The Management

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I’m sure we’ve worked in different companies and organisation in our careers where you and your colleagues talk about ‘the management‘ or ‘them upstairs‘. Do we ever refer to them with fondness or true reverence? No, I rarely think so. Yet when we want to progress in our careers the path is assumed we’ll end up being managers regardless of our backgrounds. Anyone who decides to stay as a ‘mere’ engineer is somehow deemed less worthy and inevitably gets paid less. This is certainly my view from a British viewpoint, but the culture may differ elsewhere in the world. I’m also just an engineer, I haven’t done any management courses (bar some project managements odds and ends), let alone done an MBA, though I have done a fair bit of ‘managing’ in my time.

Layers

How many managers have you got? Or rather how many managers do you need to go through to get to the top dog? Three, four, maybe? Some larger organisations it can be into double figures. I’ve worked in places where I couldn’t count how many levels I would need to get through before hitting the ceiling. Many of these layers just consisted of one person reporting to another. While I can appreciate an organisation with thousands of staff are going to have some sort of layered structure, it often seems that many of them are unnecessary, inefficient and cause discontent.

The hierarchical structure of most organisations is a legacy of the military, where rigid structures, layers and deference are long traditions dating back to Roman times (I’m no historian, but I’m sure someone can tell me more about this). Britain has always been in awe of its military, particularly in the years of Empire when we took over the world, by fair means and mostly foul. We’ve had our world wars and a few invasions since to sooth the ego of our leaders, control the flow of money, and put our stamp on the world stage. As the military had these strict hierarchical structures, it made sense that the business world followed suit. Even one our greatest inventions, the NHS, has traditionally followed this structure with its staff. You have people at the bottom doing the least skilled jobs, then you step up to those with more skills who may need to manage the less skilled below them. This continues up through the strata as each layer does more ‘managing’ and less actual productive work. While this might work in a military situation where those in the lowest ranks are essentially cannon fodder, and if you survive and get promoted you move away from the dangerous stuff and are then allowed to force those below into the dangerous roles. In the military, you do what your superior tells you and that’s that. Whereas in the business world, the people at the sharp end doing the productive work (whether making, designing, or providing the service) do and should challenge and steer what their ‘superior’ wants. It’s not a one way flow of orders and instructions, but a two-way process. This is one reason why a multi-layered, purely hierarchical structure doesn’t always work.

Reporting

Another problem with layers of management is that each layer will need reporting between them. I’m sure we’ve all played Chinese whispers as kids, and the more layers you have the greater loss and misinterpretation of information that occurs. Another problem in hierarchical structures different branches are isolated from each other, so useful information rarely makes it across and has to go all the way to the top and back down again. This results in different departments either working on the same thing (duplicating effort) or simply doing completely contradictory tasks.

The more layers you have the more reporting that’s required, and it ends with with middle managers just being conduits for information without doing anything with it. They hassle their underlings for some bullet points, shove into the dreaded PowerPoint presentation, present it to the manager above, who picks out the headlines and repeats the process. Vital points get lost, or often misunderstood, and it often doesn’t end up with who would find the information most useful.

Types of manager

The term ‘manager’ seems to be a rather simplified catch-all title for a wide variety of different roles and required skills. There’s project managers, line managers, strategic managers, and many more covering all different levels and responsibilities. Let’s compare project managers and line managers –

  • A project manager needs to plan out a project, allocate resources, maybe deal with some budgeting, have a technical background in the project itself and communicate between the people on the project. For an engineer, many of these things are quite natural, whereas some aspects of the job would be less comfortable (I’ve rarely met an engineer who enjoys the accounting side of projects).
  • A line manager is usually responsible for dealing with a team of staff, ensuring they are performing properly, they are getting the right training, receive communication on company activities and policies, and being a friendly ear for your staff. There’s very little in common with a project manager, and the skill set is very different. For an engineer, line management isn’t the most natural fit. But that’s not to say an engineer can’t become a good line manager, but they aren’t going to be doing much engineering when line managing.

Despite these two roles having very different skill sets and responsibilities, it is very common for the same person to be doing the both jobs rolled into one. The result is often a massive compromise in both areas, and often conflicts of interest in dealing with staff and colleagues. It also makes even less sense for an engineer to be expected to metamorphosize into one of these roles without both training and the desire to do that sort of work. While technical knowledge is vital for these management roles, it doesn’t need to be at the depth required for the engineers doing the work, so why waste a highly skilled and experienced engineer and turn them into manager? It’s like asking Lionel Messi to play in goal as he’s your best player, rather than finding a proper goalkeeper.

Engineering glass ceiling

If you’re an engineer who doesn’t want to end up being some sort of manager, as a result effectively give up on doing any engineering work, then you’re going to resign yourself to the fact that you’re not going to be hitting the top ranks in an organisation with the resultant rewards. I’ve been an engineer for over 20 years, and in that time may have seen maybe two or so engineers ending up in the sort of positions reserved for top management and still retaining engineering as their main role. Not only does this glass ceiling restrict progress and recognition for engineers, it doesn’t help any company to lack the expertise in the board room and other areas of influence. This is certainly a problem in the UK, but maybe things are better in other parts of the world. Again this is a symptom of the hierarchical and over-layered approach of many organisations.

How can we spot a good manager

Of course it is very subjective on what makes a good manager. Take football as an extreme example, and Jose Mourinho as our manager. His teams have won many trophies over the past decade or so, so he’s clearly doing something right in his job. But take his last season at Chelsea, when as reigning champions, they were 16th when Mourinho got sacked. Clearly some things were going very wrong, and Mourinho must have made some big mistakes along the way. We can hazard (and Hazard was one player who didn’t perform that season) a guess that he had lost influence with the players and he couldn’t motivate them any more. The incident surrounding the club doctor may have contributed towards this. So despite his previous successes as a manager where the results appeared good, he clearly had some serious flaws that came to a head and ended up in the team’s performance slumping.

In the world of engineering we don’t have obvious results as we do in football. If we’re designing products and they end up working well and selling lots, then that’s clearly a success, but that could be due to many non-engineering reasons too. At the research end of engineering, results are very difficult to assess, and even failures can be valuable in a company’s success. So managers can’t always be judged by results, but they can be judged on the people they work with. A good manager ought to:

  • Make life easier for their team members. Such as ensuring tasks are clearly defined, not overloading them, and removing tasks they do not need to do.
  • Respect the judgement of their team members. In engineering the manager may not be the best expert, and therefore should listen to those in the team who know more.
  • Allow all team members to work in the way that suits them the best. Not everyone is the same, some people just prefer to work along in peace, others like to work closely with other and talk a lot. A good manager will spot these differences and allow for this, and not try to fit square pegs into round holes.
  • Not play the blame game. If something is going wrong in a project, a good manager will look at how to get things moving in the right direction and not dwell on who has done what to make it go wrong.
  • Be a listener. Give time and space for your team members to talk to you and really take on what they are telling you.
  • Not have meetings for the sake of it. If you’re a good listener you should finding out what’s going on. Meeting aren’t there just for you to gather information for yourself. They need to be beneficial for the team members too.
  • Not micromanage. You may have noticed I have a fondness for Lego, and the Lego Movie featured the evil micromanager robots. They hit the nail on the head with these, nobody like to be micromanaged. Give your team space and enough respect of their abilities to approach things in their own way.
  • Say “I don’t know” occasionally. Many managers feel the need to be decisive all the time, but this can lead to rash decisions. If you are really not sure about something, don’t be afraid to admit it, and maybe someone else will have a better idea. Sometimes it’s worth hanging back on a decision and then getting it right, than getting it wrong and having to backtrack.
  • Not act superior. You may be managing people who may have different skills and expertise to you. You are no better, or no worse than them. Treat everyone as an equal and remember you are acting as the oil in a machine. Without it, the machine will grind to a halt, but it can’t work without all the gears either.
  • Set a good example. It might be macho to work all hours on the day and night, but your team will start to feel they need to keep up too, and end up exhausted and ineffective. A worn out and stressed manager isn’t good for anyone.
  • Explain things clearly and appropriately to the right people. Whether it is explaining technical plans to the team, or passing on details of a project to another department with no expertise in the area, it is important to pitch the information in a way that can be understood. If you can’t do this, then there might be a team member who can do it for you.
  • Delegate fairly. If you’re handing out tasks to team members, don’t hog the interesting and glamorous stuff yourself, and ensure everyone gets something they’ll revel in doing.

What can companies do to make things better?

Again, I would like to emphasise I’m not a management expert, and it is not a subject I’ve studied. However, I’ve observed a lot from the point of view of an engineer and have some management tasks myself. Here’s a few ideas that could improve things:

  • Try to reduce layers, and make the company as flat as possible. This should improve communication and flexibility.
  • Don’t generalise managers’ skills. There needs to be people who can plan projects, organise people, lead individuals, mentor, communicate to others, negotiate with internal and external groups, plan budgets and so on. No single person can do all these things, so spread these responsibilities across different people who have strengths in these areas.
  • Don’t assume anyone can morph into management, so identify those who do have particular talent for particular responsibilities and ensure they get trained or are given the opportunity to grow into those roles.
  • Provide a good career path for engineers (are any other non-management roles) that doesn’t require them to become managers. Put in the pay grades to allow your top engineers to move into, and break this glass ceiling.
  • Instil a good work/life balance in your company and ensure managers provide a positive example to others and don’t become power hungry egotistical slave drivers.
  • Provide a working environment that suits the different personalities and working styles. Diversity is more than just physical characteristics.
  • Ensure the ratio of the lowest to highest salary does not increase. It only creates resentment and divisions.

So what are your views of management in your workplace? Does it vary in different parts of world?

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Photos that Fail

Your main photo on a dating app is so critical to get matches, but some many people seem to kill their chances by putting something on there that will just either scare people off or just get ignored. Your image is going to be looked at for just a second, so you need to make it count. Here are some of the typical mistake I’ve seen when picking my way though Tinder, POF and other sites. As I’m a male looking for women, it’s very much geared towards women’s pictures, but many of the mistakes would apply to men’s pictures too.

Distant Shot

dating5_1OK, you may be stood in the most picturesque setting in the world, but I’m not here to look at the scenery. I’m trying to see you on a 13 cm phone display, so a 1 cm tall version of you isn’t going to show me much. I can probably just about make out you’re a human, but not much more.

Bad crop

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Do you have a mouth and nose? You do? So why not show them? Some crops are arty, some are just crap photography. Either way, it would be good to see your whole face. I’ve also noticed a tight face crop is popular with the larger lady, to try and hide as much as possible. This is a shame, as there’s plenty of men who love women on the cuddly side, so don’t be shy to show that.

Body only shot

dating5_3 OK, you’ve got the Mitchell brothers tucked into your skimpy top and a tummy flatter than Holland, but why the decapitation?

Crowd of people

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So which one are you? Do I need to look at your other photos to work out which one you are? Or do I take the gamble you really are the hot one in the photo and not the one that gives me nightmares?

With another man

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So who is this man you’re with? You husband, boyfriend or ex? Even it’s just a friend or brother (which in some parts of the world doesn’t stop them being the boyfriend too), I want to meet someone where I’m the main man in your life.

With your child

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I’m a parent, and don’t mind dating women who are parents too. But if I want to think of romance and sexy things, children are a serious turn-off. Is our first date going to be in an indoor soft-play area?

Not even you

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You might love horse riding or have a few cute dog, but I’d actually rather know what you look like. Unless you really do look like that, then I suggest a more specialist website. Even worse is a photo of some location you’ve been to, or some stupid ‘inspirational’ quote.

Back turned

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I do admire a shapely derrière, but I would like to see some face to go with the bass.

Mobile phone obstruction

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I know taking selfies can be tricky, but try and keep the thing away from your face if using a mirror. You can still make it worse by having the flash go off too, so end up resembling the nativity star.

Shades

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OK, I know we tend to take more photos while on holiday and on sunny days, so you’ll have your sunglasses on. But they hide half your face and the eyes are the most important part of it. Maybe hiding a slightly alternative fact when it comes to your age maybe?

Not enough pixels

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Cameras on phones these days have plenty of megapixels, and we’re not needing to compress our JPGs down to 1k any more. So how did you photo appear like it’s been taken by a 1950s early NASA mission? Or is it just a cut-out of some photo of someone else you found online?

Duckface

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This is trend that’s been going for a year or two now. Is it a Kardashian thing (whatever they are)? Anyway, it makes you look stupid, not sexy. I like ducks, particularly with hoisin sauce.

Crown of flowers

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Another trend, which I suspect is from Snapchat (not a user myself), where a GCI crown of flowers is plonked on your head. Not only that, the ‘enhancement’ tool also does something weird to your eyes, so you resemble the lovechild of a zombie and Pokemon.

 

 

 

 

 

I’m sure there’s plenty of other types of bad photos out there, but these are the ones that I’ve seen repeatedly over the past few weeks. I don’t think anyone expects professional studio quality photos, just one which shows your whole face without any distractions, adornments or modifications. A full body shot is fine too, as long as it’s close enough up and of a good enough quality to show your face clearly too.

As for facial expressions, I personally find a smile most appealing, but don’t mind other expressions as long as it’s natural and you don’t look angry or upset. If you’re made out of Lego, then the choice of expression can be rather limited.

It’ll be interesting to hear of any other types of typical photo failures out there. Do men have different bad habits when it comes to their pictures?

Women are Like Buses

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No, women aren’t big and red, emit noxious fumes and get ridden a lot. What I actually mean is that, like buses, you wait ages for one to turn up, and when it happens two appear. Yes, I’ve finally had some sort of success on the online dating game, and found some women who seem to take some interest in me. I’ve had a few matches, but most of those didn’t really progress past the first exchange of messages, but two did actually progress into meaningful conversations. Not only did they progress to online conversations, but into real life meetings!

Before I go onto more gory details about these two, I’ll rewind a bit and describe how the searching and matching has been going.

Which site provided the most success?

So, I’ve been registered with POF, Tinder and happn; all for pretty much the same period. All three allow a certain amount of regionality to your search, so I picked similar sized areas for each. While each site lets you know about matches (i.e. you’ve ticked someone who’s also ticked you), POF also lets you know who is interested in you (whereas happn and Tinder keep in you in the dark unless you also like them). So this is quite a useful feature with POF, as it at least gives you an idea to how many women like you and what type of women you attract. On Tinder and happn you haven’t a clue, so I may have hundreds of women liking me, but they are also ones I don’t like.

So far, after about 6 weeks of activity I’ve had this number of matches:

  • POF: 3 mutual matches and 55 ‘they said yes’ (i.e. they like me, but I haven’t ‘liked’ them).
  • Tinder: 5 matches.
  • happn: nothing, zilch, nada, not a sausage (not that I’m looking for sausages!).

With the matches, I’ve started a conversation on all of them, and 2 of the POF ones matured into someone more, whereas only on the Tinder one has really got into any sort of meaningful conversation.

So I would say POF has been the most fruitful in terms of finding women I like, who also may also like me. Very disappointed with happn though; I would have hoped for maybe one match on that.

Getting to know my matches

So two of the POF matches actually started to have a conversation with me. They both started at a pretty similar time (within a couple of days of each other), and both were easy to talk to online, with some shared interests and nice conversation. With both, they soon moved to communication via Whatsapp, so moving outside of the dating site, which made things easier and also I felt some progress was being made. At this early stage I was still expecting to get blown out at some point, so didn’t want to pick one over the other. Both women had similarities and differences, but I couldn’t pick on over the other without having met them. After all, I’d read about so-called catfish, and wanted to make sure they were really who they were in the pictures. Also, as so many first dates become the last dates, I didn’t want to turn one down only to find the other one isn’t interested too.

Being a single parent that works full time means finding time for a date is pretty difficult. The two women also worked full time, so this didn’t help (however, at least I knew I was dealing with reasonably self-sufficient women, which is a plus). However, after a while I managed to fix up first dates with both, within a couple of days of each other.

The first dates

I don’t really want to go into two much detail here, as there’s also the chance the women concerned might come across this blog and realise I’m talking about them! I met up with the first woman, and she seemed to match the woman in her picture (to be honest, her photo wasn’t a very good one, so it was pretty difficult to tell!), and seemed attractive to me. It was a good date, we chatted freely, had a laugh, and it all seemed to go well. After the date, she contacted me to let her know she got home OK, and to check on me which was nice. So there was a good feeling about this one; although the pessimist in me knew not count on it being a done deal quite yet.

The date with the second woman was a couple of days later, and I was a little more nervous about this one. Her photos in her profile were pretty stunning, so I was very wary I was being duped. How can anyone that attractive show an interest in me? Well, as it turned out, she turned up to the date on time and really was the woman in the photos. Not only that, she looked even better in the flesh (I say flesh – she was fully dressed, but my imagination was ignited!)! At this stage I was expecting her to take one look at me and do a runner, but no, she was down-to-earth, chatty and soon made me feel more relaxed (I really had butterflies, it was like being 17 again). Just like the first woman, the date turned out well and she contacted me afterwards which was a good sign.

The dilemma

So I’ve now had first dates with two women, and against all odds, they both take an interest in me. Both have carried on talking to me since the first dates, and I’ve even had second dates with both. I’m now in a tricky situation:

  • Do I now choose one over the other?
  • Are they both convinced about me yet?
  • How many dates do I have before I know I’m in a relationship with one?
  • Are they having dates with other men? Both were very coy about this, and I can’t believe the second woman hasn’t got a hoard of suitors after her.
  • Do I focus on one, and keep the other on the back-burner?

I can’t even pick a favourite between the two at this stage, so I pretty torn. But I suppose it’s better to have to have the choice of two than none at all. I’m still expecting to get blown out by both of them at some stage, so maybe I may never need to make the decision.

Teaching Kids to Ride a Bike

Time for a more useful and practical blog post. I’m sure I’ll get back to something more self-centred and ranty soon!

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I don’t think anyone can dispute that learning to ride a bike a vital skill anyone should try and pick up in their life. While most of us will never be Chris Hoy or Victoria Pendleton, or even a lycra-clad weekend warrior, but being able to get around on two wheels can give so many benefits and pleasures. Like with many things in life, the earlier to learn to do it, the easier it is to master. So trying to get your kids to learn how to ride as soon as they can is always a good thing to do.

The Fear

Trying to balance on a bike for the first time can be a scary experience.

How can anything perched on two skinny in-line wheels possibly stay upright?
How on earth do I stay on and not fall off, and isn’t it going to hurt a lot?

Even for the most fearless four year old, these questions will be whizzing through their mind, so they need convincing that balancing isn’t that hard and you can usually prevent yourself from falling badly quite easily. Of course the older the child is the more they’ll rationalise things, and that fear can be even greater. Also, the bigger the child, the bigger the fall when it goes wrong, so the heightened fear isn’t misplaced.

Trying to get a child to feel confident enough to get on a bike and overcome the initial fear can be a challenge and all children are different. My first child was pretty fearless, and had no trouble getting on a bike. Whereas my second child is far more wary and it was a real struggle to even to get them to sit on a stationary bike with their feet on the ground.

Getting them used sitting on a wheeled machine.

The vast majority of kids would have spent many hours in a pram and then a push-chair, so should be used to being moved around on wheels. But sitting on something far more exposed, like that first tricycle, can be a big step so needs to be encouraged as soon as possible. So as soon as they are big enough, try and get them a little tricycle that they can be pushed around on. With this they’ll pick up the basics of steering and will gradually get the hang of pedalling. However, these little tricycles can be quite hard for little legs to cycle, so don’t expect much. Just get them used to moving around on wheels, where they have some element of control.

Balance bikes

For the uninitiated, balance bikes are very simple small bikes that don’t have pedals and are powered by the child pushing it along with the feet on the ground, or by gravity. Often they are made out of wood, but some are made of metal and look more like conventional bikes. To be honest, it doesn’t really matter what design they are, as long as the child likes the design and they are happy sitting on it is the main thing. When I was a child many moons ago, these things didn’t exist, but they are one of those very simple inventions (if you can even call them that, as the very earliest bikes were essentially balance bikes) that would have helped me a lot back then.

Balance bikes are a great way to start riding, and I really recommend going down this route. Get your child one as soon as they are big enough for one, and just get them to sit on it with their feet on the ground to start with. My youngest was too scared to even try that, as they saw anything with just two wheels as unstable so impossible to keep upright. No amount of persuading them that with their feet down they couldn’t fall over. So it was a bit of a waiting game with him, and they barely touched their balance bike.

However, the theory is good with balance bikes, so get your child on them as soon as you can, and they’ll be soon pushing themselves along quite happily. As they build their confidence up, they’ll gradually get longer strides in and even start free wheeling down slopes. Before they realise, they’ll be balancing quite proficiently as they roll along. They’ll have done is without any sudden step up from a stabilised bike to a two-wheeler. They’ll also gain the understanding that it’s easier to balance the faster you go.

Avoiding the stabiliser stage

While both my kids did start off on a proper bike with stabilisers, I found them more of a hindrance than a benefit to learning. The only thing they were any use with was to gain confidence in pedalling without having to worry about balancing. If your child has gone through the balance bike stage then they should be close to be balancing well anyway, so stabilisers shouldn’t be needed.

The problem with stabilisers is that they distort how a bike behaves. When you steer on a bike you need to lean into the corner, even if it is very slight at slow speeds. Whereas when you steer on a stabilised bike, you stay upright and often lean outwards, much like a car. The other problem is that the rider often just rests on one of the stabilised wheels and makes no attempts to balance, so stays a bit lopsided.

Removing the pedals

So your child is ready to move on from the balance bike, or hasn’t even started with one, and has now got a proper bike to ride. They need to get the hang of balancing on this bigger newer bike, but those pedals are quite intimidating, and pushing away isn’t easy. So to get around this, remove the pedals from the bike. Just unscrew them from the cranks, remembering they often often reverse-threaded (i.e. turn clockwise to undo). Also lower the seat so they can get both feet comfortably on the ground. This now turns the bike into a bigger balance bike. This method can also be used for adults trying to learn to ride for the first time.

So we’ve now got a pedal-less bike which can be propelled by pushing along by feet on the ground. It’s worth getting rider familiar with the brakes before they really try moving much on it. If they know they can stop and put their feet down to save themselves from toppling over, then it helps build confidence. The next thing to do is find somewhere with a slight decline. This will allow them to get a rolling start, and makes it much easier to get some speed up to gain enough to balance with. It’ll be worth holding the child to start with, to help push them away. They’ll soon start rolling with their feet off the ground and balancing. They’ll know they can always put their feet down if they feel like they are toppling over, so can feel more confident. Keep doing this until they seem to be in control, and even steering a bit if they’ve got the space. You can also raise the seat back up a little bit, so their feet are more at semi-tiptoe level rather than flat on the ground.

Putting the pedals back on

One the child has got the hang of whizzing along the on the bike without pedals, you can put the pedals back on. But don’t expect them to be able to push off from a standstill from the off, as this is the trickiest part to learn. Again, find the space where there’s a decline, and get them to do a rolling start down the slope (again, holding as they build up speed if required), but this time with their feet on the pedals. Try and get them to pedal to propel themselves along once they’re moving. It helps if the road levels off, so they get the hang of really pedalling themselves, rather than relying on gravity.

Eventually, they’ll be happily riding along and getting the hang of steering. Once they feel confident with that, then they’ll be finally ready to practice pushing away from a standstill with the pedals. You may have to show them the technique on your bike, as young children often don’t realise you need the pedal at the top on the stroke to push down on. It might be also worth gently holding them as they try at the beginning as the push-away can get quite wobbly and off-putting for them.

Before long your child will be riding, and hopefully would have done so without taking any confidence knocking falls. Otherwise, you could always take this approach: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OaqxIXs_mn4

Building my Profile

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When I decided to write this blog I was hoping to have some handy how-to style pages giving words of wisdom on many diverse topics. However, when it comes to building my on-line dating profile, this is really a I-haven’t-got-a-clue-how-to guide.

As you’ve probably realised I’m not blessed with natural beauty and an Adonis-esque physique. I never get admiring glances from women in public places, and seem invisible to the rest of the world most of the time. So I can’t just put up a picture of myself and expect the responses to come streaming in. So when it comes to a photo I really need to make the best of what I’ve got.

The other problem I’ve got, is that I don’t have photos of myself. I refuse to take selfies when I visit somewhere interesting. If I take photos of anyone, it’ll be my children or maybe friends if they are doing something worth taking a photo of (such as getting a starring role on Crimewatch or You’ve Been Framed). Any photos that others take of me, I’ll never ask for as I know what I look like, so why have them? The other main problem is that I seem to sprout a double chin whenever I appear in a photo. I really don’t photograph well. Bucks Fizz said the camera never lies. Bollocks to that Cheryl, the camera pulls more fibs than Donald Trump.

So I fiddle around with a camera on a timer trying to make myself look recognisable as me and hope for the best. At least I’m in focus, not pixelated and the right way up. Shame about the double chin.
The really hard part is writing a profile. This is where I like Tinder, you can get away with writing nothing, and even if you do want to write something you’re limited to a few sentences. So I just write some vague stuff about me being a nice person and that I don’t like nasty people. So the same as what pretty much everyone else writes.

Other sites like POF and Match.com require lengthy profiles with all sorts of sections to fill in and pull-down menus to choose options from. It’s liking filling out a job application, but without the need for references. Some parts are easy fill in, I know my height, eye colour and pet status. There’s one question that asks “How ambitious are you?”. Ambitious at what? I’m very ambitious when it comes to playing Monopoly with my kids. I’m also very ambitious when it comes to crossing the road; I’ve got a 100% success rate at that in my life, and really want to keep it that way. On the other hand, I’m not that ambitious when it comes to ironing. As long as the kids’ school uniform doesn’t look like scrunched up paper I’m fine. I’ve no ambition to iron the perfect shirt, or press every item of clothing in my house in record time.

The worst section is the ‘about me’ part, which of course is freely written. This is where I really struggle to think of anything to write. Look, I’m a dad with young children and a full-time job, I don’t have time to do amazingly interesting things any more. Watching my kids playing on slide in the local park isn’t a pastime that’s going to get anyone weak at the knees. So I basically add some vague stuff like I’ve done on Tinder, but also mention I can cook.

So I’m out there with a photo of me looking uncomfortable, and a profile than is duller than Gary Barlow reading out the telephone directory. I could make stuff up to make myself sound more interesting, and photoshop myself into someone unrecognisable; but I struggle to lie convincingly, so there’s no point trying it, and it’ll only end up in embarrassing failure when you get found out.

But you never know, I might get a few hits, as there’s got to be a lot worse profiles out there; or I might pick up the occasional one from an accidental slip of the finger.

The Trouble With Me

Dating can be hard and there’s many things that can count against you appealing to others. Here’s a list of my own potential flaws:

I’ve got kids

Yes, I’m a dad (there’s a clue in the blog name), which means I’ve got responsibilities and need to spend time with the children. So any potential partner will have to realise they aren’t going to be the focus of attention 100% of the time. It also means I’ve got less disposable income, as kids are expensive to run. So I can’t just shoot off on a two-week luxury holiday to the Maldives at the drop of a hat. My kids also live with me, and I still haven’t made my mind up whether I’d want someone else in the house living with me. There’s also the mother problem, unlike childless break-ups you can’t detach completely from the mother of your children. You still need to communicate with them for parenting purposes. So any new partner has to realise I will need to speak to the ex on a regular basis, no matter how much I dislike doing so. Oh, and exes are expensive. They bleed you dry of any spare money you may have, so any hope of saving a few quid for a couple of drinks on a potential date tend to vanish pretty quickly.

On the upside, being a dad should mean I’m more mature, more caring, and probably more domesticated (makes me sound like a cat). It also means I’m probably more attractive to single mums rather than childless women, which I still can’t decide is a good thing or not.

I’m old

OK, age is a relative thing when it comes to relationships, but there are some absolutes in there too. The obvious ones are the age of consent and the human lifespan limit, but I don’t think we need to be concerned about these extremities. Without wanting to generalise, most straight men want to meet someone who is no older than them. I’m in my early 40s, so getting to the age where I appear to be considered really old in the dating world. Women have it even harder when they hit the big four-oh, were they are considered only good for the nursing home. On many women’s profiles (POF seems to have a desired age-range category) they seem to have an upper limit of 42 years old for their desired man. Not 43, but 42. I’m not sure what happens on your 43rd birthday, but it must be pretty drastic for you to become utterly unappealing. So I’ve decided to stay 42 for a while longer, a white lie never hurt anyone.

I don’t have a six-pack

Not many men in their 40s have six-packs, particularly dads who don’t have time spend hours in the gym when not working and looking after a family. Yes, dad-bods might be the new trendy thing, but that’s just typical gossip column bollocks. I’m not fat, but have a little bit of a belly which I can hide for a few seconds if I breathe in. If a woman wants a man with a body like Christiano Ronaldo, they’ll have to find a man who will spend most of his day in the gym, and not spending it with you. His cooking will be rubbish too, you don’t end up with a body like that by eating tasty food.

I’m a engineer

Ok, my profession shouldn’t really matter, but engineering isn’t the sexiest occupation in the world. In the UK, the view is particularly bad as many people don’t even know what an engineer is (no, the man who comes round to fix your faulty mains socket is not an engineer). We are considered geeky, which to be honest is pretty true. I do work with some very geeky people, but they are intelligent, kind and caring too; they just don’t have the effortless charm of a George Clooney.

Engineering, in the UK at least, is also a very male dominated industry. We’re desperate for more women to become engineers, but there’s simply not enough girls taking an interest when at school (that’s a whole different conversation I might blog about in the future).

So there’s simply very little chance of meeting a female partner in the workplace, and so we have to go online to meet someone. So this means we’re not very used to speaking to women, not that we would treat them any differently to men. But if you want to meet someone in the workplace you need to go beyond the professional colleague type of relationship and be able to push the conversation to more personal levels. Most of us engineers don’t have any experience at doing this, so struggle when talking to women on a more personal and flirtatious level.

I don’t live in London

London is expensive, overcrowded, smelly, congested and noisy. However, it is where all the single women appear to be. Whereas my small home town is full on families and retired people. There aren’t any singles, and the population isn’t very diverse, so the chance of finding anyone suitable within a couple of miles is zero.

Of course London is full of great things to see and do, and I usually enjoy my visits there, and often work there, but I couldn’t live there (I simply couldn’t afford it anyway). So my on-line searching has to focus on London, but of course when I mention to a potential date I live outside London I’m treated like I’m living on the moon. To many Londoners, the world is split into two regions: London and Outside-London. Outside-London contains places like St Albans, Slough, Manchester, New York and Timbuktu. These places are all in Outside-London so are considered equally remote and inaccessible where they have no shops, electricity or running water (OK, that might be true for Slough). When you try and explain it takes less time for me to get from my home counties house to reach central London than it does for someone to get from Bromley to Harrow, they splutter in disbelief. They treat the idea of visiting Outside-London as some epic journey the equivalent of David Livingstone’s trek across Africa.

So when I discuss my location to potential dates I really need to emphasize the time I spend in London, to stand any chance of not being treated like some remote relationship.

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These are all things I’ll struggle to hide or embellish on a dating profile, and short of abandoning my kids for hours in the gym, jacking my job in and moving house, I’m going to struggle to get hits. But at least I’m not going in there with delusions of grandeur, and my expectations are very well managed.

Having read the Thought Catalog blog, which is from a woman’s point-of-view, at least I don’t seem to be hitting too many of those black marks. She does appear to be American too, so a frat boy is a completely alien concept to us Brits. But you can see from her list, some women (and men for that matter) can have some pretty stringent and, quite frankly, contradictory requirements. For a more British viewpoint from a woman on the dating scene Anna Dates seems to coming from a more realistic viewpoint.

 

Apps & Sites

On-line dating isn’t new to me, I’ve done it before with varying amounts of success (largely failure, but it’s had its moments); but a few things have changed since I last took it on. As smartphones are now ubiquitous, apps seem to be dominating over conventional websites; though many of the websites do have apps of their own. The big daddy of the apps is of course Tinder – the favourite of the media, where everyone is swiping right to jump directly in to bed with a new hottie every night. Of course, the truth is rather more staid with most people just wanting to meet someone who they might bond with for some sort of meaningful relationship. Tinder’s appeal is its ease-of-use and that it’s effectively free. Yes, you can pay for extras, but there’s enough there to contact someone for nothing. For those who having been living on the moon for the last couple of years, Tinder feeds you a series of mugshots you swipe right (hmm, she’s nice) or left (is it even human?) on. If someone else swipes right on you, and there’s a mutual match, you’ll be informed and you can contact them.
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There are other well established sites and apps out there. Plenty of Fish (POF for short) is a relatively conventional dating website, with the added bonus that it is mostly free. Everyone writes a profile with some pictures, and you can search through the various attributes you desire (age, body type, race, kids, etc.). Like Tinder it also allows you to contact people you like without payment. There’s a few extras you can pay for, but they aren’t essential. POF has Tinderised (my new word for the day!) somewhat with its ‘Meet Me’ section which provide a yes-maybe-no series of mugshots which can be quite fun to rifle through. Like Tinder, if you get a mutual match on this, it lets you know, so you stand some chance of starting a conversation without being ignored. POF also has an app, so you can carry on your hunting while on the move. So when you’re on a crowded train your fellow passengers can look over your shoulder at your selections.

Another app that’s recently come across my attention is happn (yes, it hasn’t got a capital letter), which is sort of Tinder-like in that it show’s you whose around your area. However, the location aspect is far more revealing than Tinder, in that it tells you where and when the person shown was last near you. So it almost seems like a stalkers paradise. I’ve had it on my phone for a couple of weeks now and there’s a couple of single women who seem to live only a couple of streets away. Sadly they’re not my type, so I won’t be stalking … I mean contacting … them. If I go for a day out in London, the app fills up with lots of new women, often around the route I travelled in and out of the city. I can see its appeal, but it seems like it hasn’t quite yet got the user base to give a enough diversity of potential singles for my liking.

Match.com and OKCupid are a couple of other big hitters, both of which require quite detailed profiles, and as far as I know need payment if you ever want to contact anyone you like of there. I’ve never really bothered with these as I’m vary wary of paying a subscription for something like this only to find it’s impossible to cancel and you end up with a debt that would make Robert Maxwell blush. Plus, I’m don’t like paying for things when there’s no guarantee of success, and the world of on-line dating is a series of constant failures with the occasional success when the planets all align.

So I’ve decided to try both Tinder and POF, with a odd sprinkling of happn, as they are all effectively free and seem to have plenty of people on them. Let’s get swiping!