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.”
"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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Design engineers need to prepare for a future in which their electronic products will use not just one or two, but possibly many user interfaces that involve touch, vision, gestures, and even eye movements.
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