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Retrospective on Our Introvert Engineering Personality

tuwang profile image TuWang ・4 min read

Guilty Charged

It happens all the time on social occasions: a talkative individual is leading the conversation, and I can quietly curl back and watch like a cat. People are friendly most times, so that they won't bother me. They may remember me as a quiet person, not having much to share, and probably just too shy. Perhaps they think I am on the other side of the fence in the zoo : )


Lots of engineers like to express them through writing (like what I am doing now), or perhaps through code, diagrams, or flow charts. We spend a tremendous amount of time conducting intellectual tasks quietly, which inevitably builds into our stereotype, an introvert personality.

Frankly, being quiet on social occasions is a kind of privilege I get nowadays: there is no expectation. It allows my unexpected jokes to crack people up, which is incredible.

Other times, I dislike engineer stereotypes. It must happen to you before as well. A friend wants to start a conversation, but he has no idea what I am doing as a software engineer. His maximum efforts result in a question: 'what video game do you play now?' but he has absolutely zero interest in anything you say in the next second.

Well, I'm not angry. I get it. I don't talk much when we meet, and you have no clue about engineering, so I must be into games since I am a computer scientist.

Unfortunately, no games for me anymore. All my engineering friends and I am busy building apps, making your (as an end customer) life slightly better each day.

Extrovert Side of US

An introvert personality leads people to imagine that the quiet person must love video games or live like a cat because he is not confident to face the world.

It's all about context.

In the right context, engineers love to argue and talk.

I can talk to you about a new algorithm problem for one hour straight. We can discuss the data structure to pick and the options to solve it, as long as you don't fall asleep in the first 2 minutes.

Lots of quiet engineers are rather super extrovert when it comes to the right context:

  • In design reviews, engineers debate around technology, workflow, risk analysis, impact to dependencies, and many other aspects with clear thought. We do not back down much in these discussions because we are trying to express the right thing to do in different scenarios. It's especially fascinating to observe multiple relentless senior/principle engineers debate because you can learn so much out of a single meeting.

  • In coffee chats or lunch breaks, engineers love to pick on the little things they see on the street and reason about how things work?. For a week, I kept telling my friends how much can the taco truck family make in a month, and that's perhaps a lot more than our average salary. Other times, we talk about how practical and possibly how much money do we need to make it to Mars one day. Well, if we can enhance our organs to sustain many more years.

  • Finally, in writings, engineers are super expressive and have the abilities to put complex engineer spaghettis on paper. I admit design documents have less to do with extrovert personalities. Though, frequently, you can discover awesome & crazy ideas through technical documents that blow your mind.

Can We Break out of The Comfort Zone?

I believe the chance is high. It may sound narcissistic, but like it or not, engineers are impacting every corner of the world. We do have a say in many ways, if not too passive through code.

If you are like me, who does hope to speak to a small group of audience and deliver clear thoughts, perhaps some training is needed. Public speaking is not a straightforward battle. You need to rally with the fear, control the body language, and meanwhile pay attention to the audience's feedback.

I generally do a few things when I am arranging an important meeting or have to speak in front of an audience:

  • I am an expert on my subjects. If I go fast on speech, none of you could ever catch up, so I will keep it slow to make sure you can follow. That is, imagine the audience is average intelligent who needs guidance. During your show, your audience does not outsmart you in any way.

  • Save these people from their boring conversations. When I don't speak, I do pay attention to people's topics. I have a true story in a public accounting firm internship. I was a tech intern, but I still had to stand among a group of interns who were talking about sports at the company event. I knew it from the beginning that none of these nerds care about sports. They perhaps all just worried about what happens next after the internship ends. I needed to do something. I saved these people, literally, from the boring sports/weather conversations by putting in a friendly interruption about movies, ice cream shops, or something. These are interns (I was as well) pretending to be experienced professionals.

  • Make it not about your self but the group/community. Even for a popular character, if all the individual talks about is about her/himself, no one will care over a minute. If you do prepare for a social occasion, bring up topics that are relevant to the group. It's a bonus when you also state your own opinion.

The list can go on. I honestly believe an introvert personality can be our advantage. Calm down and embrace your introvert smart mind 😬

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