Engineers Party On

FAIRFAX, VA
I occasionally find myself wondering what other people’s parties in Washington are like. For instance, at a party for politicians, do they talk about foreign versus domestic policy? At a party for journalists, do they talk about the latest politicians’ scandals? Do the lobbyists talk about money?

I remember when I was in college I was planning an event with several other student leaders. We posted a chart with a tally of all the people who volunteered for each of the tasks. A rogue leader marked “&#960” for one of the tasks. Then someone else entered “i” and other non-integer symbols on the chart. We all thought this was hilarious. I imagine this is what people think of when they envision a party for engineers.

So what does happen at parties for engineers? As a former statistics professor, I must offer this disclaimer: The following account is based solely on anecdotal evidence. The description of the two parties subsequently mentioned is not necessarily representative of all engineer parties, rather it is a journalistic account of the parties I attended.

I went to two engineer holiday parties this season, one for the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and one for the former employer of my husband, Randy. I call these parties “holiday” parties, as opposed to the Catholic “Christmas” party I attended, because many engineers, perhaps even the majority engineers, are either Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu. So the occasion is not as much a religious celebration as an opportunity to eat food during a time when American companies give them days off of work.

At the SWE party, we talked about employer-sponsored parties, including the AOL holiday party which we estimated at over one million dollars. AOL rented out the entire Air and Space Museum, stocking it with an eight-tiered chocolate fountain, several bands, and many buffet tables, each having a theme from a different country. Parties sponsored by government employers were potlucks during lunch. We talked about our foreign travels, the computer in the party host’s kitchen, and the progress of do-it-yourself home renovation projects. With several national-level SWE officers in attendance, we also discussed SWE politics.

A noticeable difference between the SWE party and Randy’s former boss’s party was that all the spouses at the SWE party were engineers, but at the ex-boss’s party, none of the spouses were engineers (with the exception of myself). However this didn’t seem to affect the conversation.

A very interesting discussion ensued regarding the progress of major local construction projects and the proper ownership of a stray yield sign associated with one of the construction zones. Since Randy’s former employer had been in the news recently for sewage running down the walls in some of their projects in Iraq, partygoers speculated the effect of mismanagement on the value of their company stock. We also speculated on the political aspirations of a former client and colleague who left the DC Department of Transportation to head Metro and is now making headlines by coming back to DC government as City Manager.

It seems that the major topics of conversation at engineer parties in Washington are foreign countries, politics, and money, with some emphasis on computers and construction. Probably not much different than other parties in Washington.

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