result confirm the prediction. Ok, I’m embellishing somewhat, but you
get the idea. In fairness, the best theorists need to be a little arrogant
because they have to make authoritative statements without the aid of
experiments. To me, that is a scary existence, I prefer to let experimentation
determine if I’m wrong or right. If you are going to survive as a theorist, you
have to brave, cocky, and smart!
Clerk Maxwell—The following statement is 90% true: every upper level undergraduate and graduate course I took while at
Duke and UCSD began with a review of Maxwell’s Equations. I could have
skipped the first 2 lectures of any grad-level class and missed absolutely
nothing. Learning microwave? Start with Maxwell’s Equations. Learning optics?
Start with Maxwell’s Equations. Learning Shakespeare? Start with Maxwell’s
Einstein—I could be wrong, but I think Maxwell has been more valuable for
our particular field of Microwave Engineering than Einstein. But, Einstein’s
contributions and abilities speak for themselves. Plus, I give extra credit to
anyone who could do Physics while improvising solos on a violin.
Newton—Here is my problem with high school science: most “facts” you learn
in high school Physics and Chemistry turn out to be wrong, at least in part.
This is why Newton is #3--his so-called Laws are in fact special cases of the actual way Nature is. Hence, Einstein
Honorable Mention: Victor Veselago
The guy who builds stuff.
Skilled in all aspects of design and manufacturing
football, the tight end tends to be a player gifted in all aspects of offense.
They have to block, they have to catch, and they have to understand defensive
strategy to pick up blitzes. The engineering tight end is the guy who likes to
get his hands dirty. While the lead engineer and theorist are likely to have
Masters or PhD degrees, the best tight ends have a blue-collar background. In
the world of company-building and widget making, the engineering tight end is
absolutely critical helping you make products that are as robust as they are
elegant. The engineering bourgeois like to focus on electrical performance, but
sometimes packaging and manufacturing tricks are what matters more. Teams can
get away with sub-par tight ends, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
Jamie Hyneman—If you watch enough Mythbusters, you’ll learn to appreciate Mr. Hyneman’s skills. Jamie
is a “man’s man” kind of engineer. If you were stranded on a desert island, you
would make Jamie your leader because he’d be your best chance of survival. Only
a true blue-collar type engineer would sport such an ambitious mustache.
2. Adam Savage—In
keeping with the Mythbusters theme, I
make Adam Savage my #2 rank for tight end. While I agree that Adam has superior
skills to most, I think he is a “poor man’s” Jamie. Sorry Adam. If it makes you
feel better, you wear cool
Marki—Yes, I’m biased because he is my father, but I’d put his
manufacturing know-how up against anyone. Little known fact: my father was a
professional jeweler in his teens and early 20’s. The knowledge my dad gained
in metallurgy and 3D construction are clearly evident in the products that
Marki Microwave offers today. I’m sure anyone who looks under the hood of a Marki
T3 mixer would agree.
Old curmudgeon engineer
Experience, Experience, Experience
Description: My first blog
was about the engineering “grey beards.” These are the engineers that have been
around forever and know just about everything. While they don’t use all of the
modern software and design techniques to do their job (that is left to the
youngsters), these old curmudgeons always have a way of bailing out the team on
4th down. The old curmudgeon might not be used on every play, but
they are absolutely vital because they possess valuable information that cannot
be learned in books or simulations—they have true wisdom. The last second
contributions of the designated Grey Beard can make a marked difference in the
outcome of the project.
I respectfully decline to name real people; we have all met
a few of them. My advice: do what you can to learn from them.
2. Prof. Dumbledore