Rumbled

So the university staff have found my blog; I wondered how long it would take. They’ve not made any remarks, other than an offhand comment from one of the professors at a party last night that he’d read what I’d written. The next question is how long it’ll take my fellow students to find it.

Yesterday one of my professors, who is Indian-born and trained as a lawyer in his home country before moving to Switzerland, remarked he doesn’t like socialism, is in favour of anarcho-capitalism, and is a libertarian. I was rather cheered by this. Would I have got a professor echoing similar sentiments if I’d gone to a US college, or Manchester Business School? Or would I have had to listen to anti-Trump diatribes and monologues on the virtues of Barack Obama?

I’ve only been here two weeks, but thus far I’ve seen no sign that ideological conformity is demanded from my school; on the contrary, robust debate and contradictory opinions seem to be encouraged. That alone is probably worth the monthly parking fees in Geneva.

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Discussion Held

The other day one of my professors read a piece from a fiction book, supposedly written by a man, in which a female employee laments that all men in her organisation are sexist pigs who will never change. He read it out simply to make us aware that sexual harassment in the workplace is something we all need to be aware of. He then asked for comments. Have a guess whose hand went up first?

My opening remark was that the sentiments expressed in the passage he read out, although a work of fiction, are a foundation of third wave feminism. I then stopped to briefly explain the difference between second and third wave feminism, because this appeared to be new territory for everyone, including the professor. I then said that, if these sentiments are true and men are truly unreformable sex pests, the logical conclusion is a return to segregated workplaces and an admission that those old dinosaurs of the 1950s were right all along. Is this what everyone wants? Silence.

A lively discussion ensued and I withdrew for a few minutes, but when the subject of the gender pay gap and the glass ceiling came up, I had a wealth of pre-prepared arguments to put forward. The clincher was, if all these brilliant women are underpaid, why hasn’t a company sprung up which hires them all and crushed their competitors into dust? That one made the professor pause.

The thing is, as I wrote here, if you’re going to raise a contentious issue you’d better hope there’s not someone in the audience who’s given it serious consideration and reached a different conclusion from you unless you have all your ducks in a row. All I was doing is repeating the strongest lines of argument I’d seen others make – such as Christina Hoff Sommers, Ben Shapiro, and Jordan Peterson – during endless debates on the same subject. At one point I had to confess, with a grin, that reading and writing about this stuff is a hobby of mine. I don’t think anyone expected that.

Still, it was a good discussion and the professor right to raise it: sexual harassment is a big topic in the modern business environment, whether we like it or not. I also learned from the professor that Switzerland is a very conservative country, and they haven’t bought into a lot of the gender equality stuff. As I’ve said before, the Swiss are a serious people.

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Really Dangerous

Via a reader, this story:

A publisher has said it will stop selling a GCSE textbook after it was found to contain stereotypes about Caribbean families.

The paragraph in the sociology of families section of the book reads: “In Caribbean families, the fathers and husbands are largely absent and women assume the most responsibility in childrearing.

Is this true?

The lone parent charity Gingerbread says that in families of Black or minority ethnic backgrounds, 21% are single parent families compared with 16% nationally. The parent’s gender is not stated.

Not quite “largely absent”, then. Anyway:

People on social media have called the text “racist”.

Of course.

Tamu Thomas is from Motherhood Reconstructed, which celebrates black British mothers.

I couldn’t imagine what it would feel like if you were a black child, sitting in class and reading a statement like that.

I suppose it depends on whether the child is in the 21% cohort who has no father at home.

“I do acknowledge that the number of families with absent fathers is higher in the black community, proportionally. But when something is put forward as fact like that without explaining the historical reasons why that might be the case, without any context, that’s really dangerous.”

What historical reasons would they be, then?

“If we had an educational system that actually studied and analysed the black experience, including the impact of the slave trade and racism in society, it would be different,” Tamu says.

So it’s okay to say, quite correctly, that children in Caribbean families are more likely to grow up without a father – but only if slavery and racism are to blame. Now slavery ended in the Caribbean in 1834; I confess I’d quite like to attend a class explaining why this is the cause of men abandoning children they fathered in the past ten years or so.

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First Week

So I’ve done my first week of my MBA, which consisted of lectures on:

1. Organisational Behaviour, i.e. how the shape and behaviour of organisations change as they grow.

2. Management Skills

3. Managerial Accounting

4. Marketing Management

5. Quantitative Business Methods, i.e. statistics

The lecture on statistics involved a certain amount of maths, and I saw a quadratic equation for the first time in years. Happily, it’ll not be a patch on the maths I had to tackle for my engineering degree. There will be no matrices or complex numbers, for a start. So far, I’m finding it all quite interesting, even the accounting. Yesterday a classmate nudged me and asked whether I was genuinely paying attention or just faking it. I replied that compared to sitting through French meetings, this was like watching an action movie. Things will have to get an awful lot duller before I start to regret coming here.

On Wednesday one of my classmates asked whether he thought our MBA was worth the money (about 32k euros). I ran a few numbers and worked out we get around 480 hours of lectures over the academic year, which works out at 65-70 euros per hour. A lawyer will charge 300 euros per hour, and a plumber around 100. Unless the lecturer  is a complete moron, this is pretty good value even if you’re in a class of twenty students. On top of that, we get guest speakers, company visits, and all the informal interaction with the professors. Whether the MBA will land you a job which pays enough to justify the outlay is another matter.

In my final term I’ll need to write a dissertation on a subject of my choosing, although it  ought to be related to HR and add to the sum total of academic knowledge. It must be between 15k-20k words, which having written a 76k word book doesn’t worry me much. But what about the topic? I’m tempted to address one of the subjects I bang on about on here. Perhaps a study into the effects of affirmative action regarding women and minorities on young men (or women) in a multinational? Does it make them re-think their future with the company, or dissuade them from applying in the first place? Or maybe the contradiction between a company’s commitment to diversity and their embrace of local content laws? I could even look at the effects of local content laws in some manner. I’ve got no idea how I would even begin to research any of this – my biggest worry is I don’t think companies would share data or allow me access – but they’d be interesting topics of study, and I need that. Has anyone done anything like this before?

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Back to School

So yesterday and today were registration and orientation days for my MBA, which will start properly on Monday. The first thing I noticed when we all assembled was I was the oldest person there by roughly a decade, and a good twenty years older than most. I  then realised I was mingling with undergrads which explained some, but not all, of the discrepancy. Alas, even once the MBA students had been filtered out, I was still the grandpa of the bunch. Some of them looked about fifteen.

You know when sometimes you wish you could go back in time and relive your younger days, only with the knowledge and wisdom you have now? Well, I felt a bit like I was doing that yesterday. The Dean of the school spoke to us – undergrads and postgrads together – and I nodded along thinking “yup, that’s about right”. I particularly liked the bit about having to get used to a new place and new culture. Interestingly, I probably listened more this time around than I did back in 1996. I’m not in the slightest bit concerned by what’s coming.

The business school is small, tiny in fact, and my MBA class only a handful of people. As such, I’ve already met pretty much all the staff and know half of them by name, including the Dean and his deputy. Contrast this with the University of Manchester which had thousands of students and a sprawling hierarchy between the Dean and the undergrads. Chatting with a few of the professors it seems they have considerable experience outside academia, which is a good sign. One thing they stressed is timekeeping: lectures start on time and the professors get annoyed if people are late. This is also a good sign. One of the reasons I chose Switzerland over France (which was cheaper) is I could imagine shelling out a load of money to find the lecturers unorganised, uninterested, and late which would annoy me no end. I don’t know if that’s what French business schools are like, but I didn’t want to risk it.

I heard a lot of Russian being spoken over the past two days, and I kept quiet that I could understand half of it. Quite a few of the school staff are Russian speakers, and we had Russians, Ukrainians, and Kazakhs in our group yesterday. As far as I could tell, I was the only Brit. In my MBA class I’m joined by two African ladies, a lady from Austria, a female NHS surgeon, a lady from Siberia, and a Thai chap who reckons it’s high time someone sorted his country out and the job should fall to him. Good on him, I say. We also have a bloke who speaks Russian and a Thai lady. While I am studying HR because nobody in that area of business understands engineering, projects, and operations the surgeon is doing an MBA because none of the managers in the NHS has a clue about medicine. Perhaps bridging yawning chasms in an increasingly managerial world is a well-paying niche? I hope so.

One thing I noticed is, like in France, young people in Switzerland an elsewhere in Europe spend an awful lot of their twenties doing a series of internships. Due to the labour laws, nobody wants to hire anyone young and experienced so they only offer them short-term internships. These seem very popular in Geneva. It appears jobs are thin on the ground in this city, especially for those with no experience. I’m hoping my experience will land me something once I graduate, but others are doing an MBA with almost no work experience because they have little other choice than to keep studying. This doesn’t sound like a very good state of affairs to me.

The school has pretty good industry connections and people who can advise how to land a job once you graduate. There are lots of company visits, guest speakers, and networking events which I intend to get the absolute maximum from. It seems having a chat with someone who likes the cut of your jib is a better way to get into a company than going through HR who, according to the person in charge of careers, are always useless. Who knew? However, I remarked that the names of the companies which flashed on the screen were giant corporations or supranational bodies, the type of which I wish to avoid and would be reluctant to hire a blogger who says mean things about polyamorists in an HR post. Google’s name was mentioned and everyone fell into an awed silence, whereas I thought I’d like to ask whoever shows up what he thinks of James Damore’s sacking, the board weeping over Hillary’s loss, allegations of trying to swing the election, and the inevitable antitrust suit that’s going to break the company up. I should probably learn to keep my trap shut on this course. Thankfully, the school and the professors also have connections with smaller companies, including a lot of start-ups.

We were also given some practical advice about Switzerland which gave me the impression it’s a serious country. For starters, you can’t do anything without a residency permit, and for that you need to demonstrate you have an address. They then post the permit to that address and if your name isn’t on the mailbox, they don’t deliver it. In fact, the Swiss postal service won’t deliver anything unless your name is on the mailbox. The person doing the presentation was almost apologetic about this, saying it was to make sure everyone who is claiming residency is living where they’re supposed to be. I thought it was a splendid policy, and if the UK had applied such common sense the authorities would have known who was in the Grenfell Tower and there wouldn’t have been the opportunity for wholesale fraud. We were also told that in Switzerland you pay your damned bills. If you don’t, you get one warning and a fine, then another, and after that you’re on some list which will make it impossible for you to rent or sign up to any new service for at least five years. Like I said, Switzerland is a serious country.

So on Monday I start: 5 evenings per week between 18:00 and 21:00 with a 16:30 start on Fridays. There will also be seminars twice a semester, plus other stuff I need to do. I was dismayed to find out I will have to write essays by hand under exam conditions because I simply cannot write any more: since graduation in 2000 I’ve had no reason to write block text, and the billion words I’ve written since then have all been done on a computer. So my first task is to practice handwriting again, writing two sides of A4 per day until I’m comfortable doing it again. I’d better get on with it.

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A New Direction

So, having decided the oil industry wasn’t for me, what to do next? My professional skill, insofar as I have one, is a project engineer or manager, basically someone who can organise, communicate, and coordinate a bunch of specialists to get stuff done. Although doing this well brings considerable added value to any organisation, I was faced with two problems if I attempted to take these skills into another industry (or even stay in oil and gas):

1. Project management positions are to some degree prestigious, hence they are granted to the favoured sons of the upper management regardless of whether they have the necessary skills and competence. There are exceptions, but it would be hard for me to break into a new industry and convince someone to give me a decent project manager role.

2. Project engineers tend to have to report to incompetent project managers, and you end up doing menial admin work on behalf of the dolt above you who is good pals with someone in the higher echelons. Also, project engineers tend to be badly paid because few recognise the importance of the role; you’re basically a dogsbody to be blamed when things go wrong. Depending on where you are, this can also apply to project managers. I was once in an interview for a project management position which reported into a technical manager. I asked what the technical manager’s job was, and was told he was responsible for the project execution. In other words, it was some loafer in HQ who wanted to tell the project manager how to run the project. Micromanagement and non-accountability is absolutely rife everywhere these days.

What I needed to find was a job that:

1. Came with good working conditions, i.e. if the pay was not great you’re at least somewhere without green in the flag and you can drink the tapwater.

2. Was a role that was growing, i.e. there are plenty of them about and, even better, the numbers are increasing.

3. Was a role that sat near the top of any hierarchy so, unlike project engineers who lie near the bottom, you’d not be handed shit-burgers every day.

4. Was generally badly done and if anyone halfway competent showed up, they’d immediately stand out.

So what role encompasses all of that? Why, Human Resource Management, of course!

Has the laughter died down? Have you all quite finished? Right, allow me to continue. HR is something that does need to be done properly, but almost all of the time isn’t. The principle reasons for this is as follows. What used to fall under the responsibility of middle management has been handed off to an HR department. This suits the middle management because the last thing a modern manager wants is responsibility, and it gives them a handy excuse at to why “nothing can be done” because “it’s an HR decision”. In theory, a centralised HR department is supposed to handle those responsibilities more efficiently than middle managers, but in practice they often don’t get handled at all. HR departments have grown increasingly remote from the middle management and most would have little to no idea what an actual worker did or why. Often HR doesn’t even sit in the same continent, let alone country, as those who generate the value in a company, yet they are tasked with producing policies and procedures which govern the minutiae of their working lives.

Everywhere I’ve worked without exception there has been an unbridgeable gulf between the HR department and those who carry out the company operations. On the rare occasions they meet, they’re talking completely different languages. In many instances, the HR department works chiefly as the propaganda organ of the senior management. Whatever they think they’re doing, it isn’t human resource management. The reason for this is the sort of people who are good at projects and operations have no interest in HR, and almost nobody working in HR went there intentionally: they ended up there because they were too useless to do anything else, or they saw it as a way to occupy a comfy chair in an air-conditioned office having got a 2:2 in Modern Literature and Psychology from the University of Glamorgan. Perhaps two or three times in my career I’ve encountered a genuine HR professional who studied for it specifically, and it’s like coming across Christiano Ronaldo playing football for the local pub. There is a drastic shortage of these people, and they’re worth their weight in gold.

Now the advantage I have is I am genuinely interested in HR management, these  days far more so than the technical stuff. I am sure part of this is having seen so much of it done badly while realising it should really not be that difficult. I’ve seen travel policies where one section contradicts the other, career managers who didn’t know the person whose career they were supposedly managing, untrained managers stepping on legal landmines wherever they trod, and CVs of competent people filtered out by HR while completely unsuitable candidates get the nod. Across the four branches of HR – policy, legal, training, and recruitment – I’ve seen little but blithering incompetence. All are subjects I’ve somehow become interested in, particularly those elements which are to do with personalities and human behaviours. I also take a keen interest in administration being done well, and if I have any skill it’s probably that; get your admin right and everything else becomes much easier. It also helps that I can write clearly and accurately, especially when it comes to reports, procedures, and emails.

Now I know I’d not last five minutes in an HR department of a major corporation, but I reckon I could bring considerable value to a small company. Consider a startup of 4-5 people, managed by the founders, who now need to expand to 20 people and assign someone to Bulgaria for 6 months where the factory for their prototype is being made. They’re going to need HR policies, but who writes them? Who’s going to set the housing policy in Bulgaria, and manage any visitors? They also need a finance manager; how do they recruit him? These are things the founders will have little interest in, and will either wing it or get some outside help. There are plenty of HR consultancies to whom you can outsource things like travel and accommodation policies, and the resulting documents are useful if the people to whom they supposedly apply want a good laugh. This is because HR consultancies are staffed with the sort of people who end up in HR, not people who know what an engineer or technician’s job involves. The company could also hire someone, perhaps a nice young lady with a few years experience working in the HR department of another company somewhere and she could ensure all employees are fully briefed on the diversity policy and the importance of ensuring all eleven managers sign off their expenses before they can be processed.

So here’s where I come in. I’m that rare beast who has an engineering degree, a lot of operations and project experience, and an interest in getting HR done properly and willing to do it myself. The trouble is, no company would hire me in an HR role: I have no experience outside winging it in various positions, and me waving my hands around saying “It’s common sense, innit?” isn’t going to convince anyone. What I need if I want to land an HR job in a small tech company is a course which will provide me with the complete and structured knowledge to do the job.

To that end I started looking for Masters or MBA courses in Human Resource Management. I dismissed the US business schools out of hand on the grounds I didn’t want to pay a king’s ransom to listen to Marxist harridans tell me I’m a rapist. I considered the UK but thought London would be expensive to live in and perhaps also filled with demented leftists, and it took under two minutes to write off Manchester Business School. So I looked at Geneva, for two reasons. The first is the Swiss tend to be quite sensible folk, serious about business, and their schools good (although very expensive). The second is I have an apartment in Annecy just 45 minutes away by car, meaning I don’t need to fork out for accommodation.

So I applied to an MBA in Human Resources Management at the EU Business School in Geneva and got accepted (the essay I submitted with my application was this one). The course begins in October and lasts a year, with lectures taking place between 6pm and 9pm each weekday evening. This is obviously to allow people to work while studying, but helps me in two ways. Firstly the commute will be much easier, going against the traffic, and secondly it leaves the day free for blogging and writing books.

At the end of the course I’ll probably look for a position in a company in Geneva; I am hoping my industry experience will make up for my lack of direct experience in an HR role. A small company might not need anyone full-time, but that’s okay; I can either work part time or in a dual role, running projects or operations as well. Having proper HR capability should also open the door to general management roles too; previous companies I’ve worked for would have paid handsomely for a general manager who could manage the HR himself. Long-term, I might even go into freelance HR consultancy, but that’s a way off yet.

So that’s the plan, folks. I’ll be in Paris until end August when my gardening leave finishes, in September I’ll move to Annecy, and in October it’s back to school.

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An MSc in Feminism

I’m currently researching Masters programmes in Human Resource Management (more on that later), and thought I’d check out what Manchester Business School had to offer. Regular readers may know that I studied at its sister institute, Manchester University, and was rather disappointed to find it had been wholly consumed by progressive virtue-signalling.

Here’s what I found describing part of an MSc in International Human Resource Management and Comparative Industrial Relations:

Do I really want to pay £11,000 for this? Not really; a subscription to Everyday Feminism is far cheaper, and I don’t need to leave my sofa.

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Hidden Purposes

Yesterday two stories were brought to my attention, which share a connection. Here’s the first:

All new police officers in England and Wales will have to be educated to degree level from 2020, the College of Policing has announced.

It said the training would help address changes in crime-fighting.

Prospective officers can either complete a three-year “degree apprenticeship”, a postgraduate conversion course or a degree.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council said the changes would “help modernise the service”.

Many people are unhappy with this, saying it will remove yet another formerly respected career path for the working classes. They are probably right, but this is a feature not a bug. As I wrote here, New Labour and their successors made it central policy to get more women into the professional workforce, and for more people to go to university. Well, a generation later we now have lots of middle class graduates, but what are we supposed to do with them? A sizeable chunk will have graduated with liberal arts or other degrees which are near-worthless to an employer, yet these people have been sold the lie they can expect professional employment anyway. One answer is to stuff them into state institutions and provide them with what passes for a career, sitting in pointless meetings, dreaming up rules, and shoving paper around, and that’s what’s happened. Eventually the institution in question will become little more than an employment scheme providing what is effectively welfare to the dim but entitled middle classes, its core function forgotten. I’ve provided plenty of examples in support of my opinion that the British police long ago stopped being police in the commonly-understood meaning of the word, and this latest announcement is fully consistent with that. Consider this statement:

The college’s Chief Constable Alex Marshall said the feeling was the nature of police work has changed significantly and officers were just as likely to be “patrolling online” as on the street.

“Cyber-enabled crime has increased,” he said, “So has the need for officers and staff to investigate and gather intelligence online and via information technology.”

He also said protecting vulnerable people has become a “high priority”, with officers now spending more of their time working to prevent domestic abuse, monitor high-risk sex offenders and protect at-risk children.

Even investigating a pub fight – which used to mean interviewing the victim, perpetrator and the bar staff – now also extends to researching videos, pictures and comments published online.

You don’t need a degree to be able to research videos, pictures, and comments online. Nor do you need one to work with vulnerable people. What this is about is shifting police work from the wet, windy streets to comfortable chairs in front of computers in air-conditioned offices – the type of job the government promised graduates with worthless degrees from mediocre universities. Also, I am sure it is no coincidence that this shift is occurring a few years after the police made considerable efforts to recruit more women, and made policing an attractive career choice for young mothers. It is a lot easier to comprehend this latest move if you understand what the British police is actually for.

Here’s the second story, provided by Phil B in the comments:

Germany’s armed forces are suffering from severe shortages of weapons and equipment that put the country’s ability to meet its Nato commitments in doubt, a parliamentary watchdog warned yesterday.

The German military is “not equipped to meet the tasks before it”, Hans-Peter Bartels, the parliamentary commissioner for the armed forces said as he presented his annual report.

Operational readiness is “dangerously low” and the country’s ability to take over a frontline Nato taskforce next year must now be “in question”, he warned.

The current purpose of the German army is not to defend Germany from outside attack or to fight anywhere. It could be argued that until 2011 it was a way of deferring university or employment for young men by making them do national service, but nowadays it doesn’t even do that. Its true purpose can be divined from these two paragraphs, though:

The hard-hitting report was seen as a direct attack on the current defence minister, Ursula von der Leyen, who is said to be unpopular with troops.

Ms von der Leyen has presided over a series of shortage scandals during her time at the defence ministry, at the same time as introducing initiatives such as creches and flexible working hours for soldiers.

So it’s basically an employment scheme for the progressive middle classes, much like the British police. Last November I wrote this about the US army:

In part, the purpose of the military is to serve as a vehicle (one of many) for progressives to enact their deranged fantasies as part of an overall aim of undermining society and the institutions on which it depends as far as possible.

I don’t know if this applies to the Germany army – is it even possible to make German institutions more progressive so they can undermine the country further? – but it certainly applies to the British police. So there’s it’s other purpose.

Does the BBC story make a little more sense now?

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What Makes an Engineer

Last June I wrote this in relation to Laurie Penny’s claims she was a nerd:

There was a time when to be a nerd you had to be good at science, technology, engineering, or maths (STEM) to the detriment of everything else. Or at least you had to be more interested in these subjects than most other people were, which made you socially inept as a teenager. Given that I studied maths, physics, and chemisty for A-level, did a Mechanical Engineering degree, and have (sort of) worked as an engineer for most of my career, believe me when I say I know what nerds are.

By claiming to be a nerd, Laurie is implying that she is highly intelligent and is respected in a field which requires a lot of hard work and dedication to enter.

I was reminded of this during a Twitter discussion initiated by yesterday’s post on pretending people with no maths and doing mostly group projects can be called engineers.

There’s a certain solidarity among engineers, and it completely transcends cultures and international boundaries. This obviously applies to other subjects too, but the fundamentals of engineering are universal. If a British, Brazilian, Japanese, and Turkish engineer all end up in the same room they automatically have an enormous amount in common having all sat through 20+ hours per week of the same stuff for three or four years. Without a doubt the courses will differ, but the fundamentals on which they’re based are the same. A Nigerian, Iranian, Australian, and Chinese structural engineer will draw bending moment diagrams and calculate second moments of area in exactly the same way. One of the most under-appreciated and understated bonding mechanisms in teams of engineers is shared suffering through university. It’s a bit like having gone through a war and you later meet some someone who was on the same battlefield.

Yesterday in a very pleasant Twitter discussion I made the point about how much of engineering is actually maths, in particular calculus. A typical lecture mid-way through a first or second year fluid mechanics module would start with something like:

“Take a spherical object of radius d and temperature t suspended in a fluid of temperature T. Heat loss from the object is given by dt/dθ….”

At which point I’d get hopelessly lost, which is why the above example is likely nonsense. Within a few minutes the lecturer would write an equation the length of the board containing all manner of differentials and half the Greek alphabet. If your calculus isn’t up to scratch (and mine wasn’t) you’re going to struggle. The main reason why my old friend Wendy did so well at Mechanical Engineering is because she found calculus as easy as breathing.

Then you had matrices. To this day I don’t know what matrices are for, but when it came to control systems and electrical engineering – both major components in a Mech Eng degree – they are very important. I vaguely knew how to multiply one configuration with the same one, but if they were different? Oh, who the hell knows? As I was contemplating this last night I got a horrifying flashback, similar to the repressed memories trauma victims lock in a vault somewhere, to what are known as complex numbers: square roots of negative numbers, which until then I’d been confident were impossible hence didn’t exist, involving liberal use of the letter i. They were again something to do with control systems, but I couldn’t tell you how I ever passed an exam containing questions on complex numbers. Actually, looking at my academic transcript I got 39% for Control Engineering and 36% for Signal Processing, so in fact I didn’t. Ahem.

My point is, the degree was bloody hard and Manchester University’s Mechanical Engineering course was by no means the hardest out there: some of the foreign Mech Eng courses were absolutely brutal. I have a friend who studied at the prestigious Middle East Technical University in Ankara in a non-STEM field, and she told me what the engineers were subject to there bordered on abuse. But then, places were extremely limited, applications many, and anyone who graduated had a rewarding career to look forward to.

When you’re working with a bunch of engineers there’s an appreciation that everyone in the room has gone through much the same mill, regardless of where they’re from. Surprisingly, they’re not in the habit of looking down on people who haven’t, but that’s probably because the vast majority have. It’s one of the reasons why female engineers are accepted rather well by their male counterparts, because they’ve proved themselves to some degree already. No matter who you’re put to work with, you can at least take comfort in the knowledge that they too sat through lectures on subjects they found utterly bewildering and somehow managed to scrape together enough exam marks to graduate. Looking again at my academic transcript, over 4 years I sat 32 engineering exams and did a project, a directed study, and an industrial placement. I know my colleagues of both sexes did much the same, probably even more (they might even have passed Signal Processing, but I doubt it). Yes it’s hard, that’s the whole point. It’s horrible, but it’s the same for everyone: nobody enjoys it. You just suck it up, and that’s what makes you an engineer.

This is why I find the proposal I wrote about last week rather offensive: either do the course and sit the exams like everyone else, or f*ck off. There are no shortcuts.

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An Insult to Female Engineers

I’ve mentioned my genius ex-girlfriend several times before:

Back in 1999 I dated a girl who was studying Mechanical Engineering in the year below me. She went by the name of Wendy and came from somewhere near Nottingham, and she was probably the cleverest person I’ve ever met anywhere, one of those extraordinarily gifted people who just turn up out of nowhere. I think she completed her four year course with an average mark across all subjects of around 90%, and won every damned prize going in the engineering school such that even after her second year her name graced most of the plaques in the foyer. I remember her sitting a 2-hour engineering maths exam and walking out at the earliest opportunity, which was 30 minutes. She told me she’d finished after 20 minutes and that included checking.  She got 100%. She was also a Grade 8 at piano and clarinet. Like I say, an absolute genius (although not clever enough to keep clear of me). My point is that exceptionally clever women have been excelling in hard engineering subjects for at least 20 years, it is nothing new.

Here’s another thing about her: she flatly rejected suggestions she was especially clever (Kate Mulvey, take note), insisting she simply worked hard. Which she did, she worked like hell, revising for days before each exam taking every one deadly seriously, which is why she got scores over 90%. If she’d done no revision, skipped lectures, and stayed in bed until 2pm she’d have still coasted through with first class honours, but that’s not who she was. And I don’t think it would have ever occurred to her that she was remarkable because she was a woman; the idea that female engineers were more noteworthy than the males, or there was any difference between us, was simply not on the horizon in my university days, or in the early years of my career. How times have changed:

Britain’s first specialist engineering university will take school-leavers without A-level maths or physics to boost the number of female students.

The first provost of the New Model in Technology and Engineering (NMITE), which is due to open in Hereford in 2020, said that she was determined to increase the number of women taking the subject.

Elena Rodriguez-Falcon, 46, the university’s provost and chief academic officer, said that she would welcome students with three arts A levels. She said that Britain was the only country to insist that engineering students had maths and physics qualifications. School-leavers with strong GCSEs in maths and science and A levels in any subject could apply to NMITE.

Its students will be called “learners” because there will be no lectures, studying or traditional exams and they will not graduate with an honours degree. Nor will they specialise in a particular type of engineering, such as mechanical or electrical. Instead they will work on real projects in groups of five, for nearly a month at a time, and build up a portfolio proving their skills, leaving with a pass or fail in a masters degree.

This isn’t about getting women into engineering; it’s not even about engineering at all. It’s about pretending dim middle-class women are cleverer than they are by having them play-act a serious role. They might as well take them to a petting zoo and a garden centre and call them farmers. I shudder to think what my female engineering colleagues think of this.

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