A fairly common definition of an engineer is "a professional practitioner of engineering, concerned with applying scientific knowledge, mathematics, and ingenuity to develop solutions for technical problems." National Engineers Week is about raising the awareness of engineers and engineering, and yet this is the definition people see? We must do better!
What skills do we need to work on any given single project? What hats might we wear? At any point in solving that problem, we are:
a drafter, creating the documents that will be used to create the solution;
an optimizer, fine-tuning the solution;
a writer, creating the user manual;
a salesman, convincing customers your solution is worth buying;
an inspector, making sure the solution matches the idea that sprang from your head;
an accountant, keeping track of the costs of the solution to stay inside the budget;
a librarian, collecting and organizing the component and material documentation that comprises your solution;
and a detective, tracking down the loose wire or the short circuit.
In retirement, I teach in several fields. One of them being tech inspections on novice race cars. Which leads to explaining methods of resolutions to pass tech. Many times the question comes up are you an engineer; which is hard to hide with my many experiences in developing a good automitive product. Engineers think in a whole diffrent spectrum. Our job is to convey techonolgy to others. When you talk to me of a probablem, I am building a memory bank of resolutions while you speak. Then I need to explain solutions that come from my readings, conversations, experiences, and/ or additional reasearch. All the time I hope to convey this information in an understandable manner. True Engineers are not common. We are not "intelectuals", we are probablem solvers. With some specialties. We want young people to to come into our career area. We don't want them to think it is too complex for them to get there. We do have fun and appreciation in Engineering.
You make an important point, Dave. I neglected to distinquish between respect on an individual basis and respect for the profession as a whole. On the former, it's definitely true that most engineers are accorded respect. (If you meet someone and they find out you're an engineer, they're likely to say: "Oh, you must be smart.")
It's the profession as a whole which is not accorded respect. My case here rests on the fact that engineers who've been discarded due to outsourcing are not rehired because they're "not up to date." We also routinely here from industry that they "can't find qualified technical people" in the U.S. to hire. Nonsense, and all indicative of a lack of respect for the profession as a whole. We engineers, unfortunately, must bear the burden for this lack of respect, because we've allowed it to fester in a way that, say, doctors never have.
Alex, I've heard many engineers complain that we don't get enough respect, but honestly, that hasn't been my experience. My boss treats me with respect, I get paid a reasonable sum of money (not that I couldn't use more), my wife and kids think I'm a genius (most of the time), my parents are proud of me, most people I talk to are impressed when I explain what I do for a living -- and most importantly, I get paid to do work I enjoy. That's not too bad, in my opinion.
Many engineers do indeed take on many widely varying tasks, but I have not noticed one mentioned that I find quite important.
A good, and especially a great engineer is a true artist. This is the reason machines cannot be programmed to be engineers. Development environments might help take care of many low-level mundane tasks for the engineer, but the engineer creates. Regardless of the product definition (which often comes from the engineer), the engineer is the creative force that makes the design what it is.
You raise an interesting point, Alex. Engineering does become the catch-all phrase for a variety of skills, often those not even remotely connected to the discipline we think of classic engineering. Something that just came to mind in reading your comments is "sanitation engineer" and I'm sure we could think of others.
TJ, your question implies a lot, "How do you define an Engineer" and who is an engineer. I think most of us have university engineering Degree and PG certificates. But, how many of us are using the really engineering skills in our day to day professional and personal life. I think only a minimal; personally speaking I have master's degree in engineering and doing draftsman's work in my company.
In IT also most of the engineering graduates and post graduates are doing simple coding works, which can simply manage by a person with six months diploma in same domain.
The secret to my success as an engineer has been not knowing everything, but knowing how to get the information I needed...research is an essential skill and it could be as easy as referencing an old textbook or calling a tech support line, or taking the initiative to create an engineering set up (could be anything - I used to work at a company that made hall effect sensors and every product was new so we had to figure out how to test them which first meant designing circuits to drive coils, figuring out what current supplies would do what we needed, learning about magnetic fields and playing with gauss meters etc.) that one can use to experiment with to determine the best approach for the task at hand.
An engineer also needs to be part savvy – selecting components that he will be able to get replacements for, and to know to determine lead times when ordering parts so that the project doesn't get held up waiting for something to come in...
I'll never forget my interview with Dallas Semiconductor when I was fresh out of school (Dallas Semiconductor is now a subsidiary of Maxim so we are going back a ways). The guy interviewing me wanted to know how I got along with people and if I worked well with others. He informed me that my degree told him I had a good foundation in electronics (not to mention the grueling technical testing that I had endured in multiple interviews, but I wisely kept my mouth shut) – what he needed to determine is if I could work well with others and that I had good oral and written communication skills. I must say over the years those skills served me well. Documentation is my least favorite engineering chore. However, I was often a hero because I actually commented my code as a test engineer which resulted in much faster troubleshooting and modifications then the guys who didn't...I might not look at a test set for years but if called upon – I could quickly orient myself and usually rapidly narrow in on the problem area.
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