79A) Engineering Tribes

Welcome new reader!

I am glad you are here.

Okay, if you have been reading this blog – my autobiography spanning 62 years – you’ve probably had quite a few laughs. Many of the mistakes I have made, that you have read about here in this blog, have been laughable. What follows is a lighter look at one aspect of life as a contract mask designer – almost  always being perceived as an outsider while working at client companies.

High Walls

We all form tribes.

But engineers can be cold bastards, at least in my experience.

The good ones are highly educated, smart, usually fit, well compensated and sought-out by the world’s best companies. And they know math. In fact, they just THINK differently.

Peers in my career are called Mask Designers, Layout Designers, IC Layout Technicians and sometimes Mask Design Engineers or Mask Design Specialists. Those who contract are known as Mask Design Contractors.

We are smart but usually not highly educated. Some of us hold degrees and even advanced degrees. But even the most highly educated among us read different books in college. We didn’t read math books. We didn’t read books about shell-scripting, PHP, or C. We didn’t fill out requisition slips to calibrate the oscilloscope in the laboratory. And most of us, I reckon, don’t balance our check books, much less reconcile them at the end of the month.

I  have held most of these mask design titles, and I am not a slug, or slow, or complacent, I assure you. And I have worked with some of the top teams at places like AMD, Intel, HP, IBM and Analog Devices – side by side.

Yet I am not in The Engineering Tribe. Never will be.

Okay, so if common goals, projects, technologies, companies and love for creating customer value does not bind members computer chip teams together, what does?

The Outsider

In 1996, while working as a Mask Design Contract for Hewlett-Packard in Fort Collins, Colorado, I had the rare opportunity to experience the phenomenon known as shunning.

Absolutely no one wanted to have anything to do with me.

Hey, my little foundation for extraordinary achievement was stronger than ever. I had a lot going for me:

  • brimming with charm
  • pleasing plaid shirts and semi-athletic build
  • can do attitude and always willing to give credit to the team before myself

But as a mask design contractor, I truly felt like an outsider. Even after months and months at the job site, working with same group of engineers. I often felt this way when the person that was shunning me, hadn’t met me.

In short, I was shunned by engineers I worked with and shunned by those I met who didn’t know me.


Here are a few theories:

  • I smelled bad
  • They saw me as my true self (a zombie)
  • I was walking around with an erection and wasn’t aware of it
  • all three

I know these are weak and improbable, but there is a common theme with each engineer in a career of 25 years who ever shunned me. And here it is:

In every missed opportunity for human interaction, the person who felt compelled to ignore me –  in some cases, rudely – would most likely have been HIGHLY enriched for the experience. This is because I was sincerely more interested in lifting them, than inflating my own status.

Here is a link to a video  explaining tribes in the context of a contemporary business demographic, not as carelessly as I’ve described it in this post:


Have you ever felt shunned?

Next: #79B) Oliver M. Stanley – Law Student

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