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How To Win Friends And Influence Engineers

April 4, 2016

I’m not a nice guy.

What do you mean? You bought my engineers pizza for lunch. That seems pretty nice.

No, it’s not. It only looks that way. This was a straight forward bribe. 

I’m in Shreveport for the opening of our new center. The schedule has been beyond crazy. What we normally do in 8 weeks we did in two. What we do in 12 weeks, we are cramming into four. Our engineering teams were all putting in long hours. I had two goals in coming to Louisiana. First, I needed to do whatever I could to get us to meet our aggressive schedule. And there were plenty of things to do. 

My second goal, and ultimately more important for long term success, I needed to establish a relationship with our desktop engineering team. I’m responsible for the technical setup at our four call centers. But, I live in Salt Lake City. I don’t get out to the other sites very often. How do you influence people that you only see occasionally? That you might only see occasionally, but you talk to multiple times per week?

I don’t know if there is a “right” way, I only know “my” way. I’m only here for a few days. Two things impress an engineer, the first is technical prowess, or at least technical aptitude coupled with a willingness to work. This was actually the hardest to accomplish with the engineers here. 

George, you guys are setting up the training room tonight, right?

Yup. It will probably take all night, but we’ll get it done.

Could you use any help?

No. We’ve kind of got a system. We’ll be fine.

They didn’t trust me. Or more accurately, they didn’t trust that I could be involved and do it their way. Trust is earned. And they had no reason to trust me. 

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that these guys were paranoid, or even overly suspicious. They had never worked with me. If you offer to help and get turned down, what do you do? 

I stayed. I didn’t push, but I stayed the evening wore on. Eventually the engineers started to move monitors into our training room. 

Hey, can I lend you a hand with those?

Who’s going to deny you the opportunity to haul computer monitors from one room to another? Right. Nobody. 

Anything else? 

Well, I absolutely hate taking those little twisty ties off the cords. If you wanted to do that.

Of course, I wanted to. Before long I was hooking the monitors up. It’s just a matter of plugging cables into the right places on the monitors and the computer. I moved on from monitor cables, to mice and keyboards. The hours wore on. I did all the grunt work. The tedious work. I vacuumed. I picked up litter. I dusted the tables. 

I also participated in multiple conference calls all through the night as we tracked progress in other parts of the schedule. Finally, around 4:00am I came to the realization that we were going to make our deadline and that I was going to have to meet with the client in a few hours. But, I’d accomplished what I wanted to accomplish. I’d gotten the engineers to let me help them. And I’d done it their way.

The second way you impress engineers, is you feed them. This turned out to be harder than I thought. It started easy enough. 

Steve, I want to buy lunch for your guys on Friday.

Sure, that’d be great.


You know it.

On Friday, I asked the site admin to order the pizza. Apparently, she had her own agenda.

Can you help me get them out of the IT trailer?

Well, if you can have the pizza delivered here to the conference room, that should work. 

Once the pizza and the engineers arrived, it was clear that the engineers knew exactly what the admin had in mind. 

You guys know she’s in our trailer right now doing her April Fools prank.

I swear if she touches my Star Wars collection I’m going to put that virus back on her computer. 

The team peppered me with questions about the account, about process, about procedures. They asked me about the client, our own executives. They didn’t ask me about the other desktop engineers. They all knew each other. Eventually, they got around to asking me about the lunch. 

I didn’t help y’all because I’m a nice guy. I’m not a nice guy. But, Shreveport is a shared site. When I need you to do something from me, I don’t want you to think, “Rodney?, wasn’t he one of the guys who hung out in the conference room?” No, I want you to remember that he was the guy who bought lunch, and who worked with you all night to get the training room ready. This is a straight up bribe. I intend to collect over the coming months.

Why tell us about it?

Because I might be mercenary and manipulative, but I’ve found that if you are up front and honest when you are trying to manipulate people, ironically, it helps.

It cost me a night’s sleep and $55 in pizza, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to pay off well. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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