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The curious case of the flying engineer

A lot has changed during the pandemic. Engineers, for example, seem to be living very different work lives.
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Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributor on
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Get on a plane? Business class, I hope.

Image: Maskot/ Getty

It's easy to have a clichéd image of an engineer.

Staring into a screen for at least 14 hours a day, the engineer dreams of perfect solutions to dastardly problems and how to code humanity's errors out of existence.

It seems, though, that many engineers' lives may have changed after the COVID-19 pandemic. Those lives may have become more daring, more exciting and brought them into contact with more error-filled humans.

I judge this from data collected by corporate travel agency TripActions and relayed by Skift.

TripActions followed how its clients were booking travel and what sorts of employees they were sending on trips.

Of course, you'd expect that, once the pandemic began to recede a little, salespeople were rushing out of their gaudy houses and straight to the airport.

This doesn't quite seem to have been the case. TripActions noted that 6% fewer of its clients' travelers -- compared to January 2020 -- were salespeople.

Where, then, was the increased traveling activity? Well, product people were on the road a little more. So were marketing people.

Marketing people? I thought they could do everything remotely. Remotely self-aware, remotely revenue-generating and being remotely equivocal about so many things.

But there they were, flying around in increasing numbers, spreading the marketing word. (That word is hope.)

Yet seemingly, the biggest increase in flyers was among, of all people, engineers.

The nerdy types you perhaps thought were better suited to sitting in corners, noodling with nerdy things, are now traveling rather more.

What possible conclusions can be drawn?

Is it that engineers are being flown to fix things that became permanently problematic during the pandemic personally? Oh, but surely, such things could be fixed remotely. The cloud conquers all.

Could it be that engineers have become so much more important in corporate organizations that they're now having to present themselves personally -- and more regularly -- to ensure that every system and every employee is at one with the company's technological stance?

Or might it be that many more engineers are now working from home, and this increased flying activity involves return visits to corporate HQ? To shake hands and shake their heads at the state of senior executives' IT knowledge.

Also: I asked a Best Buy salesman for the best Windows laptop. He had no doubts

I also wonder what salespeople, traditionally thought of as road warriors, might think of their trips being reduced in favor of the somewhat nerdy types.

Might they be secretly pleased? Some surely see that Zoom and Microsoft Teams can be quite fine substitutes for glad-handing and scotch-drinking.

The salespeople might, though, lament the effect this has had on their frequent flyer miles. They might also have a bigger angst.

Perhaps they now fear that the modern organization is becoming primarily a technological one, with the sales function being slightly less significant.

Only slightly, you understand.

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