Impressing your friends as a motivator for excellence

Competition breeds excellence. Any introductory economics class will tell you that when there is competition in the marketplace, the consumer wins as different companies vie for your attention by building better products. Similarly, your career can win if you can find somebody with similar skills and goals to push you into being better than you thought you could.

Old school HP as Bill and Dave originally ran the company was primarily a manufacturer of devices for electrical engineers. Think oscilloscopes and other electronic measuring devices. All of those products are now at Agilent, but it turns out that in order to create those sorts of products for electrical engineers, you need electrical engineers to create them.

That set up a scenario we still call “next bench”. The engineers creating these components would have work benches they used to do soldering and the like during prototyping phases. Dozens of these work benches would be set up in long rows or various cubicle-like configurations. Often times, the product one person was working on would prove useful to the person working on the next bench over, hence the term.

It’s almost a fundamental rule: if you get a group of engineers together, the first thing they’ll do is try to impress each another.

This setup encouraged sharing and friendly competition among people who served as test customers for each other. The result was a synergy that is difficult to achieve otherwise.

I’ve certainly been lucky enough to find this in my own career. For me, that person is my friend Brian (inventor of Google Words). I’ve got about 4 years on him and, back in the day, thought I was a stud C++ programmer until I saw some of the stuff he started creating.

Me: “Check out this file comparator I made so we can see how changes are occurring in our code base on a token by token level.”

(2 days later)

Brian: “I took that file comparator you made and extended it to read not just multiple files at once, but an arbitrary number of directories so we could get a wider view of change across any project we want.”

Me (feeling intellectually abused now): “Uh, yeah, good idea. I was thinking of doing that myself, but you beat me to it.”

Look around that cube farm you’re sitting in. Who has skills that impress you? Challenge yourself and each other to bounce ideas around. Improve your end product by trying to impress each other.



2 Responses to “Impressing your friends as a motivator for excellence”

  1. Dustin Says:

    I didn’t know engineers soldiered. No wonder there’s such a lack of them, what with the war and all. Maybe we should tell the Army to send some of ’em home, eh? 🙂

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