The Engineer Type

by Dave Schuler on April 27, 2014

I don’t know whether you’re familiar with the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator or not. It’s a tool for assessing personal preferences, classifying people into certain personality types along four axes: introversion-extraversion (expression), sensing-intuition (perception), thinking-feeling (decision-making), and judging-perception (judgment). The MBTI classifies people along these four dichotomies into sixteen different types, i.e. ESTJ (extraversion, sensing, thinking, judging) and its opposite, INFP (introversion, intuition, feeling, perception).

The stereotypical engineer “type” is INTP (introversion, intuition, thinking, perceiving). After all of this exposition, here’s the point of this post: that’s also the characteristic type of musicians.

The university that I attended was divided into different schools: Arts & Sciences, Technology (engineering), Music, Speech, Journalism, and Business. Transfer between schools wasn’t particularly common but the most common transfer by and order of magnitude was between Technology and Music. The various performing ensembles like the university symphony, the wind ensemble, and the jazz ensemble, were composed primarily of students from those two schools.

Consequently, if you despise engineers but venerate musicians, you might want to reconsider your assumptions. They’re the same people.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Ben Wolf April 27, 2014 at 11:09 am

Consistently INTJ, myself.

michael reynolds April 27, 2014 at 11:40 am

One of the many things Myers Briggs misses is talent. I’m an INTP. But as I have no talent for math, I’m never going to be an engineer or scientist. I do have a first class imagination, and skill with language, so I’m a writer. That reality ends up making me a traitor to my M-B type, since imagination forces me to recognize the limitations of my thinking. I know what box is easiest for me, I know what box I fit into most comfortably, but it’s just a box, one of many boxes, as limiting as it is empowering.

I don’t in any way dislike the engineer type, I just think they’ve achieved too much dominance over the way we look at the world.

But as to M-B testing generally, I think like most standardized tests it’s mostly bullshit and about as useful as astrology. If you subtract talents and abilities from the equation you end up bunching together people who are extremely different. Jimi Hendrix was a musician. So is some character on American Idol. So is a kid playing tuba in the high school band. Throwing a lasso around those three is nuts. There is no Hendrix “type.” There’s Hendrix, and the rest of humanity.

The problem with all standardized testing is the exclusion of data that would complicate easy categorization. You get an answer by removing anything that makes it hard to get an answer, which, if I may say, is the problem with the engineer type. The engineer type excludes emotion, randomness, wild-ass insane possibilities, and attempts to fit the world into his own box.

Dave Schuler April 27, 2014 at 11:48 am

Well, yes. The MBTI is about preference not aptitude. The optimal path for most people is finding something that they’re able to do that they also like to do.

Ben Wolf April 27, 2014 at 1:43 pm

The engineer type excludes emotion, randomness, wild-ass insane possibilities, and attempts to fit the world into his own box.

Which explains the disproportionate number of autistic individuals in the field.

Guarneri April 27, 2014 at 1:53 pm

“The optimal path for most people is finding something that they’re able to do that they also like to do.”

The money line, of course.

But separately, the engineer/musician personality comparison is something I became aware of many years ago and surprised me not the least then or now. However, my time was not wasted here. The self-professed (and I do mean self) imaginative tells us “The engineer type excludes emotion, randomness, wild-ass insane possibilities, and attempts to fit the world into his own box.” That can only be described as inane. Similar to “engineers are too analytical to take a risk or make a decision.” Not to mention quite an indictment of musicians. (Heh. Screw the piano…where’s the auto-Moog?) And then the icing on the cake. Choosing to throw Jimmy Hendrix and a high school tuba player into the same bucket.

Seriously, where else can you go to get such valuable and imaginative insights?

michael reynolds April 27, 2014 at 2:01 pm

Actually, my imagination is validated by the market. A really easy and obvious counterpoint for me to make — one that would have occurred to you had you not excluded it in order to reach the conclusion you wanted to reach and thus prove my point for me.

bob sykes April 27, 2014 at 5:33 pm

Fifty years ago, many older engineers insisted that engineering was an art and not merely applied science. This was a reaction to the then new engineering sciences. Now that I am retired, I get their point. Nowadays, our engineering schools don’t have any engineers on their faculties, but they have many scientists.

TastyBits April 27, 2014 at 5:53 pm

When dealing with mechanical devices, you are better off with unimaginative engineers. With things that can kill you, engineers learn from mistakes, and if it works, leave it alone.

PD Shaw April 27, 2014 at 6:16 pm

One of my roommates in college was an EE major, who declined to pass within the four-years, so that he could also participate and study in music and drama. I’m sort of skeptical that his (or Dave’s) type stands for the lot of engineers, but the type certainly exists. My friend got a job out of college engineering electronic music, a dream job, that unfortunately did not pay well enough to support a family. I vaguely recall our conversation where I helped him get comfortable with going to work for the military-industrial complex; I think he remembers it quite distinctly.

Guarneri April 27, 2014 at 7:50 pm

Nice tautology, Michael. Your forte.

You truly bore these days.

michael reynolds April 27, 2014 at 8:15 pm

Guarneri:

I’m so sorry to bore you. It’s hard to understand why the marketplace keeps validating my imagination.

Cstanley April 28, 2014 at 9:07 am

I’ve always had a hard time understanding Myers-Briggs testing, let alone accepting it’s validity. I think a lot of people are fairly balanced in those traits so the polarity feels forced except for extreme examples like that autistic type,

A more recent personality model, the Kolbe index (http://www.kolbe.com/why-kolbe/kolbe-wisdom/four-action-modes/ )seems much closer to reality and more useful. It doesn’t necessarily guide toward a particular field but can tell you what job within a field is the most suitable. For instance (although I didn’t need testing to figure this out) as a fact finder I’m suited toward internal medicine, dermatology, and the like within my field but not so much for emergency medicine and surgery. I can perform in those fields when necessary but it would be stressful for me to do them all of the time, and I will never excel at them.

Dave Schuler April 28, 2014 at 9:22 am

There’s quite a bit of space between dispositive and meaningless. IMO these instruments are tools not oracles. They’re better than no basis at all especially when decision-makers are lacking in discernment, which is normally the case.

mike shupp April 29, 2014 at 2:42 am

INTP. I’ve taken the test half a dozen times over thirty years, and that’s what I get pretty consistently. (once I got an INTF value, but it was a pretty weak “F” — 7 out of 12, as I recall.)

And sho ’nuff, I’ve been an engineer. But I’m musically declined, except for listening to lots of it. I like to stay up late and sleep in — does that count?

Andy April 29, 2014 at 6:41 am

INTJ here.

A long time ago (20-25 years) I remember reading something about the relationship between music and math in the brain. I don’t remember the details, but the two are (or were) correlated. Not sure if that is still the consensus, but it makes sense to me – music is probably the most structural of the arts.

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