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Electoral Polls And Engineers

October 13, 2008

Jack Ganssle-October 13, 2008

For about two years pollsters have been taking the pulse of the nation to see which of the presidential candidates has the best chance of winning. The numbers swing quickly depending on issues facing the country, and on the effectiveness of the latest grenade one side hurls at the other.

At election time each candidate usually gets about half of the popular vote. Some argue that's because we're so polarized; others feel it's because there's so little light between the candidates.

But how do techies feel? Do most of us align ourselves with a particular political philosophy? Or are we as divided as the general electorate?

Engineers are united in important ways: we're highly educated. Thinking is important to us, and is a basic part of our job. I think most of us stay pretty attuned to the issues.

We're problem-solvers, and most of us have little patience with the endless and ineffectual debates Washington loves. We bring the problem-solving home, sometimes to the despair of our spouses, and apply it to, well, sometimes too many domains of life.

Mostly we make more money than the rest of America, and are in the middle- to upper-middle class. So our tax bite is bigger. That relative affluence means our kids are more likely to go to college than many other citizens of this country, and I suspect most of us push the kids towards four-year programs, when we can, rather than much more affordable community colleges.

We're conservative. I don't mean that necessarily in the left vs. right sense, though 30 years ago would have felt safe equating engineering conservatism with political conservatism.

Today it seems engineers represent a broader political spectrum. Rather, create conservative designs. We prefer using tried and proven approaches over taking a lot of technical risk. We design conservative margins into circuits and plan for the worst: add fuses, build exception handlers, and beef up wiring to deal with unexpected events.

Are we more or less religious as a group than the rest of American? I have no idea.

Do we in general look to the government for solutions? I have no idea.

Are we more passionate about issues? They do say "put two programmers in a room and you'll get three strong opinions." Certainly the debates about Linux vs. Windows rise to histrionic proportions, though I don't know if this passion scales to the political domain. My Boys Night Out group, in which engineers are over-represented, sure gets in some furious, but always fun, debates about current issues.

So who is your candidate? Me, I'm hoping for a shining knight who promises less but quietly fixes some of the real problems we face.

I expect to be disappointed.

So participate in the Embedded.com Poll on the Embedded.com Home Page and let's see if engineers are as evenly distributed as the rest of the populace.

Jack G. Ganssle is a lecturer and consultant on embedded development issues. He conducts seminars on embedded systems and helps companies with their embedded challenges. Contact him at jack@ganssle.com. His website is www.ganssle.com.

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