Yesterday I had an interesting conversation about working in embedded systems with someone who’s not an engineer, turns out I’ll speak to her college sociology class about creativity, how to loose it and how to keep it.
Engineering is a creative career, don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. I could agree that there are engineering variations that are less creative than others. For example, to me quality engineers are probably allowed less creativity as their work is to enforce standards. But I say only probably because I can think of several ways they can be creative, like in designing their testing procedures.
My problem with creativity in engineering is with all the corporate red tape needed to exert creativity. When you work for a company (like I do), many times you have to sign a document that basically gives the company ownership of any ideas you have. I’m not a lawyer so I don’t really understand how far that document goes. For example, I don’t think they own my ideas for better omelets, but they do my ideas for software optimization. I understand the idea behind this type of contract. I’m working under their roof with their equipment and their resources. But the brain that came up with the idea is mine, so, who’s idea is it? I don’t have the answer. What I do think is that companies should have better ways of sharing intellectual property with employees. If IP is so important, than there should be some sort of shared ownership.
Again, I’m not a lawyer and I don’t understand the legal implications of these ideas, but from a personal stand point, this would be very motivational, it would actually mean to “own” my work, which, in practical terms, means that I’m far more committed to the results of the company.
As engineers we are motivated by different things. It is common for engineers to pass on a better salary offers if it means a more boring job. Not that engineers don’t want to make money, it’s simply a priority second to the challenge and the thrill of solving a problem or coming up with something new. I think companies that are good at challenging their engineers and making them own their innovations will always succeed in having the best talent. It also helps to make innovating easy as possible. I would love to see more companies out there allow their people some time to just be creative with their work rather than simply making the deadlines.