October 16, 2007

The First Rule of Engineering  Comments 

Filed under: High Tech Marketing — admin @ 4:03 pm

Early in my marketing career I worked with an engineer at Hewlett Packard that liked to talk about the first rule of engineering being “don’t do something stupid?.  First before you judge the rule literally you have to realize how he used the phrase.  This was not stated as not to try new things or take on risks.  He liked to take on risks and push himself.  The other quality that he had was always thinking beyond scope of his specific area to make sure what he did would fit within the broader context of the product. Although it was often stated somewhat as a joke, I never heard him direct the rule at someone else as an insult.  However, he was always actively questioning to make sure he did not run afoul of this rule. 


In another take on the first rule of engineering, recently Andy Grove of Intel in a speech at City College of New York said “the first tenet of engineering is, Always know what problem you’re working on?. (http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1538622,00.html?iid=chix-sphere)


What these two rules have in common is thinking before doing.  The engineer always needs to be actively thinking about what they are doing, not just blindly implementing something.  I like both these rules, because they are based on the analytical and questioning strength of engineers. 


A natural consequence is that engineering needs to be active in product decisions.  They need to be able to ask why a particular feature makes sense.  This is a positive sign that they are actively thinking about the problem, and trying to make sure they are solving the right problem.


I also believe that engineering must keep aware of the technology options available to completing a solution.  It is another way that engineers need to be actively thinking.  They must spend a portion of their time exploring and learning about the new options and methods to solve a problem. 


The rest of the organization needs to be tolerant and supporting of these behaviors.  They are part of having a robust and creative engineering team.


Also note that it does not mean that engineers alone should make all the product decisions.   In my next post I will explore how to balance the engineering and marketing to make good product decisions.


If anyone has there own version of the first rule of engineering that they like to use, please post them as a response.


Rick Denker

Packet Plus, Inc.



  1. If one of your solution options seems obvious, try that one first.

    Comment by Susan Krumdieck — May 28, 2008 @ 11:04 pm

  2. I always thought the first rule of engineering had something to do with a large hammer…

    Comment by Rich — September 3, 2012 @ 12:55 pm

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