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.
I teach an introduction to engineering seminar to grade 6 students and I tell them that engineers are "the ones who take science and make it affordable". The sample is a pencil that has 8 pieces and with parts costs, assembly, shipping, handling, etc., it sells for less than 10 cents - AND - the store selling it and everyone in between made a profit! That's engineering.
Ozark Sage: I was not aware that engineering schools were pushing the idea of 6-7 year graduate degrees. Imagine the cost associated with that, especially given the fact that many public schools are now over $20,000 a year, and private colleges are twice that.
Alexander I do whole heartedly agree. You hit the nail on the head. What you said about periferals is also true, but I wonder if every engineer has to be proficient on computers A to Z. It seems to me a well trained engineer has/ must have good visualization skills in his head befor he/she even aproches a computer lest the client becomes misdirrected or pre-design infected, prior to advanced design selection. Some times a rough sketch can save hundreds of hours of time & MONEY while working out what the client REALLY WANTS.
The other problem I have is with the CONSTANT need for "Certification" especially when the software is continuously managed by capable engineering company IT people and the company PEs regularly attend IT seminars and their specialty organizations' meetings most of which stay abreast of software advances.
PS A closing comment on Systems Engineers. Should they have a 6/7 year course and graduate Doctorate? A question asked by UT Dallas, U of P, and many other high ranked schools. $$$
I like the definition with the following additions: A negotiator with government regulators. Here in Washington State permitting agencies for civil works control most of the design standards and practices such that I question the validity of stamping engineering plans, specifications and studies. For example, in most cases storm drain analysis and design are completed using manditory computer models developed and provided by local agencies. However, the private design engineer must stamp the hydrologic (Technical Information) report. I question whether the engineer can attest to anything other than using the agencies black box model and therefore should not be expected to accept liability for design. Some agencies use non-engineers as reviewers and the State Licensing Board allows them to use 'engineer' in their position title which in effect is shows a lack of respect for professional engineers. Therefore, the engineer needs to be a negotiator to get through the review and approval process in Washington State.
The second addition to the definition is that engineers are creative but as noted above, creative engineering is not readily tolerated in Washington State.
Your statement regarding knowing how to find the information you don't know is at the core of good engineering. First, however, you need to be able to recognize what you don't know. The most durable part of my engineering education was learning that there are lots of things I don't know, but I was forced to acquire the skills to find out where the information I need is [many years pre-Google] and continue learning. Unfortunately, the newest graduates I interview from engineering schools indicate that this critical part of their education seems to have been dropped from their cirriculum.
Generally, I would see an engineer as someone that can solve problems with a clear plan and can explain how they solved it. I have known some people that have graduated with engineering degrees, but due to their lack of ability to use that learned knowledge to solve real world world problems, I would not call these people engineers.
A customer who was thermal printing strip steel had a problem: When the strip's speed increased, the thermo printer would catch fire. When he set a flame to a piece of the strip, he couldn't get it to burn. What was the problem?
Engineers are well positioned to be the leaders for innovation in this new age of machines. Human-centered design enables us to manage the vast amounts of information and the power of technology in solving the world’s problems.