Following a truly awesome fall on the ski slopes, I made an appointment with my doctor to get my aching shoulder checked out. Having already learned how to perform open-heart surgery from some files I found on the Internet, a simple shoulder injury was easy to pre-diagnose.
While playing doctor on the Internet, it dawned on me that anyone—even liberal arts majors— could be using the vast wealth of scientific knowledge on the web, and they could be playing engineer. The availability of all this data makes me wonder, "Are engineers destined to be put on the endangered species list?"
To help answer this question, I enlisted the help of several people throughout my company to see what they thought about our long-term survival prospects. Notwithstanding the unofficial nature of this poll, the results were reassuring. Here are some of the major findings:
x As long as engineering and technical people continue to use acronyms and mathematical equations and symbols in their daily work, no one felt that a single engineer's job could be eliminated. It appears that no one who isn't already performing technical work wants to become embroiled in equations, theories, and Greek letters.
As long as English and metric units co-exist, engineers will be required to perform the conversion.
Until suppliers and manufacturing companies start producing material that complies with all of the drawing and specification requirements, an engineer's job is safe. A similar finding was that as long as purchasing always goes to the low cost supplier, engineers will have guaranteed work.
As long as commercial and government customers require technical program reviews, with the requisite drawing reviews, technical discussions, schedule delays, and cost overruns, the engineering job function will remain untouched.
Whenever stuff breaks (daily around my office) or things need to be put together, or whenever a VCR needs to be programmed, the scientific community will be on-call to do their thing.
As an aside, my study revealed that the finance group is the only other department who routinely uses numbers, but they have sworn off the use of equations and variables. Their only objective is to show top management the bottom line and there better not be any variables in that answer!
It appears that in spite of the fact that we've put our cumulative knowledge on the Internet, the only people inclined to search for, access, appreciate, and even understand this information are engineers and scientists. On second thought, I'm a little shaky myself when it comes to solving nonlinear second-order differential equations!
Just because people seem to value us and believe we are fit to survive doesn't mean that engineers are universally appreciated. Just the other day as I walked through the plant, I heard technicians critizing the engineering team for designing parts that either can't be manufactured or don't go together. Now there's a whole new role no one else is clamoring to take on—scapegoat!
This report is one of a series of occasional columns exploring the not-altogether-serious side of engineering by Ken Foote, a mechanical engineer at GDLS. You can reach Ken at firstname.lastname@example.org or email your comments to us at email@example.com.