How Indispensible?

Can one leader make or break a tech company?

6 August 2009

Apple CEO Steve Jobs has returned to work after a much talked about six-month medical leave. While he was away, bloggers, journalists, and technologists buzzed about what the impact on Apple would be if he never returned. Many say Jobs has been integral to Apple’s success and is vital to its future, while others say the company would do just fine if it had to do without him.

Do you think one leader can make or break a tech company like Apple? 


Responses to May’s Question

Flirting 101 for Engineers

As part of its social skills program, the University of Potsdam, in Germany, has started a master’s-level course on flirting for engineers. The curriculum covers such topics as how to write flirtatious text messages and e-mail, impress people at parties, and deal with rejection. The university says the course is valuable because it will help students gain the social skills they need to succeed in both their private lives and their careers.

Do you think a flirting class is valuable for a budding engineer? Would you enroll in such a course? Why?


A Great Idea

Such a course would be very helpful. Most engineers I have met over the years can’t function in social situations. Forget trying to talk to women. I was in a singles group once, and it offered a class in flirting. Most attendees were engineers.

Victor Schneider

Not Long for This World

I can’t help but think this course is destined for the scrap heap, along with underwater basket-weaving types of courses. If social skills are lacking, a general course will not replace the simple method of getting out and interacting with people face-to-face. Another man-machine interface skill is not needed.

Curtis Shrote
Mahomet, Ill.

Fifty Years Too Late

Where was this class in the 1950s, when there were 2000 men and only two women in the engineering school at Cornell University? That’s when we needed it. At the current nearly equal male/female ratio in most engineering schools, men don’t need such assistance anymore.

Sid Turkish
Beverly Hills, Calif.

Thanks, but No Thanks

Having a flirting course for engineers is insulting. It serves to continue the stereotype that engineers lack social and communication skills. By offering this course specifically for engineers, the university is implying that engineers are incapable of developing normal social skills, such as flirting, on their own. If the school wanted a course on flirting, it should have opened it to all students.

Nicole Morter
Calgary, Alta., Canada

Where Do I Sign Up?

Even not-so-budding engineers could take advantage of such a class. More and more engineers find themselves fighting for their own or their company’s survival. Who knows, maybe a flirtatious episode would gain the employee and the company a critical project. I would like to be trained as a trainer, train the trainers, and be presented with a Ph.D. in flirting.

James R. MacDonald

Opening Pandora’s Box

A little knowledge can be dangerous. It’s one thing to teach social skills to awkward engineering students, but it’s another to teach them when employing the skills is appropriate. Flirting in the workplace can be fraught with danger if the flirter does not recognize signs from the flirtee that such advances are unwelcome. I’ve had enough sensitivity training to know one runs the risk of a trip to the human resources department if innocent advances are interpreted wrongly.

Remember, it’s not your intent that’s important, it’s how the recipient feels. Some parties may be flattered, while others may be offended or even threatened. Teaching social skills is a great idea, but Small Talk 101 is probably sufficient for the newbie. Flirting can send out unwanted signals, with potentially uncomfortable repercussions.

Roger J. Strharsky
St. Paul, Minn.

A Waste

I can’t imagine a course in flirting, let alone one at the master’s level. What a waste of a school’s time, money, and facilities. I would think that even the most socially inept people could manage to pick up a little knowledge about flirting from the popular media. How could a person avoid learning at least some techniques before making it to college? Not to mention that indiscriminate flirtatiousness is probably the least desirable way to meet a soul mate.

The idea of using flirting as an appropriate way of advancing one’s career is also highly suspect—if not downright unethical. I would not even think of taking such a course and would likely tease anyone who did. It would be a stigma to take a remedial course in social skills. It’s on par with needing to be potty-trained at age 16.

A better way to find friends and possibly a mate is to join an organization of like-minded people such as an IEEE student branch or chapter. At least there you’ll find someone you can talk to and something you can both talk about. You’ll find what’s called common ground, and in my opinion, this is probably far more important than even good sex in terms of maintaining a relationship.

Don McCallum
Greenwood, Calif.

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