By Bill Jones, Sr Solution Architect

In keeping with the IETF’s traditions, we present this 2018.04.01 blog.

I am, in many ways, a stereotypical engineer. In college, I studied electrical engineering and seriously considered double-majoring in mathematics. I have two patents in video encryption technology. I learned to recite the alphabet backwards just to confuse people and then learned that it can be surprisingly useful. I enjoy teaching small children to count in base 5, for no good reason. In high school, I was a mathlete and have actual math trophies. And, like many engineers, I find the human tendency to hug very, very confusing.

To be clear, I don’t dislike hugging. I just can never tell when it’s appropriate. I have learned that surprise hugs are not as popular as one might guess. For example, gas station attendants seem especially put off.

Some people hug me every time we greet — even at work. Others never hug me. These two groups are easy to understand. It’s a different group — the ones that *sometimes* hug — that confuse me. With people in this third group, I watch their hands and arms for signals, but they often don’t move until we are in very close proximity. It is nerve-racking.

And so, to help my fellow engineers avoid these moments of social turmoil, I submit to you the following guide for hugging an engineer.

Step 1

Approach the engineer in an open space. A cornered engineer may resort to incoherent mumbling about their favorite TV show or movie in an attempt to disorient you while they escape. Many a non-engineer has been distracted by comparisons of “Blade Runner” original release, director’s cut, final cut and now Blade Runner 2049. Trust me, the unicorn scene is important in either loving or hating the film.

Step 2

Watch the engineer’s body language for signs of discomfort. Since engineers will usually avoid direct eye contact, do not consider this a warning sign. If the engineer starts looking for accessible exits, back away until the engineer is more relaxed.

Step 3

Begin with a socially generalized greeting such as “Hello,” “Hi,” or the now ever popular “Hey.”  *Do not* use greetings that are “rhetorical” questions such as “Howdy,” “How are you?” or “What’s up?” as many engineers will answer these questions.

Step 4

Verbally communicate to the engineer that you want to hug them by saying something like, “How about a hug?” or “I’d like to hug you.” If the engineer begins to back away or look panicked, blink repeatedly and do not move. Blinking interrupts the sensation of direct eye contact and is less threatening. This stratagem works with both engineers and house cats.

Step 5

Extend the appropriate number of arms for the type of hug you wish to perform — one (1) arm for a one-armed hug or two (2) arms for a two-armed hug.

Step 6

Approach the engineer at a steady pace while watching for signs of distress. Continue to blink, repeatedly.

Step 6.1

Align your body with the engineer’s to indicate whether you want to hug slightly to the left or slightly to the right. The odds are good that the engineer is still determining the best response to your actions and will have only just begun to move the appropriate number of arms. If you don’t move slightly left of right, there is a risk of a literal head-on collision.

Step 7

Hug the engineer, but *do not* lift the engineer. In some social groups, it is normal for a two-armed hug to include lifting the other person from the ground. Lifting an engineer is very likely to startle the engineer and may result in the engineer returning the gesture. Depending on the engineer’s core strength, this reciprocation may result in personal injury.

Step 8

With a firm but gentle motion, pat the engineer’s back to indicate that the hug has concluded, and then release the engineer.

Step 8.1

If the engineer does not release you, repeat the process and verbally cue the engineer to release you by saying something like, “Thanks” or “That’s enough.”

Step 8.2

Repeat Step 8.1 as necessary until the engineer releases.

Step 9

Step away from the engineer. Backing up a step or two will restore the engineer’s personal space and allow them a moment to collect themselves.

Step 10

Speak to the engineer. This is a good time to ask, “How is your day going?” or a similar benign question. This will help the engineer associate the interaction with a positive result and make future hugging easier.

Step 10.1

When the engineer tells you about their weekend Pathfinder session or LARPing event, pretend to understand what they are talking about. Respond with things like, “Wow, that sounds really difficult” or “That’s really cool. I had never considered stacking those items.”

Step 11

If this is the first time you have hugged this engineer, ask lots of questions about the engineer’s interests. In behavioral training, this is often called a jackpot and is given the first time a desired behavior is achieved. Afterward, ask a few questions after each hugging event, but not as many as the first time. This system of rewards will keep the engineer interested in the activity.

Step 11.1

Over time, the questions will become an ineffective behavior reinforcement and you will need to change reward types. Alternative reward types include:

  • Small figurines depicting characters from movies, television, or graphic novels (a.k.a. comic books)
  • Magnets
  • Blacksmith puzzles
  • Nerf armaments
  • Anything with Doctor Who on it
  • Rare earth magnets
  • Silly putty
  • Ferrofluid
  • Seriously, magnets are cool!

*Please note, this blog is written from the perspective of an engineer and does not categorize all engineers and their feelings towards hugs.

IT Solution Architect