5 Engineering Myths Busted

Former MythBuster Jamie Hyneman, perhaps unintentionally, laid out some truths of engineering that counter often presumed -- and incorrect -- statements on engineers and engineering.

You can take the man out of myth busting but you can’t take the myth busting out of the man.

Former MythBuster Jamie Hyneman, perhaps unintentionally, laid out some truths of engineering at UBM's Pacific Deign & Manufacturing conference and expo that counter often presumed -- and often incorrect -- statements on engineers and engineering.

Hyneman spoke to hundreds of attendees at the nation’s largest design and manufacturing event here in Anaheim, Calif, during a fireside chat this week. Below are 5 common myths about engineers he busted during the chat.

 

MythBuster Jamie Hyneman
UBM's VP of Content Shana Leonard chats with former MythBuster and engineer Jamie Hyneman.

 

Myth: The end goal of engineering is to solve a problem.
Hyneman: Often the goal of engineering is to, indeed, solve a problem. But it’s not the end. “Once I figure something out, it’s time to move on,” Hyneman said in discussing how he, like any good engineer, aims to keep learning, moving on to the next project and leveraging any and all knowledge gained from his most recent project.

 

Myth: Engineers are about facts and numbers, and are not creative people.
Hyneman: “I don’t think people appreciate how creative engineers are,” Hyneman said, receiving a spontaneous round of applause for the audience. Often, engineers are the most creative people in the room, designing and redesigning all the electronics and mechanics that we all enjoy and need on a daily basis.

 

Myth: Failure is bad. Engineers cannot fail. Doing so is expensive and a waste of time.
Hyneman: “Failure is a wonderful thing,” Hyneman said. “There is advancement made without failure but of you fail at something the ultimate goal is to cherish what just happened because now you’ve got the possibility of making something new. If I didn’t fail at something I was working on, what was the point of doing it?

“Generally if you are manufacturing something for [your] company, you don’t want to fail and cost them money. But somewhere in there is a newer, better product. It’s also your job to make newer, better products,” he continued. “So when something fails, it’s not time to bemoan the situation and make heads roll. It’s time to dig in and figure out what went on because you are just about to solve something to make something better.”

 

MythBuster Jamie Hyneman explosions
Crowd watches clip of Hyneman's explosion video.

 

Myth: Engineering is a nice safe cubical job.
Hyneman: Immediately dispelling such a myth, the former MythBuster started the fireside chat by showing a series of video clips from the hit show highlighting the many, many explosions that took place over its run.

Later in the chat, though, he discussed a test gone wrong, when the MythBusters team shot a cannonball that went off course, plowed through a suburban home, finally lodging itself in a minivan.

“In 14 years of shooting and hundreds and hundreds of experiments, often they were quite dangerous in their own right,” Hyneman said. “We had broken fingers from handling our safety equipment, but [other than the cannonball incident] that was about it. Basically, we put engineering oversight [on projects] and we never had any of those kinds of incidents again. At this point, that body of knowledge of how to deal with contingency planning and all that kind of stuff is unique.

“Those close calls are actually what make it so that we did not have any really serious ones occur. We did pay attention,” he said.

Hyneman added that he and fellow MythBuster Adam Savage did publicly apologize for the cannonball incident and that damage property was replaced.

 

Myth: Engineers know what they want to do in life, they have a plan.
Hyneman: “I tend to follow things that caught my attention and just go with it,” Hyneman said, outlining a career that included stops as other occupations as a dive master, wilderness survival expert, boat captain, linguist, and animal wrangler. He, as do many engineers, came to the field after experimenting with several other fields. What’s clear in Hyneman’s career path is that while he may not have had a plan, he has, as have many engineers, chosen a path that consistently offers learning and discovery.


Also see: After the Myths: An Interview with MythBusters' Jamie Hyneman.

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