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.
"A TRUE ENGINEER is a Maestro of Genius in the Symphony of Pains."
But then again, so is the average Farmer, or Forklift Technician - they may each wear many hats during the course of a successful day at work.
Bottom line is, know your job - and do it well, and always respectfully consider the input of each instrument in the orchestra, being ready (even intuitively) to provide further direction when required. Spontaneity is, of course, reserved for those who cannot exercise abandon to the cause.
The digitizing, compressing, and unfortunate tendency to condense an abundance of information, even objectively, negates the Character of the Band; Only the Soloist would disagree. Hence, "The TRUE MAESTRO knows his audience as well as the composition he conducts, with the pains of a genius." This also applies to the concept of Simplicity in Design [Engineering], especially for those who prefer (and who buy) hard rock music, for instance. Riff melody ...
Improvisation then can also be construed as Sound [Design] Engineering, perhaps if only for the buff.
Mick, another part of this is that engineering schools seems to be slowly moving away from giving undergrad B.S. degrees in EE, ME, CE, ChE, and replacing them with a generalized undergrad B.S. in engineering. Then students are encouraged/required to take further coursework (e.g., a Master's) to get training in their specialty. I think the academic rationale for this is that there's so much more to learn now, with computers being available (as opposed to 30 years ago). OTOH, this seems to me to be in large part a revenue-generation trick for the schools.
Alex: I agree with you that the profession as a whole isn't accorded the respect it deserves, especially in the U.S. When I hear that big companies can't find the qualified engineers that they need here in the U.S., I find it galling.
Extremely sad and too well said, Mick. Is is sad in the same sense that some Medical Doctors nowaday become too specialized in very narrow fields, so that they are not as proficient as health problem identifiers, much less solvers. Often, a too narrow vision hinders the troubleshooting ability of the engineer, or produces designs that are far from optimum.
I am from the 1978 generation of Chemical Engineering, and one of the very few engineers at my job that still continues to perform daily as an engineer, while most of my colleages have walked very different ways (Administration, Sales, Personnel admin, etc.)
As an old engineer, I still handle the wide multi-discipline approach to problem solvingand engineering in general. Back in 1981, when visiting the USA to review and approve a set of drawings for a large compressor for an Offshore Platform, I first became aware of the interplaying capabilities that a good engineer usually has, in order to be able and apt to solve complex problems. When maybe 8 or 9 different specialists were coming one by one to the meeting room, there were only two of us dealing with them, reviewing the many different drawings for the compression packages: the structural, electrical, control, process, piping, heat transfer, instrumentation, even the painting system specs!. Soon I realized that I was able to cover many areas at the same time, since that visit, I opted to follow the generalist path to become an experienced engineer. My only requirement, that I choose to adopt myself, was to become as knowledgeable as possible in every branch of engineering that I was touching. One older engineer asked me at that time: How many years did you study in order to become an engineer? Then told me that a true Industrial engineer in Europe in the 60's, meant having around 12 to 15 years of school...! then told me: In engineering, Sky is the limit!, and continued to explain that people capable of talking and writing many languajes always find that after the first three languajes, the next one becomes easier to command, because the common elements and structure present in many languajes help the person understand more and more languajes; it is the explanation for people capable of talking many different languages! But as years passed by, I started to see a trend towards over-specialization, "certification" and so called "quality systems", that have too little relationship with the true quality of goods or services. Certification trends have gone too far, same as those pieces of paper hanging from walls "certifying" that ISO (or any other organism, pick your favorite) has "permitted" that factory to produce correct designs and products, but in real life, product failing to meet acceptable criteria for performance or more importantly, safety; continue to inundate the market.
I would mention another important capability to add to the "tool" or "blade" collection of the Swiss Army Knife simile: the Understanding of physical world phenomena, based on a proper and vast Analogy grasp and handling; Think of the old engineer that is capable of perfectly visualizing, handling and predicting a given system because of a finely tuned sense of the physical/chemical/Optical/Materials/Energy relationships, thanks to being capable of almost feeling the proper analogies (like the Hydraulic/Electrical/Magnetic/Thermal/Acoustic/Mechanical or whatever analogies he or she can apply in order to fully understand the problem at hand. As far as I see, Analogy handling should be taught in all engineering courses, for its importance in understanding all kind of systems.
You are certainly correct about that, Electron Rancher. You can look through our Sherlock Ohms postings and it's one detective story after another. The detective function arises in all aspects of engineering, from product design through process engineering and trouble shooting. The detective's skepticism is an important quality for the engineer.
The Engineer as a "Generalist" who utilizes his/her skills in science and mathematics to design solutions to a wide variety of societal challenges is well on the way to becoming a dinosaur. Once the certification industry (and yes, IT IS an industry) figured out that they could extract a revenue stream from the engineering profession, by "certifying" engineers to perform functions that were traditionally offered by them anyway, it has doomed the Engineer as Generalist to eventual extinction.
For example, structural engineers will soon be required to be "certified" as an SE in order to be licensed in US States that they do not currently hold a license. LEED certification is now affecting the ranks of engineering generalists ever more in order to remain competitive in today's market. ISO, AISC, SECB, AAWRE, SIRIM, IQNET have their own certification programs, all of which are extracting a revenue stream from individual engineers just trying to continue practicing engineering as generalists. Not only are most of these certifications and yearly fees unnecessary, it is also dangerous to the future of the engineering profession.
Eventually, engineers are going to have to choose which certifications they will be able to afford and stop practicing in other areas of engineering. Think this can't happen? It's already is a reality with PE's choosing to practice in some states, but not others, due to the cost of bi-annual license renewals. Mark these words.... the end game of specializing through certification is destined to be the obsolescence of the engineer generalist. Maybe not a year from now, nor even a decade, but eventually it will happen. Won't it be a sad day when the brilliance of a future engineer practitioner is muted when asked to solve important societal problems spanning across specialties and all he'll be able to say is "Sorry, but I'm not certified for that."
Yes, writing is a skill that can give an engineer freedom, independence and a leg up. I discovered in college that proficiency at writing gave me an advantage in nearly every non-writing course I took.
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.