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I am a recent Software Technologist community college graduate. I graduated with honors and I invest a lot of personal time studying computer science topics. I have been recently hired at an engineering firm. I am extremely interested in the company's area of work. It deals with a lot of level elements and I find it very rewarding.

I am the only Software Technologist and I work directly with several Engineers that develop software. The company is very hierarchal and Engineers get big private desks and Technologists work in a separate smaller room and work very closely. I am the only Software Technologist in the group. I find it a bit strange that I am sitting beside technologist/technicians in fields other than software, but I am happy with my work and the Engineers stop by often to provide work or provide some background on the next big project. I am comfortable with this and I understand and respect the company structure.

However, the company has done some reorganizing within the building and many people have been shifting around. People have been working where ever there is room. I have been temporarily moved into a room with the other software developers, all of whom are engineers.

Today, an engineer (non software) popped in our office and pronounced that the company's boss had gone around and asked everyone where they were sitting. As the story goes the boss of the company asked one member where he was sitting and then laughed at him. The engineer proceeded to say "he [the member that was laughed at] says he has more experience, but we're engineers, not common folk". (Quoted as accurately as possible) He continued to boast a bit more. This was said in front of me and my peers. I vividly recall one Engineer laughing, I am not sure about the others. My boss was also in the room. I felt very degraded and I regret not saying anything.

How would you take this situation? I really enjoy my work. As a software technologist, I feel extremely lucky to be working in an engineering environment. I feel betrayed by my software peers and my boss.

Let me say first and foremost I understand that I am a junior employee and I will given a support role which includes jobs that senior developers do not want or have time for. I am very comfortable with this and I look at it as a great learning experience. However, I worry that if I stay with this company long enough they will eventually hire another engineer who will automatically trump me. If the engineers really feel that I am a "common folk", I do not want to work there. I recognize that they are Professional Engineers and they have put a lot of significant time into their degree, and I have a lot of respect for that.

I have several questions:

  1. What should I do about the overall disrespect and how should I handle it?
  2. How do you feel knowing that your experience will mean very little to a company with respect to a newly minted engineer? (This is not an immediate concern but a long term concern. I am very interested in pursuing additional courses and education but I doubt I will be able to take time to upgrade to a degree.)
  3. What should my long term goals be? (I really enjoy low level programming and working in instrumentation and electronics.)

For clarification, an engineer has a Professional Engineering degree from a certified University. I am not sure about other Countries but in Canada you must be from a certified University to get a Engineering Degree. An Engineering degree ranges from Civil, Mechanical, Electrical-Software, etc. These people have a BEng (Bachelor of Engineering) opposed to a BA (Bachelor of Arts) or BSci (Bachelor of Science). A technologist is a graduate from a Community College which is a 3 year diploma program.

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Grammar correction: is has in: An Engineer is has. –  Moshe Nov 9 '10 at 1:58
Dude pardon me, but WTF is a Software Technologist and an Engineer (mechanical, electrical, compuer, optics, ....?) and all other titles? Are they just programmers? It was hard to parse and to relate to this question. –  Job Oct 26 '11 at 16:01

7 Answers 7

up vote 2 down vote accepted
  1. This is where getting other opinions can be useful. I know I'd feel bad if I was disrespected that much and hid in fear of retaliation. This would likely lead to me getting my resume dusted off and getting in touch with recruiters though. While there should be a way of going to your manager and explaining how upset this made you, consider if they asked you what you wanted how would you answer that? Another way to see this, while they may say they are sorry, what actions would you want to see to show this? Depending on the size of the company there may be an HR department that could be useful here in some way.

  2. I'd likely be somewhat agitated and resentful. This would also make me wonder how close am I to having a Bachelor's degree. I'm not an engineer, but I do have a B. Math degree that shouldn't have a huge difference to my mind. The other question I'd ask myself is what kind of career progression am I wanting. If I wanted to get into management, then pursuing an MBA and getting into a company with less of an engineer feel may make a lot of sense.

  3. Figure out what kind of dream job you have that is somewhat realistic: Do you want to run an empire and be a CIO or CTO? Do you want to be the master Architect that draws up the plans for how a company will use various systems in their usual business processes? Do you want to be the developer that gets to be a bit of a "Mad Scientist" and work in R & D? Do you want to be a systems administrator that has all the power when it comes to controlling who can access what on the network? Depending on what kind of role you want to have, this should determine which goals make sense for you. I know I have no desire to get into management, but I may yet find a strategic role in IT that aligns with where my strengths are and I find fulfilling.

There is a chance that support may lead to development opportunities as you may know the product pretty well if you handling support calls all day. There is also the chance that at some point the jerks move on to other companies and things do change where you are now.

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This is really motivating post. I feel this represents how I feel about the circumstance. Thank you. –  snmcdonald Nov 9 '10 at 21:21

If the engineers really feel that I am a "common folk" I do not want to work there.

You might want to get a feel for how serious they are about that. I worked at a similar company, and there was constant friendly ribbing between the "software guys" and the resident P.Engs. If they're taking their qualifications too seriously it's a very bad sign*. What would happen if you had a comeback to being called a "common folk"?

I really enjoyed working at that company, and all the low level programming, but I really didn't feel my skills were fully appreciated. Eventually, I ended up taking a job at a consulting company as a result of that. I'll admit I sometimes miss the "cool" factor of the old job, but the reward of having an employer and clients who appreciate my skills and take full advantage of them was definitely worth the trade-off.

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I'm the only one out of a group of 7 long-time friends that didn't go into engineering, so I've got a tonne of comebacks: "Yea, your mommy thinks you're special too." Mocking (in a mentally-handicapped voice): "My name is [friend], and I'm special." "So you're an engineer eh? They're just handing out those professional designations these days. Yours wasn't written in crayon was it?" The list goes on. –  Steve Evers Nov 9 '10 at 17:58
Considering it was a roomful of Engineers I don't think they were just taking the piss out of a "common folk". It sounds likely the speaker didn't even realize a non-engineer was in the room. –  Jeremy Oct 26 '11 at 14:02

You never really explained what the difference between an "engineer" and a "software technologist" are. Is it a difference in experience or a difference in fundamental duties? If the engineers have it better, try to find out what it will take for you to become an engineer.

If that isn't feasible--for example if it would require a different degree--and you don't see your position improving much in the future, check out one other thing. Take a look around and see how good the opportunities for learning are. If you're fresh out of college, there's a lot you don't know yet, and working at a company that produces commercial products can teach you a lot of stuff about development that you'll never learn in school. If there's learning and self-improvement to be found, stick around long enough to absorb that much at least.

On the other hand, if it doesn't look like there's much there that you'll be able to pick up, then I'd start quietly looking around for a better work environment.

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Good Point I will update to explain the difference. I absolutely agree that commercial/industrial programming has a lot to teach. I love what I am learning. –  snmcdonald Nov 9 '10 at 1:52

It all boils down to a simple question : Do you have the same responsibilities?

If you end up doing the exact same thing, then you are justified, they lacked the fundamental respect they owe you for working with them. If you do not have the same responsibilities then it's a little murkier.

I'm a software engineer from Canada (ETS). I've been working in a research lab as an internship. Engineers were the lower class citizens there, as multi-phd researchers where common folks. There were some assholes boasting about their studies, but there were nice people too which I learned much from. Just ignore the former and be friend with the later.

As for long term goals, it depends a lot on where you work. Many companies value degrees higher than skills, which is unfortunate. You should check on some jobs opening (if it is that kind of company) and check whether or not they have degrees requirements. If they do, ask around if it would be possible to get pass it or not.

Next time people bully you like this just stand up for yourself. You don't have to really fight, just say something like "Hey, there are some Technologists doing great job around here too!". Maybe the guy didn't know you weren't an engineer, who knows?

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I would suggest to keep on learning, and keep a closer eye on the snobbery. It's definitely a workplace smell. I would also suggest updating the resume and looking at the job market... just in case.

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I believe that @Mootinator is thinking along the right lines. Just remember that "Engineers" are people too. Technologists more often have a perception of a larger difference between themselves and Engineers (I know, because I'm a Technologist, have worked with Tech's and Engineers, and currently am in University now), while Engineers tend to not over-think the relationship so much. So the first thing you should do is stop grouping people in Engineer and non-Engineer categories in your mind. That will help your situation vastly.

About the joke/comment: I would suggest that more likely it was intended to be a competitive joke that you could bounce back at him.

But you need to decide:

  • If it was a joke, are you comfortable in that sort of competitive/joking environment?
    • Just be aware that jokes are not uncommon in the workplace, and you might need to adjust your tolerance
  • If you deemed it to be genuinely hurtful, then you should consider speaking with the person who made the remark (this is the professional thing to do), and let them know your feelings on the matter


In summary, I recommend that you try to stop the feeling that you are extremely lucky to work in an Engineering firm. You are an Engineering Technologist and you have a place there. They didn't hire you out of sympathy -- they need you to make their business function. So the best way for a Software Technologist to function in an Engineering firm is to operate with confidence and pride, but also know when to be casual and roll with the jokes of co-workers in whatever role they happen to be in.

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I would suggest you gain some self confidence and not get all offended because someone makes a flippant remark. Who cares if they think you're a "common-folk"? IT is just office humor. I'd be concerned if they thought I was a @#$# or sucked at my job. But to be offended because someone called you "common-folk"? Now you want to quit? I don't get it.

On second thought, you probably should quit because the company will be better off because people won't have to walk on eggshells when you are around.

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Second thought... done. –  snmcdonald Nov 3 '11 at 2:52
Wow...you really punished them didn't you? –  Dunk Nov 10 '11 at 20:02

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