The Institute - March 2007 - 7



o you match the profile of today's
typical high-tech worker? You
do if e-mail is your main way of
communicating, you spend half
your day in meetings, and you search the
Internet for the latest research instead of
reading print journals.
That's according to a study of how engineers work, commissioned by the IEEE
Publication Services & Products Board.
The study was carried out at some of the
most innovative technology companies
in the United States and India. The hope
was to learn how to design new products
and services for high-tech workers.
"We wanted to learn how the IEEE
might target its products to specific age
groups," says Saifur Rahman, 2006 vice
president, IEEE Publication Services &
Products. "But before we could target
them, we had to know how they worked
and what their needs were, and the study

was designed to find that out."
A total of 103 engineers and technical professionals from four U.S. and
two Indian multinational companies in
the IT consulting, medical device, and
telecommunications industries were
studied. The workers were involved with
software and hardware design, testing,
product development, and managing
workgroups. They were observed for
more than 590 hours by a research team
from the University of Tennessee School
of Information Sciences, in Knoxville.
The researchers watched the engineers
as they worked alone or participated in
meetings, and interviewed them.
Carol Tenopir, Suzie Allard, and
Kenneth Levine were the lead investigators. Tenopir, a professor of information
sciences, oversaw the study. Allard, an
assistant professor of information sciences, and Levine, an assistant profes-

sor of communication studies, observed
the U.S. workers in the summer of 2005.
Allard studied the workers in India in
December 2005. The complete study's
results were released in November.
The project was unusual because the
behavior of high-tech engineers doing
cutting-edge work has rarely been studied, according to Tenopir. "These are not
the kind of people who respond to questionnaires," she says. "It's uncommon to
get such level of detail with this many
subjects, and to get it across countries.
This magnitude is unusual for engineers
in the workplace."
The engineers' work was broken down
into two types of activities, or events:
communication and information gathering. Communication events included
phone conversations, face-to-face or group
meetings, writing reports, and handling
e-mail, instant messages, and pages.
Information-gathering events consisted
of searching the Internet, using software
such as word processing and spreadsheet
programs, and reading publications.
that more than half an engineer's
workday is spent communicating, mostly with co-workers.
E-mail is the most frequently
used method, more in the United
States than in India. Phones are
still popular, and instant messaging is on the rise. Faxes, interoffice
mail, and postal mail are rarely used.
Electronic messages, instead of formal reports, have become the "document
of record" for design processes. Tenopir
notes that workers save their e-mail as a
way to archive their decisions about products in development and to track problems with existing products.
Face-to-face communication still has
its place, the study demonstrated. For
quick answers to a question or help with
finding an expert, engineers turn first
to their colleagues and next to their company's repository of information.
"They are so above the curve that
nothing outside their organization is
useful," Tenopir says.
ONLINE UPDATE About a quarter of an
engineer's day is spent at some type of
information event. Software for such
tasks as word processing, computer-aided
design, and Web browsing is heavily used.
The study found that high-tech workers
are not likely to depend on traditionally
published research. In fact, engineers
at five of the six companies studied
rarely look to printed journals, books, or
articles for research results. Instead, it
was observed, they rely on the Internet,
believing that journals and conference

proceedings they find online are more up
to date. They want research to be shared
quickly, and they say search engines
such as Google Scholar can get them the
most current documents posted online.
Also of great interest is industry-related
news, information valued by many of
the engineers.
"They feel the pressure to stay ahead,
and when they're looking at sources
to help them, they don't use what you
would consider traditional methods,"
Tenopir says. "Standard printed publications are not as relevant to them,
because they are very concerned about
current information."
But engineers in India still have an
"incredibly high regard for IEEE journal articles, especially those published
at conferences," Allard notes.
TIME WASTERS Meetings have become
the bane of engineers, taking up about
half their day. Meetings run slightly longer in the United States than in India. An
average U.S. meeting lasts about 55 minutes, compared with about 47 minutes
in India. And more people show up at
U.S. meetings than in India: about eight
people versus five. That's because U.S.
companies will pull in an entire work
team, while Indian companies invite a
more targeted group, Allard says.
In any case, it's often not time well
spent. "U.S. companies waste a lot of
time in meetings," Tenopir says. "They're
too structured, too top-down, and people
already have the information given at
the meeting because it had been shared
beforehand in attachments that came
with the meeting notice."
Trying to keep up with their heavy
workload, attendees often multitask
during meetings-writing and reading
e-mail, surfing the Internet, or even
doing their regular work. That happens
more in the United States than in India:
multitasking occurred in 46 percent of
U.S. meetings, compared with 20 percent of the meetings in India.
LESSONS LEARNED Rahman says the
results have given the IEEE several
ideas for new publications, especially
for design engineers. But the data also
show that the IEEE needs to do a better
job of promoting its existing products,
such as conference proceedings and the
IEEE Xplore digital library. He notes that
conference proceedings have timely and
peer-reviewed papers that are not as old
as the information found in journals.
Also, Google Scholar often takes users to
information that is older than papers that
members could get directly from IEEE
Xplore, because the IEEE does not release
its newest material to Google.



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