Engineers, Great, Principal, and Distinguished

We are in the process of revamping the Principal Engineer program at Sun. Basically a Principal Engineer is a peer-review position, granted to those in the Customer facing organizations who have demonstrated technology Leadership (see my previous post on Leaders) within Sun, through our customer base, and across the industry. There are other "Supergeek" positions at Sun, including Distinguished Engineer, and Sun Fellow. Someone once asked me what the difference was between a really good Engineer, a Principal Engineer and a Distingished Engineer.

<< With apologies in advance to whomever I paraphrased this from >>

An Engineer, a Principal Engineer, and a Distinguished Engineer are called out into an open field. In the field are three equal piles of lumber. Their objective is to build a fence maximizing the land contained by the fence.

The Engineer goes first. The Engineer surveys the field, finding an elevated "hump" of land to gain a few extra square meters of grass. The Engineer then proceeds to build a perfect square of fence, incredible tolerances on the corners, and master workmanship made to last a lifetime.

The Principal Engineer goes second. The Principal Engineer realizes that there is a depression in the field that results in a few more square meters of grass than the Engineer's hump. The Principal engineer goes on to construct a perfect circle of fence, taking the extra time to bend the fencing boards to that the fence is a miracle of woodworking that would make a master cabinetmaker jealous.

The Distinguished Engineer steps back, admiring the work of the Engineer and the Principal Engineer. He then walks to his pile of lumber, stacks it neatly into a nice pile, and says "I define my area to be that which is outside the pile of lumber."

There are those in our geeky community that are wonderful problem solvers, mostly linear thinkers, and execute with great precision. Those are Engineers, and they see a rock. There are those who think outside of the box, outside of the boundaries of conventional solutions, to stretch the boundaries of what is possible. Those could be Principal Engineers, and they look under the rock, and perhaps under the rock that is under the rock (recursively). Then there are those who ignore the box and the boundaries, and ask "Why?". Those could be Distinguished Engineers, and they see an environment, which may or may not contain one or several rocks, and want to know where they came from, why they are here, and how they could best be leveraged to favorably alter the environment under observation.

Proud Principal Engineer,
bill.

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