You don’t have to be an engineer to have an opinion about engineering. Husbands, wives, friends, and neighbors of engineers all form their own ideas about the profession, and about the people who do it on a daily basis.
We've gathered a few famous thoughts on the subject, as well as a few that are lesser known. Some are insightful, some poetic, some flat-out funny. Many are drawn from uncharacteristically introspective engineers; more come from outside the profession. From physicists and engineers to movie stars and authors, we offer a view of engineering, from inside and out. Click on Albert Einstein's photo to start the slideshow.
“Scientists investigate that which already is. Engineers create that which has never been.”
A great collection of colorful quotes here! I especially like the humorous but probably all-too-true one by Scott Adams, and the thoughtful one by Freeman Dyson. On a side note, I didn't realize Huey Lewis went to engineering school. He probably made a much better choice by being a musician--even if in retrospect it's hard to believe his music was so popular at one point in time. I think he did a bit of acting as well, another profession that, as another one of the people you quote mentions, would have made him far more popular with the ladies than engineering. ;)
Bear in mind that most engineers do not understand the mathematics or physics required to produce breakthroughs in science such as E=Mc2
Nor should they be expected to. Their job is to take new information, be it a physics breakthrough, a more efficient power amplifier approach, new advancements in materials science, and incorporate them into product designs which provide advantages to the customers and markets in question.
My instinct says that the mathematicians and physicists who do basic research may be among the poorest choices to design product "updates" or to apply practicality to new products designed to optimally solve real world requirements given price, size, etc, restraints.
An engineering education teaches you what you technically do not know. If you feel some new development may have an application in an "upgrade" or "new thing" you are working on, go sit with the gent who discovered it until you extract enough knowledge to make the judgement yourself. If you require the size of a baseball, and the research expert starts getting nervous when the size is downgraded to that of a basketball, then you have your answer. At least for your existing project.
I agree, Pubudu, and humor is also a lighthearted way to get across the truth when it's a little bit prickly. In the case of engineer stereotypes and some of the other subject matter here, humor is a good thing!
@warren: I agree with those. I also would have included, "Where were you when the paper was blank?"
@Charles: I am sure you could have used Scott Adams for at least 25 quotes. He is one of the few people in the world of business who can give voice to the frustration of being lead dog of anything and find yourself surrounded by second guessers and incompotent people who can only react to the effort while not contributing one original thought.
I like the fact that there are quotes by several who ultimately chose other professions, because it underscores the truth that engineering isn't for everybody, and the world needs people to assume a diverse range of professions.
I do, however, take exception to Freeman Dyson's quote that "A good engineer is a person who makes a design that works with as few original ideas as possible." While that behavior is in fact encouraged in some industries, it is by no means universal. Witness the explosion in patenting that has occurred in the past several decades, with a great many of them attributable to engineers. Each new patent, by definition, represents an original idea in answer to a need.
Most of the parts that compose most of my designs, including some fairly great ones, were designed and created by others. I seldom would choose to design nuts and bolts, others have done that very well, for example.
It is putting the pieces togather in a better arrangement than what was done before that is often the contribution of the great engineer. Of course, there are times for breaking new ground, but even then it is very seldom needed to start from zero.
And I find it much easier to improve on an existing design than to pull a new one out of thin air. Of course, on quite a few occasions the design that I am improving on is the one that I completed ten minutes ago. WE don't only build on the work of others, you know.
And on some occasions I do need to start from zero, and sometimes that winds up being a good way to discover that just because it can be done does not mean that it can be done easily or cheaply, or even adequately. Sometimes we find that some things just don't work. The great engineer sees this on the sketchpad, the poorer engineer sees it in production.
Like Laser, I take exception to the oversimplification. Some great producrts are a composite of many new ideas. Although most engineers are specialists, one often has to have a bit of generalist DNA, and use a different discipline for a solution. Elegant "renaissance" engineers make some good stuff.
Although there were some insightful quotes/comments from a few well known scientists and engineers, using quotes from those like Mitchell was a waste of time, IMO. It's not necessarily the initial disdain for engineering or "mechanics", as she put it, that caught my attention, but more so the fact that presenting her comment brought nothing to the table. People such as Bill Nye have excellent insight into the subject and what he would like to see in the future, which is what the slideshow should contain more of. I believe that a few more professors in the field should have been interviewed and had their input on the matter displayed.
Although these quotes have a clear mesage, whether positive or negative, they should be taken from those with credible insight and experience....hearing/seeing comments from authors with no knowledge of the mater makes no sense and would be of no help if a young mind was looking into science and engineering for their future.
Several of the quotations were from people that candidly indicated that they did not understand or were unable to become engineers. I do not think that those quotes contributed much to the subject. Unfortunately, we appear to have a society that is very dependent on engineering and science for its daily existence, but is often very ignorant of the technology that supports their life style.
While I like reading Freeman Dyson, I disagree that engineers should build things with as few original ideas as posible. As the author of some patents, I think that engineers often supply new ideas to help solve problems and support the idea into engineering reality.
In reply to the quote that he "did not see any girls running to engineers", I would comment that I suspect that many engineers make for supportive long term stable partners. So perhaps the attraction to the "glitterati" may not be so important in the long run. At a 25th high school reunion in the midst of talking to one of the "in crowd ladies" about family and children, she suddenly stopped and exclaimed: "You turned out to be human." Which I thought was the best and funniest remark I heard at that reunion.
"It is a great profession. There is the fascination of watching a figment of the imagination emerge through the aid of science to a plan on paper. Then it moves to realization in stone or metal or energy. Then it brings jobs and homes to men. Then it elevates the standards of living and adds to the comforts of life. That is the engineer's high privilege.
The great liability of the engineer compared to men of other professions is that his works are out in the open where all can see them. His acts, step by step, are in hard substance. He cannot bury his mistakes in the grave like the doctors. He cannot argue them into thin air or blame the judge like the lawyers. He cannot, like the architects, cover his failures with trees and vines. He cannot, like the politicians, screen his shortcomings by blaming his opponents and hope the people will forget. The engineer simply cannot deny he did it. If his works do not work, he is damned...
On the other hand, unlike the doctor his is not a life among the weak. Unlike the soldier, destruction is not his purpose. Unlike the lawyer, quarrels are not his daily bread. To the engineer falls the job of clothing the bare bones of science with life, comfort, and hope. No doubt as years go by the people forget which engineer did it, even if they ever knew. Or some politician puts hs name on it. Or they credit it to some promoter who used other people's money . . . But the engineer himself looks back at the the unending stream of goodness which flows from his successes with satisfactions that few professions may know. And the verdict of his fellow professionals is all the accolade he wants."
Nancy--I agree completely. Armstrong's quote is definitely my favorite. I suppose he nailed it. Some years ago I was talking with a neighbor up the street, an accountant by profession. This 'ol boy was a graduate accounting major. During our conversation, he asked my profession. Engineer I replied. His comment--' I always did lover trains'. At first, I really thought he was joking—really. After I indicated I was a mechanical engineer, we went into a lengthy discussion as to the various engineering disciplines available to entering university students. He actually was somewhat blown away with the options available. I could not believe his ignorance relative to our profession. (Oh by the way--he does not do my books!!!!!!!! )
There's a lot of ignorance surrounding the engineering profession, bobjengr. When I was working as an engineer, a lawyer once asked me, "So what do you do, fix refrigerators?" That in itself wasn't so bad, but when I explained to him that someone has to design products like cars and airplanes, he really seemed baffled. He had never thought about the need to design a product. He told me he had always thought that design was something that was confined to architecture.
I have a bruise on my chest from where my jaw hit it when I read your lawyer anecdote. I shouldn't, but I do.
On a related note, I was in the hardware store a couple weeks ago chatting with an employee at the bolt boxes. He related his recent experience about a young man who came in looking for a replacement bolt. The HW guy asked him what size he needed. The customer said, "They come in different sizes?!"
Having more technology in life does not lead to more people having more technological aptitude or awareness of technology -- in fact at this point in the various industrial/technical revolutions, I think technology actually masks itself, making people less aware of the nature of their tools. This is why I shudder at the arguments that computers in classrooms inherently add value -- especially in association with MSTE education.
As it turns out, the main reason that computers at value in classrooms nowadays is because they provide the only medium ("multimedia") that so many modern American children are used to interfacing.
I can't prove this, TunaFish#5, but I suspect a lot of people (like my lawyer friend) don't know the difference between an engineer and a mechanic. Part of it comes from the common abuse of the word "engineer" -- as in "sanitary engineer" or "building engineer." The lines get blurred.
Charles I totally agree that engineers like to solve problems and there is no doubt that if something is working smoothely they will definitely think why is it working this way is there any issue that nothing is wrong or everything is wrong that it is working properly . This is basically the mind set of engineers to dig down the problems and issues .
The ignorance comes, as I suspect, from a real problem with critical thinking skills. We used to call it common sense, but alas, not so common any more. Your observation is absolutley correct. Unfortunately I have absolulely no idea how to bring back critical thinking into education. My only true idea about that is to stop shifting children into such idealized study plans and let them truly innovate on their own. Children do that automatically when left alone to experiment. They rarely get the solutions they anticipate, but they sure get the learning they need.
Letting kids just be kids, instead of the "budding offspring" we are trying to create, allows them a much better facility of using their brains to actually create. In other words, they become engineers because we don't force them to become that.
I have been a tutor for thirty years, maybe a mentor to a few of them, and I am seeing the genius within my granddaughter come alive when I let her lead me into where to go rather than forcing her to follow me. This is science happening in real-time. It is a miracle of our brains and we need to let it continue for our own benefit.
Before desktop computers, we worked with paper drawings. One day while looking at a crane design, my mentor said "Turn the drawing upside down. Now, what do you see?" Many times, leaps (sometimes small) in engineering are created because somebody forgot to tell them "It can't be done!"
Today I read in Automation World Magazine a quote from the CEO of Rockwell Automation, Mr. Keith Nosbusch, saying the same thing that I have been asserting for several years, but in a slightly different context: "Real customer value is created when raw data is converted to information then into knowledge and ultimately into wisdom".
My assertion has been that raw data is of marginal value until it can be assembled into knowledge, which becomes valuable when it leads to insight and understanding.
The quote came from an article that was discussing "big data" and the potential to gain some benefit from it. My feeling is that in the string of articles in this December 2013 issue there was a great deal of "sunshine" created but not a whole lot of information presented. I am sure that a few recall the comments about "sunshine", so I won't elaborate on that.
But the important reality is that we understand that the data by itself is not a big benefit.
The question of whether engineers could have foreseen the shortcut maintenance procedures that led to the crash of American Airlines Flight 191 in 1979 will probably linger for as long as there is an engineering profession.
More than 35 years later, the post-mortem on one of the country’s worst engineering disasters appears to be simple. A contractor asked for a change in an original design. The change was approved by engineers, later resulting in a mammoth structural collapse that killed 114 people and injured 216 more.
If you’re an embedded systems engineer whose analog capabilities are getting a little bit rusty, then you’ll want to take note of an upcoming Design News Continuing Education Center class, “Analog Design for the Digital World,” running Monday, Nov. 17 through Friday, Nov. 21.
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.