Tea dances

I was struck once again as to how engineers think differently to other people. It’s not just a matter of having to explain to the marketing people that you cannot simultaneously have X and NOT X. At least, not until they kick in some funding for a quantum computer.

Consider the tea room.

The office has a relatively poorly designed kitchen. The sink and boiling water supply are both in the back corner. A person has two tasks (washing cup, getting boiling water) plus the additional tasks of adding coffee/tea bagĀ  (located at the front corner) and perhaps milk from the fridge (middle left).

Typically, people form an orderly queue and wait for each person to complete all the relevant tasks. All processes have equal priority and each job is handled serially in a FIFO queue.

Then you get a bunch of engineers.

Each of them tries to work out the most efficient method of completing the process. They work out that you don’t have to have a serial process but can multi-thread. They start performing a little dance whereby a person will typically wash a cup, move to the coffee dispenser while someone else uses the sink, moving to the fridge at the appropriate point in the cycle to get milk. Persons with clean cups can bypass a step and typically have a higher priority because it is quicker to get boiling water than wash a cup.

The end result is that the overall task efficiency is considerably increased, although there is a slight time penalty for the person at the front of the queue. The engineers all take their coffee back to their desks accompanied by a warm glow of satisfaction.

Of course, this means that they don’t get to network with the other people in the queue, or make idle chit-chat to pass the time. But these are engineers. Why on earth would they want to do either of these things?

This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 12th, 2007 at 3:16 pm and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


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