Enjoyed your short summary of why some of us decided to become engineers. I think that, for some of us, engineering is just an extension of our natural proclivity to want to understand things and to make things. Physical things at any rate.
I remember one job intereview where I was asked if I changed the oil in my own car. Although a bit surprised by the question (the job was for a radio designer), I replied that 'Yes, as a matter of fact, I did (and always had pretty much) changed the oil in my car'. The interviewer nodded and then, seeing my somewhat befuddled expression, added 'I think a good engineer is a really hands on guy and changing the oil in your car is a good indication of that'.
Wow .... OK. I agree with that but that certainly had to be the wierdest interview question I ever had (yes, I got the job).
Yes, I've said that many times too, Bob - I'm proud to be a geek and a nerd.
Yes, I still also exclusively change the oil in my car, van, motorcycle, lawn mowers, etc. I don't trust the minimum-wage "technician's" with this incredibly important task - plus it takes me less time than driving the car over to the lube place to have it done...
I grew up in small-town Alberta in the 1970s, this is significant because the town library had only ancient books, including the original Tom Swift series from 1910 era. In his first book he fixed a motorcycle and drove it with a stick shift and manual ignition advance, and chased down a flying dirigible. I was hooked and read the whole series and knew what my future profession would be. I also was enamored with the entire Doc Savage series of books, "Doc" had three of five assistants who were engineers: Renny was the construction engineer with enormous fists like buckets of gristle, and Long Tom Roberts who was the sickly electrical engineer that could speak normally while running at a full tilt. Monk was the chemical engineer, so named because he looked like a monkey with his long arms and red hair over his entire body. Number four, Littlejohn was a geologist who wore a monocle over an eye injury he got in WW I. Number five was Ham, the attorney who carried a sword hidden in his cane (but he was a trouble maker constantly feuding with Monk). I liked Scotty from Star Trek, but he never created anything unlike my book heroes. Tom Swift was a tinkerer, but the Doc Savage group were all college educated professionals (doctor, engineer, geologist, attorney), that's what inspired me to do the same.
My response to the question differs from all the others in the story. Although my mechanical aptitude wasn't bad, it wasn't strong enough to drive me to a career in engineering. The real motivator was the school counselor who suggested it based on academic aptitude. It seemed like a better idea than loading trucks, which is what I was doing at the time, and I figured there would be a good possibility of getting a job at the end of it. The problem I ran into was that a lot of my fellow engineering students seemed to have better mechanical/electrical aptitude than I did, so I gravitated toward a specialty in structural mechanics and finite element analysis, where that mechanical aptitude (or lack of it) wouldn't matter as much. In essence, I chose applied math over real mechanical engineering, but it got me a job with a railroad straight out of school, and I've always been glad I made the decision to go into engineering. If I had to do it over again, I wouldn't change anything.
Like many, I'm certain that taking things apart, rebuilding them, learning the inner workings, blowing fuses, and a few busted knuckles had paved the way for me to becoming an engineer. Mechanical aptitude was a strongpoint, but it was after one of many field trips that my high school shop class took I had my answer [early 80's - we were still allowed all over the factory]. We visited a factory that made drop forged tools and after seeing the drop forges from a distance of only a few feet - all I knew is that I had to find a career that would allow me to work in one of these magnificent places 'where stuff is made'. Preferably not the job of flipping that hot metal from cavity to cavity. So off I went to study Manufacturing Engineering. I think that's really a jack of all trades and master of none - we studied everything; just a little bit. It all came easy for me. What I'd like to add, however, is that nothing stands out to me about being a good engineer better than those things I learned in a few of the general honors classes I took. I had a class that was called 'creative thinking', really. There was nothing remotely difficult about it - we even got hypnotized by our instructor on one occasion. While sound engineering is at the forefront, it has been proven to me on many occasion that 'creative thinking', 'intuition', 'common sense' and 'guts' are the basis for most great problem solving. As one statics and dynamics instructor put it "...if you can't quite figure out the problem from an engineering standpoint, use your guts plus 50%..."
I think my early interest in Science fiction had a lot to do with my choice of becoming an engineer. I always appreciated physics, my Dad called it barnyard physics. All the ropes and pulleys, levers, hydraulics and such was facinating to me.
Once I got into college I learned a disciplined approach to problem solving. That was always helpful. My college buddy and I once were working on a particularly difficult problem and he mumbled something about, well let me write down some equations with some unknowns and see where that goes....
For me it has always been, what is the problem? what do I have that can be applied? What are the constraints to the solution? Can the solution be made better?
I was once asked in an interview to describe myself. I said, I am an Engineer, I solve problems.
I was a constant tinkerer as a kid that I took my bike apart so many times as a kid that my dad hid all of the 9/16" sockets and open ended wrenches to try and stop me. It was not until metal shop in high school that I was told that engineering might be a good profession. Now I get to tinker and design and get paid for it.
I have always been blessed (cursed?) with in innate knowledge of how things work, even before tearing the item apart to verify - which I did on most occasions. I couldn't afford to go to college regularly, and worked in various body shop and automotive repair facilities for my early career. During that time, I changed my own oil as it was convenient to dispose of the used oil and we had access to lifts. After 22 years of classes here and there I finally finished my degree and added the theory and credentials to my natural ability. But now I take my car to the dealer to have the oil changed - I use my free time to build kitchen cabinetry and coach my son's athletic teams.
I evidently was an engineer out of the womb. Took everything apart and put it back together again at a very early age. More that the usual incessant asking of "WHY" and "HOW". A tinkerer since before kindergarten. Knew what a BTU was in elementary school as my dad and an uncle were looking at an A/C and were puzzled by the BTU rating. I spouted accurately, they walked away seemingly stunned. I got sent to the corner in 1st grade art class because I dared make my piece of art articulate and move (I DID NOT follow the herd instructions...BORING!!!). I had a vendetta against my knuckledragging teacher for the rest of the year! Probably why I have a thick skin when it comes to such things in business today. It was her problem, NOT mine!
Photography for me was more than taking pictures, it was "WHY" and "HOW" does it work and tinkering with the development chemistry. Model Rocketry was more than building the kits, it was doing my own thing, with bigger payloads, more engine clustering, unconventional designs that failed miserably and laughably as well as those that worked great. My buds and I were not merely mischievous, we did what we called scientific mayhem. Everything we did as juvenile delinquents had a scientific twist to it, to the cops dismay (how did they do that?) and we never got caught (we didn't hurt or destroy property, just tended to mildly upset folks with big bangs, pranking, etc.)
I'm at home in engineering and leading engineers. The closest I get to sales is as a technology wingman for the sales force. That's the way I like it. They can handle the, what to me is the mundane schitte or get off of the pot negotiating dance stuff (necessary but quite tedious to me). I'm there to make things work better...do you want me to do it or not?
For me, my aptitude has always been electronics. I remember one of the old 501 electronic kits from Radio Shack and trying to get a radio circuit to work. I was having trouble with it and so I decided ot borrow my father's alarm clock radio and started dismantling it. Well, I got in trouble for dismantling the radio, but I did get the circuit I was working on to operate!
As I became older, I started getting into Amateur Radio and decided that I wanted to work around RF. Here I am today, a Design Engineer for a company that makes amplifiers for a wide range of devices from RADAR to WIFI.
When you're a kid, people ask you, "So, what do you want to be when you grow up?" When you're a little older, people ask you, "So, where do you see yourself in ten years?" I never had a good answer to either of these questions.
When I was in high school, I did fairly well in math and science, so people told me, "You should go into engineering." The only problem was that I had no real idea what engineering was.
After high school, I went away to college in New Orleans, and decided to major in civil engineering. I thought it might be a good idea, since I had worked in construction, but didn't really understand what it involved. I wasn't really excited about it - after all, how can you be excited about something when you don't know what it is? - but it seemed like the thing to do at the time.
The classes I was taking just seemed like an extention of the math and science I had taken in high school. At first, they were boring, and I was able to get decent grades without really trying. There were a lot of things in New Orleans which were more exciting than freshman physics or C++. Then, when the subject material got a little harder, I promptly flunked out.
I played guitar on Bourbon Street for a while, where I was able to earn enough to live on, provided that I slept on other people's couches. After a few months of that, I headed back to my hometown of Chicago.
I started to attend a local community college, and enrolled in the engineering program. This time, I worked harded and got "A"s in all my classes, but I still had no idea what I was getting into.
Meanwhile, I was working in a restaurant, where I had been working since my junior year of high school. It wasn't a bad experience - it paid a little better than playing the blues on Bourbon Street, it helped me become fluent in Spanish, and it indirectly led to meeting my wife - but I knew it wasn't what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Maybe I didn't know what I wanted to do, but after a few years of cleaning tables, serving sandwiches, and making espresso drinks, I was pretty sure about what I didn't want.
I decided that I wanted to work in a lab. What kind of lab, I didn't know, but that didn't stop me. The idea of doing something hands-on, working independently, and not having to constantly interact with customers or make lattes appealed to me. I applied for every job that had the word "lab" in it: photo lab, clinical lab, chemistry lab, etc.
I wound up getting a job in a R&D lab for a company which made refractories for the aluminum foundry industry. I knew nothing about metalcasting and had no idea what refractories were, but I was willing to learn.
All of a sudden, a whole new world opened up to me. I started to learn about materials and their properties - and discovered that there was an entire field of engineering dedicated to materials and their properties. Everything needs to be made out of something - but how do you decide what to make it out of? Where do these materials come from? How are they processed into a useful form? What determines their properties, and how can they be improved? The engineers who I worked for actually knew about these things, and were willing to answer the thousands of questions I had.
I was completely fascinated. This was what I wanted to do! All of a sudden, there was a reason to learn the things I was being taught in school - if I wanted to really understand what I was doing at work, then I needed to build a firm foundation of basic knowledge.
There were a lot of twists and turns from that point on - getting laid off as a result of asbestos litigation, getting accepted into the Illinois Institute of Technology, teaching 11th grade math, a detour into failure analysis of plastics, and somewhere along the way, an internship with the Department of Energy - but that was when I realized what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
I've wanted to design things ever since I can remember. I believe it's either born into a person or not born into them. I've worked with numerous Electrical Engineers with bachelor's and master's degrees that just didn't get it - did not have that instinct to dig in and create. I feel disconnected from any job - or any task, for that matter - where I cannot create, but only get to work with something that someone else created.
Obviously, all of our creating begins with things already created. Jack Kilby and a million other engineers before and since have come up with the parts that I get the privilege of creating with, but I still get to create something new and unique. I believe that is mostly genetic - and is a way of life. Many thanks to all who have created the parts and systems that I have the privilege of creating with...
The path to engineering was not as direct for me as for some. Excelled in grade school/high school, especially in science and math. Also tinkered with bicycles and mini-bikes. Thought I would go into medicine in junior high. I realized that was influenced more by my parents idea of "success" rather than a fit of my talents and interests to a profession. Of my high school science classes I enjoyed Physics the most. I went to college set on being a physics major. There I realized that what I liked about high school physics was actually mechanical and electrical engineering. Took classes in both departments, and then realized mechanical engineering dovetailed with the mini-bike tinkering of my youth.
I vividly remember talking to a friends mother when I was 12. I told her that I wanted to design computers. Big deal say you? Well, please know that this happened in 1965, when computers were fairly exotic objects.
Now, the odd thing is, I didn't really do anything about it. I wasn't interested in electronics, per se. It wasn't until my senior year of high school that I got really interested - I took the first programming class offered in Los Angeles Unified School District. Yep, time-share BASIC running on an HP 16-bit system, 110 baud teletype machine via modem to <somewhere in downtown L.A>.
Man, that was futuristic. I had my first program running in about 5 minutes, so I was assigned an "A" in the course and became a TA, helping the others learn to program. One girl never got it: she walked up to the teletype with a huge roll of tape. Her program ran perfectly, but the length of the tape was explained by her not understanding what a "DO" loop could, well, do. Pulled a couple all-nighters (yeah, high school) writing a Monopoly game. Helped the teacher write a statistics program to correlate NMSQT (now, PSAT) scores with GPAs.
My first real job was working for said teachers husband, building computer terminals. (1970s: computer big, muy expensivo. Serial lines to crt/keyboard units aka terminals.) Didn't know how to solder when I started. Got a chance to become production tech and learned all about how the logic worked. Swapped job with main tech, and didn't get much done for a week.
Then it clicked. Wow, logic made so much SENSE.
Became engineering-department tech. Fixed a couple busted designs, and was made junior engineer as punishment for my sins. Got to learn about microprocessors. Designed first working FPLA (Signetics) based display controller.
One day, I got an E-size sheet of vellum and designed a single-board terminal (told my boss to take a hike when he bugged me about something else) that became the company main product. Whole system fit under the keyboard. PLL-based display timing, so the screen aspect ratio was software-controlled, enabling one design to satisfy all of marketings apps. [You can actually briefly see a bunch of these things in an episode of The Twilight Zone ('80s version), the one where JFK is saved from assasination.]
Never looked back.
Somewhere in there I went to UCLA, but dropped out - I was learning so much more at work than in classes. It later turned out that the mighty UCLA School of Engineering was hovering around probationary rating with the academic accreditation people. No wonder, I thought when I found out years later. I did finish my BS at UCLA, but it was a pain working full time - I was paying for a house (never brought that up with my Anthro prof: he stopped talking to me when he found I was an engineering major) and raising a child at the same time.
Yeah, it's been a gas.
When I was finishing at UCLA, most of my classmates wanted to be engineers because they were good at analyzing problems, and they knew they could make money. They didn't know squat about putting things together, or have any respect for people who did it for a living. Beginning of the end.
Now, it almost literally brings me to tears when I think about how few American students are prepared to be engineers. They don't have the math/sciences skills, but more to the point, they don't have the imagination - they've spent too much time with PlayStation and not enough time with wooden blocks. I feel like a dinosaur among the general population - I've always liked making things that I could put in someones hands. Not as high-tone as being a lawyer, I suppose.
I was doing "assorted technical stuff" even in grade school, figuring out how and what it took to accomplish some goal. Of course, being a much better reader than my classmates helped me learn a whole lot by reading. One thing that did help was that my dad was also an engineer, and he was able to bring home all kinds of assorted things that his employer was replacing with more current and faster things. So I had a constant supply of neat stuff to take apart and examine,m which gave quite a boost to my creativity. All through high school, I also built things, but after high school, at my first full time job, it became fruustratingly clear that to do what I enjoyed most would take an engineering degree. So when I had saved up enough money I went to engineering school, and after graduating with a BSEE I eventually go an engineering position, and after some years of working became a real engineer. I am not convinced that all are engineers when they graduate, but that is an area for a whole different discussion.
I once read a factoid that enrollments in engineering programs in the 60's-70's were strongly influenced by Mr. Scott of Star Trek TV series. And likewise McIver in the 80s. And thereafter took a dine for want of a role model.
I grew up in the '80s, and I was a huge Star Trek fan - more so the original series than The Next Generation, but I think a lot of people my age and younger were drawn in by The Next Generation and the subsequent shows. It wasn't necessarily a direct influence on my becoming an engineer, since I had more or less stopped watching Star Trek by the time I was in high school (it wasn't "cool" enough), but I think it was probably a subconscious influence. I was always fascinated by the technical details - even when they didn't necessarily make sense in the real world - and this probably contributed to the kind of person I became as an adult.
Also, the general values expressed by the show (people should try to get along with one another instead of fighting, problems can be solved by creative thinking, friends should be dedicated and loyal to each other, etc.) had a big influence on me.
Now that I am married and have kids, I find that renting Star Trek videos now and then from the local public library is one of the ways I can keep myself sane.
My grandfather was trained as a machinist but quickly moved on to work as a technician and engineer for Harvard, MIT and various companies in the Boston area. My father’s career path was similar. Their personal time was filled with a long list of amazing feats like working out the logistics of building several cottages on remote islands in Maine, rigging tasks like moving multi-ton boats by hand, custom wiring photo-voltaic panels and wind turbines. Their skill sets were similarly broad. I learned by watching and helping where I could, and they continuously fostered this. I wanted to be able to do all those things and more, and the obvious place to start was engineering school.
As I started college I decided it was imperative that I understand every aspect of product development; to have a working understanding of where the ore comes from, to how products are marketed and financed. This really stemmed from a desire to generate complete creations; to be able to build things that I could use as turn-key tools and toys, things that could be sold for profit and used by anyone. To a large extent, I’ve accomplished this.
The most frustrating aspect of my career is that we technical professionals can do a nearly perfect job at developing a product and still have it fail due to a host of factors that have nothing to do with the technology. Even so, I’m still very happy with my career choice.
I nodded my head in agreement when I read the author’s relating the idea that engineering is a lifestyle choice. And also agree that it may not be a completely good thing. I’ve made a lot of interpersonal choices based on the assumption that the people around me were acting in good faith like any competent engineer would, only to be proven horribly wrong.
On the other hand, a great uncle of mine (also a technical professional) related a wonderful fact to me while I was recovering from one of those interpersonal mistakes: We, as scientists and engineers, have the ability to enjoy beautiful music, art, wine, food as any artist, musician or chef might, while also having a deep understanding of the underlying physics and chemistry. Few artists, musicians or chefs are able to have an appreciation for the underlying physics and chemistry of their creations. We have the unique opportunity to enjoy the best of both worlds.
My interest in things technical and scientific began at the age of 6-7. This was right after WW2, and all the"new" technology was being talked about in magazine articles, ie, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics. Being an early reader, I would spend time at the local library pouring over these mags. I did not really understand all of it, but enough to help my imagination soar.
I have to thank my Aunt for making my birthday and holiday presents science oriented (per my request). I spent hours in the basement with Gilbert Erector sets, chemistry sets, microscope sets, magnet sets, etc. These "toys" were supplemented by the lights, buzzers, pushbuttons, doorbell wire, dry cell batteries, etc, from the hardware store up the corner.
At this point I still had never heard of engineering. It was science to me, and I knew i wanted to be part of it. As I entered HS in 1953, I read an article in Popular Mechanics about the projected shortage of engineers. Oh, I thought, that's what I wanted to be, an engineer. I did not know until then what it was called.
My HS counselor set me up with the standard college prep math curriculum. He said I will need to do well in those courses. But alas, I was a terrible student. My social life was much more important - girls. I know, most geeks don't know they like the opposite sex, but I did. My homework suffered along with my grades. Back then grading was harder then todays. I had to repeat some Algebra and Geom classes. My counselor told me to give up on becoming an engineer. But I told him I will try harder - sign me up for advanced Algebra, Trig, and even Physics. He did, and I did (ace Physics). Except for trig in which I still got bogged down.
Started engineering school, still not a disciplined student. Back then they crammed 5 years into a 4 year curriculum. This was too much for me and again the grades suffered. By the end of the second year I was signing up for only 2-3 classes at a time, so I could handle it. I did much better, but again my social life interfered, and I dropped out.
I got a full time job designing control logic, and hydraulic circuits for machine tools and other special machines. Now that was fun, and I was earning good money. I didn't realize it, but I was really learning engineering and problem solving.
One day a salesman talking about another customer of his, referred to them as "real" engineers with degrees. I was hurt. I thought, here I am doing engineering work without a degree, and I am three fourths through a degree. Am I not a real engineer?
My wife (at the time) convinced me to go back to school. I did go back part time, much more successfully this time. I guess I finally matured. I got my BSEE about 8 years later than originally planned.
With the degree, more doors opened to getting jobs with big corps. And with my new found "brilliance", went on to get my masters. I am still working at 72. I figure I have to work longer to make up for the missing years without the degree.
For the pay, benes, advancement, women, and respect? ;-) Or, was this society's just punishment for being creative and inventive? I was doomed from the start with the Erector set, Chemistry set, Legos, and alas Star Trek TOS, but was naïve and my parents enabled me. I blame my Father who wanted to be an Electrical Engineer, but instead worked in communications. Then sadly as a teenager I sat in class drawing schematics of machines and computers instead of socializing. I was young and needed the money. Fell in with a bad crowd of engineering companies.;-)My name is **** and I have been a semi-employed engineering addict for 30 Years. Mommas don't let your babies grow up to be . . .
I came at it through the shop. I am not really a degreed engineer, but as a designer of punch press tooling, I have to know and perform some engineering functions. I started designing as a way to get out of the tool room while I still had all of my fingers and most of my sanity. I no longer fear losing body parts, but often long for the sanity of the shop floor. Where I apprenticed, a really good tool maker may build 10-12 dies a year, while as a designer I often had that many in the shop at one time. When all things were correct, it still is one of the greatest jobs in the world. However, when a finished die does not produce the part for which it was designed, it makes me wonder why I ever got into the field. My excuse: when I was little, my father offered me two hammers. I chose the ballpeen instead of the claw. How much simpler life would be if I were a carpenter.
Like most, as a kid I enjoyed taking things apart and figuring out how they worked. My Dad was an engineer, so I was pushed into Engineering school. At the time I thought I understood what an engineering career was like, but after graduation I found that people had planted a bunch of fanciful ideas into my head. As I struggled to pass courses and graduate, if I had known how poorly engineers are treated I'd have switched majors.
I still like research, design and prototyping (the fun parts of engineering) and do it all I can -- on my own time. Staying employed as an engineer has been difficult with recession after recession and bean counters running companies into the ground. Once again I am under-employed to pay my bills, and only able to engineer as a hobby.
One thing I'd definitely change, while I was in school I should have taken as many business courses as I could. That might have helped me nourish an engineering career since I’d better understand “businessmen” and maybe be able to play their games.It would also help me become a self-employed engineer, where I’m forced to go since age and out-sourcing automatically ejects you from today’s employers.
I became an Engineer because I was destined to. When I was a kid I took no greater joy then when I took my toys apart and reassebled them in working order with spare parts left over. I guess from an early age I was a cost reduction design engineer.
I absolutely love being an engineer except for maybe that I am to nerdy(sans pocket protector) and not being outgoing or social enough( at least according to those in the world of the gray area).
Math never makes me tired but sometimes people do.
Choose a career in engineering and you will have a great career doing something you can love and you cannot ask for anything better in a career.
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