Automation & Motion Control
Slideshow: Messiest Engineering Desks

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Christopher Nelson of Fort Wayne, Ind., writes of his upside-down chair: 'I actually don't remember how it got there. I am 6'4' and destroyed the first few chairs when I came to work so it is probably one of those. Currently, part of what I do is help design computers for audio professionals. This area is an R&D, testing, and repair area.'
Christopher Nelson of Fort Wayne, Ind., writes of his upside-down chair: "I actually don't remember how it got there. I am 6'4" and destroyed the first few chairs when I came to work so it is probably one of those. Currently, part of what I do is help design computers for audio professionals. This area is an R&D, testing, and repair area."

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K Field
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Messy Desks
K Field   10/26/2011 8:44:12 AM
To the contrary, I get a little freaked out by people with exceedingly tidy work spaces. I once had a co-worker who I suspected must have used a straightedge to align perfectly a stack of papers on his desktop each night. A little OCD do ya think?

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williamlweaver   10/26/2011 9:37:33 AM
Sorry, Brian. I must disagree. Wikipedia describes a "desk" as "a furniture form and class of table often used in a work or office setting for reading or writing on or using a computer." Your slideshow is comprised of "Workbenches" - "[a] sturdy table at which manual work is done."

When I look at the "clutter", I see "work in progress" not a mess.  Unless, of course, you are using the Systems Thinking definition that describes a "mess" as a "Complex System of Systems".

If I have hired an engineer and their desk does NOT look like these pictures, then I've made a mistake and hired someone other than an engineer.

Brian Fuller
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Tidy or messy
Brian Fuller   10/26/2011 11:44:54 AM
I couldn't agree more. A messy desk is a sign of genius. I once was asked about this in a job interview, in which the publisher offered a "hypothetical" question about a reporter's messy desk. (His stuff was actually spilling out in the aisle). 

The publisher was a neat freak. I responded that if the piles of notes, press releases and reports didn't impede his ability to break stories, then I was good with it. If people started tripplng over his stuff and hurting themselves, he'd have to tidy up a bit. 


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Engineering Desks
Tim   10/26/2011 9:22:11 PM
Sometimes a messy desk is truly not appreciated or understood.  I worked a place that had a serious 5 S mentality.  It was common to have disciplinary action taken if your desk was not up to the desired standards.  Sometimes people just don't understand.

Staber Dearth
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Coming out of the closet (drawer?)
Staber Dearth   10/27/2011 9:18:39 AM
I once had a boss whose desk and office was usually neat as a pin.  Then I wondered why he had an inordinate number of barrister cases, two credenzas, and a desk with an unusually high number of drawers.  He'd shovel any and all things off of his desk everyday and dump them anywhere that there was room in  one of these many drawers.  He'd even use file boxes, stacked neatly in the corner to take care of any overflow.   Being a clutter man myself, I think that it was an usually high amount of energy he expended to send the wrong message...

Staber Dearth
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Re: Workbenches
Staber Dearth   10/27/2011 9:25:05 AM
I agree with you and can identify. My workbenches at home ALWAYS look like these!  Cleaning up mid project is such a royal waste of precious time and energy.  The best part about it is that I know where everything is, but when a family member comes looking to borrow something, they can rarely find it unless they ask me for permission first!

I call it "chaos order".

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DMayEADS   10/27/2011 9:26:37 AM
I often get chided for the state of my office.  I’m a Test Supervisor/Test Engineer/Customer Support Engineer/Trainer.  Add the fact we are a low volume – high mix manufacturer, (we make something different daily) I have a new challenge (opportunity) every day. 

If I took the time to organize or clean my office daily, I’d be working 75 hours a week instead of 70.  As long as I can find what I need when I need it, I’m happy leaving things the way they are.  All I need is to keep the “anal clean freaks” (obviously with not enough to do) away from my area. 

I'll leave with this tought : If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, what is the significance of a clean desk?  Albert Einstein


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Re: Messy Desks
cwollmann   10/27/2011 9:53:59 AM
I always say that if a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, what does an empty desk signify???

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Re: Workbenches
FLagstaffrich   10/27/2011 10:54:23 AM
Chaos Order - YES!  But these guys are pikers.  I see desk!  If the desk/workbench is not piled with a minimum of ten inches over every bit of its horizontal extent, it doesn't belong here.  I will allow a couple of square inches of desktop around the mouse.  Also, most of these have realtively clear floors surrounding the subject desk.  If you don't have to take at least three acrobatic steps over the piles of junque filling the rest of the space to reach the alledged 'messy' desk, you just aren't trying.

Seriously, there are two kinds of people - those who A) find things where they PUT them, and those who B) find things where they LEFT them.  The latter group work more efficiently by skipping the step of taking everything they use back to its 'home' when they are done with it.  They just set it down and come back for it the next time they need it.  This ironically results in a work area that appears to be cluttered and disorganized to an outside observer, especially if he is a 'neat freak'.

There is just one problem with that; it does not work if you share the space with another engineer.  Communal work spaces must be operated in mode 'A'.  Even though it is less efficient for the individual engineer, it does improve overall efficiency.  The moral of that story is never let yourself get into a communal situation like that!

Next month let's discuss the advantages of stratigraphic filing.

cheers, Flagstaffrich

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(Work == Mess) but (Mess != Work)
endsofinvention   10/27/2011 11:13:26 AM
Engineering is inherintly messy. The issue is that in not putting stuff you are not using away your next task becomes more difficult to do, due to space constraints,tangled cables, occupied equipment etc  and so on recursively. It also allows someone like me with a short attention span to be too easily distracted from actually completing a task. Having to put the stuff away forces me to not procrastinate about the little polishes that bore the crud out of you but need to be done to turn a solution into a product. I try to force myself to be tidy as it makes me more efficient and it's also easier to notice when someone "Borrows" any of my kit...  Now where'd those side-cutters go.

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