We're expected to cover a wide variety of fields for a given project, including mechanical power transmission, electrical circuit protection, servo driven motion control, hydraulics, pneumatics, magnetics, lubrication, optics, and chemical compatibility. That's a pretty diverse list. The term "engineer" is used as a catchall, but it doesn't convey the broad list of tasks and fields we must cover to solve that problem.
What are we, then? We're the multi-talented, multi-skilled tool used to solve problems -- society's Swiss Army knife.
Oh, there may be some tasks needing a larger blade than that found on a Swiss Army knife. Some of us are highly specialized. Some focus on one or two aspects of the problem to be solved. One way or the other, we're going to cut right to the heart of the problem.
Even though National Engineers Week has passed, get the word out -- tell people what sort of knife you are.
Beth, they're all critical; that's the point. I am reluctant to pin down anything specific. The really good swiss army knife engineer knows he (she!) is a special generalist, and knows his (her!) limitations. Upon hitting a limit, the SAK engineer can either learn to add depth, or call in one of those big badass Rambo knife specialists. The good SAK engineers know when there's time to learn, and when to get the specialist.
Hmmm. I think those letters might look good on a business card.
TJ's post cuts to the root of the problem which plagues engineers--the lack of respect accorded to the profession. I think this in part stems from the fact that there really is no single, clear, agreed upon definition. When an engineer can be described by the many, many hats she or he wears, I submit that there's no single hat which fits comfortably. A doctor cures sick people. End of story. A lawyer fights for his/her client. A baker makes bread and cake. But engineers, well, they do everything. Unfortunately, that's why so many people call themselves engineers, schooled or not. But I guess that's another debate, one we've had many times on this site.
So true!! Most of the engineers I work with hate writing and try to avoid it at all costs. They complain when anyone corrects their grammar saying it doesn't matter. They are generally the first to complain when they get a poorly written spec. They don't realize probably at some point the author of the document got similar feedback. As a systems engineer, I write a lot... a lot... and try to always improve on my writing skills (not my area of expertise) which is real important part of my duties.
I really like the Swiss Army Knife definition and agree with the commenters who've said that engineers must be writers, which is especially true for those engineers who must write specifications. As for the detective, that has been proven over and over again in our Sherlock Ohms columns, and never better-evidenced than by today's story about hairballs. No definition other than "detective" could amply describe the engineer who solved that problem.
Hopefully I got everone, but, the prize for vocabulary must go to LOU! That is the first time Ihave ever seen the word phenomenologist used correctly in my life! You all may want to consult (a new) Webster's to select exactly what part of the defination you prefer.
In the any case the single most appreciated definition of a good engineer, I believe, has to beTEACHER. Only when one is proficent in ones own discipline can one teach, in depth to others, the multiplcity of talents needed to be proficent as a multifacited engineer; as I also believe most DN readers are.
With patent law and regulatory needs, writing continues to be even more important to the engineer. The regulatory needs is becoming incresingly important in medical, aerospace, and civil engineering fields.
The "hands-on" stuff is the most fun, but the project management, financial, computer skills, and good communication continues to be a greater part of the job. I think PLC programming knowledge continues to become a more valuable skill.
The higher math has largely been replaced by less intuitively-elegant computer numeric methods. Thankfully some of the newer representations provide graphical outputs that again provide more intuitive insight.
It seems more common that you work collaboratively on all projects. If you have other engineers in the facility, it pays to network and know the specialized skills and knowledge of each. Then you can pull in the right consultant for advice that corresponds to their in-depth knowledge.
More and more, engineers are also managers coordinating a wide range of activities and specialists to get specific projects done. While it may take some away from hands-on work they do themselves, engineering leadership and oversight is an important role. Engineers in management may seem to be an oxymoron to some, especially those who have taken Dilbert too seriously over the years.
Good writing skills are absolutely essential as an engineer. Well-written reports, specifications, and other documents are indispensible. It's important to be able to communicate technical ideas effectively to both technical and non-technical audiences. And "effective communication" means more than PowerPoint slides.
In November, a European space probe will try to land on the surface of a comet moving at about 84,000 mph and rotating with a period of 12.7 hours. Many factors make positioning the probe for the landing an engineering challenge.
Mistakes in power distributions are not all that common, but they do exist. We look at some of these mistakes and disaster scenarios with the intention being to inform readers to be wary of repeating such mistakes when designing their power distribution system.
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.