Quality Engineering…A Statistically Significant Happiness Advantage

Dawn Keller 11 June, 2012

I love product development and quality engineering. There are days when I can’t believe that I actually get paid to do this. Between you and me, I’d do this work for a lot less money.  In fact, even on the days that I hate the particular circumstances of my job, I still love my job. If that makes any sense.

So, when I set out to write this post, my intent was to include a fun and entertaining analysis (performed in Minitab, of course) of the statistics supporting engineering as a great career choice. I thought for sure there would be overwhelming research to suggest that I wasn’t crazy, and that engineering is that awesome. We are part of a noble profession. One that put a man on the moon, for goodness sake.

In my research, I found studies that concluded engineers have a lower divorce rate. Software Quality Assurance Analysts are the proud owners of the happiest job in America. Engineering is one of the top-paying careers. So, we are happy, well paid, and apparently know how to keep our spouses content enough to not hit the road. I suppose any of these might be good reasons to pursue a career in the field. Success!

Let me say that we engineers deserve that. At least that. The life of an engineer can be, let’s say, challenging. You see, most of us have a very common set of traits. In one study, engineers were shown to score lower on agreeableness, and higher on extraversion, conscientiousness, and autonomy than a national comparison group. The conclusion: more attention should be paid to the development of our interpersonal skills. I can’t argue with that, nor would anyone who ever interacted with me. That about sums it up.

Of course, it’s easy to accept now that I’m happy, well paid, and happily married. But growing up with those personality traits? That’s not so easy. Future engineers are the ones that point out to our friends the low probability that any one of us will become rock stars—regardless of our lip-syncing abilities. Or informing bullies that the need to make fun of others is really just a way to compensate for an otherwise low opinion of themselves. Or pointing out the risk/reward assessment of cow tipping, car soaping, toilet papering, or other adolescent rituals.

So while our friends are enjoying and embracing the nonsensical aspects of adolescence, future engineers are alienating almost everyone by pointing out the ridiculousness of it all. That usually adds up to not being one of the cool kids. And that’s rough, believe me. The cool kids rule K-12.

This is where karma comes in, or at least where it's supposed to. The link between the statistics above and the crap we put up with during  adolescence. It will all be worth it because we’ll end up content, well paid and happily married engineers. Stick with it because we will, in fact, have it all. The universe will pay us back.

And what about the cool kids? I don’t know. At Minitab, our marketing manager is a former Big 10 college football player. So, if that one data point is any reflection, they are all in marketing. I’m assuming that on the third floor at Minitab (home of sales and marketing), we have some football players, dancers,and  former prom queens, and the rest of them wear ascots, play polo, and talk about their fraternity days. They might still be prettier than us and have better interpersonal skills, but according to the statistics, they are also unhappy, discontent and underpaid.

Well, let’s hope so. Karma owes us engineers that, and I found my statistics proving that karma exists. Engineers will be okay. Better than okay! We are ruling the software and manufacturing worlds. Thanks, Universe—you can consider us even.

I was able to revel in the karma for about 30 seconds. Unfortunately, my “research” included the horrible mistake of reading the comments associated with each article. That’s where it all went badly.

In the study of divorce rates, the general conclusion from the comments section was that engineers have a lower divorce rate not because they build successful marriages, but because they are simply not attractive enough to find someone better. And there it is. My marriage is not strong. I’m simply unattractive and have nowhere better to go. That’s just great.

And that “Happiest Jobs in America” study? It suggested Software Quality Assurance Analysts were happy because they a) were key decision makers in the release of software and b) made an attractive salary. Commenters did not agree. In fact, the general consensus was that QA Analysts were powerless, underpaid, and miserable. The commenters concluded that the study must be flawed. The alternative was just too unbelievable.

Oh, great. I’m not even smart enough to realize that I should hate my job.

So, in conclusion, there is no karma. And rather than outline the statistics supporting my choice, I’ll have to say this: I have a job that makes me happy.  Not because of my salary, which is fine. Not because I am a decision-maker in our software releases, though I am. And not because I’m socially unable to perform any other job (though that is a distinct possibility). I truly enjoy my career and I’m willing to bet a lot of engineers agree with me. And that’s good—we deserve it.

Now, of course, I can’t leave you without some statistical analysis. So, here goes…instead of proving the validity of my happiness, I thought I’d go a step further and determine what aspects of my job make the greatest impact on my overall happiness level. What makes me so blissfully happy?

Over the course of a month, I assessed my overall happiness level, along with the current state of the following factors of my job: process, management, testing. In addition, I made an assessment of “external factors” like my kids, my marriage, my hobbies, etc. Each was assessed on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the unhappiest and 10 being the happiest.

What did I find?Boxplot of Happiness Level

I started my analysis with a boxplot of my overall happiness level.

My overall happiness level is pretty high. I’m a darn happy person. But, I did have a couple of “outlier” days. I’d prefer to not discuss the details but take my word for it, they were outliers. Removing the outliers, my average happiness level is 8.238 out of 10. Like I said, I’m pretty happy.

My next step was to assess the relationship various factors have on my overall happiness level. To determine this, I ran a simple correlation analysis. The results are as follows:


Correlation: Happiness Level, External Factors, Process, Testing, Management

                                     Happiness Level 

External Factors                       0.691

Process                                    -0.115           

Testing                                      -0.009         

Management                            0.907           

Cell Contents: Pearson correlation


Evaluating the Pearson correlation between each factor and the overall happiness level, you can see that my management and "external" happiness levels have the greatest correlation to my overall happiness level. If things are going well in these areas, I’m happy. When it’s not, I’m not so happy.  On the other hand, the correlation between my overall happiness level and the testing and process piece of my job is much weaker. I suppose the good news is that there is a rational explanation for my happiness. My doctor is right, I’m not crazy. The bad news might be that I take my work home with me (and vice versa, I suppose).

I’d like to propose that the reason for this correlation is quite simple: management and the "external factors" both involve people. Unlike code, people aren’t easy to analyze, especially for engineers like me. No amount of karma in the world can change that.

I’m not sure if this correlation will ever change, or if I’ll be unaffected by it someday. Truth be told, I’m having a great time. For that reason alone, I intend to stick around and find out!