Engineers skeptical about Tim Cook (marketers love him), says survey

Technically Incorrect: A survey comparing engineers with marketers shows very different views of Tim Cook and Apple. Fifty percent of engineers view Cook negatively. Zero percent said they'd buy an Apple Watch.

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.

Marketers have a high regard for Tim Cook. Engineers not so much? WSJ/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Engineers and marketers like to think they think different.

In their deeply rational minds, engineers fancy that they have concrete answers, while marketers have concrete in their brains.

Rarely has this been presented more succinctly than by a video that shows an engineer trying to keep his head while all around him windy lunacy prevailed.

Marketers, on the other hand, believe that engineers understand everything but people, which is why without marketers the commercial world would collapse overnight.

When it comes to Apple, there's long been a perception among some engineers that the company's products are simplistic from an engineering point of view, while marketers drool over the simplicity and beauty and general air of magical revolution.

I was moved to a giggling snort or two, therefore, by numbers provided exclusively to me by a company called Owler. This concern offers free competitive intelligence about companies so that you can be more competitive and intelligent. (I assume.)

Owler sometimes asks a portion of its users -- who are grouped by profession -- certain questions. On March 19, with the launch of Apple Watch still making wrist-hairs twitch, it received replies to a poll from some 1,000 engineers and 8,000 marketers to see what they thought of Apple, its horological wonder, CEO Tim Cook and the future.

It won't make a single eyebrow rise to hear that 85 percent of marketers offered a positive view of Cook. Apple has long been regarded (by engineers as well as marketers) as a triumph of marketing over more rational endeavors.

Eighty-three percent of the marketers believe that Apple's stock will continue to head toward heaven. Fifty percent think the Apple Watch is absolutely, positively worth its $349 price tag. A giddy 11 percent said they'd buy it.

I wish the engineers had seen these numbers. (Hopefully now they can.) I fear they would have endured paroxysms of derision.

You see, 50 percent of the engineers Owler polled expressed a negative view of Cook. Fifty-seven percent believe that Apple's stock is destined hellward rather than toward heaven.

The amusement, though, had only just started. A fulsome zero percent said that the Apple Watch was worth the money. Yes, none. Not one. Zippo. An astoundingly consistent zero percent declared they'd buy it.

Clearly, these figures might suggest that when intelligent people answer poll questions, they find joy in ridicule. They might also suggest that all research is ultimately futile because it's performed in an atmosphere of at least 1 percent theory. Research sometimes has all the steady consistency of a herniated belly-button.

I find it hard to believe, though, that every one of these engineers was in strange masonic cahoots with every other. I asked Owler to check whether another digit had been missed from the percentage. I am assured, however, that these are the precise numbers.

Is there any sure reason why so many would be skeptical about Cook's prowess? He has led Apple with a calm assurance, allowing its ethos to evolve and new products to appear. Many believe he's done a very good job of it. Are these engineers skeptical on principle? Even if the Apple Watch is an uproarious success, will they still grumble, as only engineers can?

Just last week, I had dinner with a marketer and an engineer. (Not at the same time, you understand. That would have been unbearable.)

The marketer explained to me that the Apple Watch was an absolute must for him. Why? So that he can discreetly check on his messages in long, dull meetings. Pulling one's phone out while yawning is, apparently, not de rigueur.

The engineer on the other hand stared at me balefully and grunted into his omakase: "I'll wait for version 2.0."

I feel sure that some engineers will leap to version 1.0. Engineers want to be cool these days.

There again, of those who buy it, how many will sit at bars and explain to fascinated lovers all the things that Apple got wrong about the design?