Why we should all be Engineers (or rather have an Engineer’s mindset)

Earlier today I listened to Mark Zuckerberg speak live from Lagos, Nigeria and in response to a question about how he transitioned from a codewriter to a CEO, he responded “I’m an engineer” and then he went on to define the two “principles” that underpin an engineer’s mindset:

  • Think of everything as a “system” that can be made better or improved
  • Break down problems into smaller pieces that are solvable

However, these principles are applicable to everyone whether you’re an engineer writing code, a manager of a team, or CEO running a multinational company. Mark quipped that there is an elegance to writing code that he misses, “the code kinda always does what you want and people don’t” although he quickly adds that “people surprise to the upside as well.”

These principles resonates with me so much, especially the first principle. Sadly, this engineering mindset is notoriously absent in most people because (I suspect) we as people do not really like (the transition caused by) change (i.e., friction). We want things/systems static because we have so many things/systems that we interact with and we need to remember the processes to interact with them all. The last thing most people want to do is learn a new way to do something every day, week, month, year; depending on how frequently they interact with these systems/things.

And perhaps, this is the problem. Most people do not want to learn something new everyday even if it can potentially improve their life 10X. So the question then is, what can “engineers” do to reduce that the friction or learning curve? One way is to build platforms that users trust entirely that can navigate users through processes and things. The effect of this is that when the platform gets updated or tweaked no one bats an eye because the users still get to their intended destination or result. However, these type of platforms take time to development and garner user trust (e.g., Facebook, Uber, etc.)

In the meantime, how does one get an engineer’s mindset without being an engineer: have a learner’s mindset. People with this trait, this ability to look at things with “fresh eyes,” see ways that things/systems can be improved and ways that problems can be broken down and solved. These people are going to build/redesign better processes, improve organizations, and maybe change the world.

There is only one way I know to have a learner’s mindset: be curious.