Engineering congress -

Engineering congress


Turning 40 was a minor milestone; it’s the beginning, more or less, of middle age, but with young kids and a busy career I had neither time nor interest in reflecting on the passing years. 50 was easy; I joked about becoming genetically irrelevant, and in that decade found myself enjoying being a spectator to the younger generation taking their place, starting families, and participating in the amazing parade of life. 60, a couple of years ago, was a shock. My wife’s mother died at 62; my grandmother at 60, too many other family members and friends never made it to that marker. My 24 year old daughter amusingly laments her advanced age, but it’s increasingly impossible to ignore the advance of years.

Over time one perceives patterns in life. A remarkable pattern is that of the political process, never more apparent than now. Generally, two years ahead of a presidential election, the likely candidates are far from obvious. Yet today we’re faced with the almost inevitable succession of one or another dynasty to the White House. New thinking in a time of growing problems isn’t going to happen. Sure, it’s possible that one or another of the long-shot candidates could surprise us all.

But, after a lifetime watching politics, I doubt it.

The pattern persists in Congress, where incumbents are, it sometimes seems, elected for life. The senators in my state have been in Congress for almost 30 and 40 years respectively. 40 years! That’s longer than the average life expectancy when the country was founded.

Many years ago I wrote a column about the country needing problem solvers in elected positions. Engineers. We’re paid, not to debate issues, not to instill fear or hatred of the other party, but to make stuff work. If we don’t, we’re fired. It’s a binary job. Just what you’d think the country needs. Readers mostly disagreed, pointing out that, for instance, one engineer president wasn’t particularly effective. Others were cynical, figuring Congress is dysfunctional almost by design and that there was no interest in solving problems there. Controversy wins elections; the quiet person who gets things done is always unheralded and thus unelectable.

It’s hard to argue with that.

My generation were the hippies. We were naïve, as all young people are, but we did “rage against the machine.” But then we got into our 30s and were busy, 40s and we were preoccupied with growing families, 50s and were wondering about retirement, then 60s and are now ready to pass the torch to a new generation.

But I’m pissed off. Our elected representatives are preoccupied with the battles of Washington while the country’s big issues remain unaddressed. Petty partisan politics matters more than anything else.

So a year ago I told my wife I was thinking about running for Congress as an independent, since neither party seems serious about serious issues. My thinking was that the chances of getting elected would be tiny, and that as an outsider – and as an engineer problem solver rather than political infighter – the odds of getting anything useful done in Washington would be minute. But my kids’ future is at stake, and I’m not optimistic that their lives will be as rich as mine. My thinking is that it’s better to be ineffective than apathetic.

It’s stunning to see so many candidates’ web sites so devoid of hard-hitting positions. There are mostly mealy-mouthed platitudes designed to appeal to their base. That’s the nature of politics, but I would want to be known for strong positions, no matter how unpopular they may be.

Go to a bar and you’ll hear real people arguing about real issues. Sometimes in a detailed fashion. Probably most people reading this have a clear understanding of where they stand on the issues, and maybe you, too, argue these with friends and colleagues.

Or maybe not. Have you carefully, analytically, in an engineering fashion, thought through a consistent set of positions?

In considering a Congressional run I spent a lot of time writing a paper on where I stand on the issues. It’s 20+ pages of do-this, don’t-do-that, change-this-now thinking. I learned three things from this exercise.

First, it’s one thing to have strong beliefs. It’s fascinating – and humbling – to codify them, to boil them down in writing, in a consistent fashion.

The second thing I learned is that I would be unelectable even for dog catcher. A voter who agrees with 50 of your stands but is passionately against only one won’t pull the lever with your name on it. Having written this paper, it’s now clear I’d tick off pretty much everyone on one or another issue. So I’ll not run for Congress but will search out some candidate whose thinking vaguely aligns with mine and support that person, no matter how quixotic or impossible his or her campaign may be.

And finally, some problems just appear intractable. It’s one thing to rail against “those morons in Congress.” It’s quite another to come up with solutions that are practical. It’s even harder to imagine how these ideas could be implemented given the reality of a system where working together for the common good seems quaint. Too many of my thoughts end with “but I have no idea how to do this.”

So, what is my point? I encourage you to think through your own beliefs, to commit them to paper and scrutinize them. It’s an introspective exercise that will help galvanize your thinking. Apply your left-brain engineering thinking and hold what are sometimes beliefs grounded in habit to the cold scrutiny of analysis.

After all, in the USA we’ll be voting again in two years.

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 . His website is .

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16 thoughts on “Engineering congress

  1. “How sweet to my heart is this small piece of … writing.nFor the last year, and even this very morning, I have discussed a lot with colleagues about the virtue of introspection given by writing down the specifications, another subject dear to your heart

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  2. “The really scary thing to me is the lack of any form of scientific or technical knowledge most politicians seem to have — maybe it's just that if you have a mindset that lets you spend your life listening to endless committee babble, then you don't have

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  3. “And if I hear one more politician saying that their only wish is to serve the American people I'll barf. Their only wish is for power and to make money — how come when they go in they typically have the same amount of savings as the rest of us — yet whe

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  4. “”But Iu2019m pissed off.”nnThis is the problem with paying too much attention to this stuff. Sometimes I feel guilty for my gradual tuning out of political news over time, as if I'm not fulfilling my duty as an American citizen. But on the other ha

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  5. “If you were hiring someone to manage a company that you owned, would it be a problem if they had 30 or 40 years of experience? I served a year on my local school board, filling in for someone who had quit. It was a humbling experience. There were many tim

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  6. “Jack, You might be surprised, but my attempt to publish a translation of your article (with a link to the original) to the Russian site has led to a temporary ban my account (for a week) with the phrase “initiate a political debate.” Apparently, moderat

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  7. “Politicians tout their ignorance of scientific knowledge (and in the USA, their ignorance of female anatomy) as a virtue, which amounts to an Ad Hominem attack on the concept of critical thinking.nCheck out the book, The 15% Solution, to see why it's sti

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  8. “The problem is that their definition of being really effective is to navigate their way through the hierarchy of committees — not to actually pass laws that are useful and make sense — meanwhile our infrastructure continues to deteriorate and our manufa

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  9. “I'm sorry you have to live under that sort of regime — and thankful I don't — if you ever find yourself in Huntsville, Alabama, USA, the beers are on me :-)”

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  10. “I completely agree about deteriorating infrastructure. But I am not sure what to think about US manufacturing capabilities. The data I have found just from occasional internet searches seems to indicate that manufacturing output has been rising steadily f

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  11. “Oh, and did you notice that manufacturing jobs were rising along with manufacturing output up until about 1980? It wasn't until after 1980 that the jobs started falling off. That's about the same time when microcontrollers came into widespread use.nnWhe

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  12. “Do not worry, the ban for a week – this is not the arrest, but only a small inconvenience.nBy the way, I forgot to thank you for this article and your blog in general.nBug fixes.”

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  13. “Only a politician is allowed to create their own “Foundation” and receive anonymous million dollar donations from foreign countries. Of which they can choose to spend every penny on themselves, and pay no taxes on any of it. If an ordinary citizen did

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  14. “You got it wrong Max. You should have saidnn”The really scary thing to me is the lack of any form of knowledge most politicians seem to have…” nnWere I on EET I would have used strikethrough on the missing words…but thie is E.C….”

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