Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Why Engineers are Awesome

Last week was National Engineers Week, kicking off officially on February 17. The theme for 2013: Celebrate Awesome.

When there’s a call to celebrate engineers and all they do, I’m not going to let that go by without adding my cheers.

Following, you’ll find 10 reasons engineers and being an engineer are awesome. I copied this article from Electronic Design News. It was written by Suzanne Deffree.

With much appreciation for all the high tech toys we’ve made part of our lives and appreciation for all that engineers are and do, enjoy National Engineers Week. I just wish we would celebrate engineers every day. And, if you are a young person or a not so young person – I’ve retrained people in their forties and fifties – and you are looking for a good career, and you love math, and … well the rest of the qualifications follow.

1. Engineers are “>” at math than most

Addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division seem pretty elementary, right?

But with the New York Times printing op-eds like "Is Algebra Necessary?" and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study 2011 showing that only 7% of US students reached the advanced level in 8th-grade math, such basic skills are diminishing.

Factor in that every smartphone, iPod, and tablet has a calculator on it and the amount of folks who actually do math in their heads on a daily basis decreases and – use those math skills or lose those math skills – with that so does the overall population’s ability to do math.

Why is algebra necessary, NY Times? Because math makes you think. It makes you figure things out. It makes you chew on a problem until it’s solved.

Be proud of the fact that you, engineers, not only know that 2 + 2 = 4 but that you understand what a sine, cosine, and tangent are or that pi is more than 3 digits long … or, sadly, even that you know pi doesn’t come in cherry and apple.

Math isn’t just about numbers. It’s part of a well-rounded intelligence that doesn’t add up without basic skills.

2. Actually 'do' something and something that’s useful

Unlike many other professions, each day engineers wake up, head to their workbenches or cubes, and do something.

And typically, what engineers do is useful, again in contrast to many other professions. (Insert your favorite lawyer/marketing/politician joke here.)

We all have a little bit of paper to push now and then, but the end goal for an engineer is to design and create -- to do something, as opposed to talking about doing something or strategizing about doing something. Even on days when only small tasks are accomplished, that makes a valuable contribution to society over time.

3. Calculated risk takers

Some might say obsessively so, engineers are detail oriented, analytical, and meticulous. 

Such attributes are often misguidedly associated with being timid or nitpicky, making an engineer seem not the type of person who should lead because the team wouldn’t go anywhere.

On the contrary, these are exactly the traits we should see in leaders. Engineers examine all aspects of situations before making a move. They may not know exactly where the move will lead, but they move forward having a good idea.

They measure twice (maybe three times, to be on the super safe side) and cut once. They take risks, but calculated risks. 

Ultimately, this helps their teams succeed … assuming someone else doesn’t throw caution to the wind before they can do their thing.

4. Egomaniacs need not apply

Here’s a Facebook post from a friend of mine, an owner of a hair salon in Florida:

Just landed my second client. Time to celebrate. Drinks anyone?

You’d never see an engineer post:
Just completed step two of my design. Virtual high five!

Thanks in part to social media and reality TV making every meager aspect of life seem relevant, we live in a world full of egomaniacs who believe their smallest accomplishments deserve celebration. But not engineers.

Nope, engineers tend to shy away from self-promotion, perhaps because they are afraid of embellishment and straying from the straight facts.

In any event, being reserved is something to be treasured nowadays. Let the Paris Hiltons, Donald Trumps, and Orlando hair dressers of the world drink to mediocrity. We’ll save the cheers and celebrations for real accomplishments, like landing a rover on Mars or shrinking last year’s design into a footprint half its size.

5. Curiosity

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but not the engineer (well, maybe an unfortunate few).

Curiosity is a foundation of engineering. Where would we be if Edison believed a candle offered sufficient light or if a handful of geeks decades ago weren’t curious about the then new “computer fad” and didn’t commandeer the family garage to work on their devices?

Einstein once said: “Never lose a holy curiosity.” It wasn’t the answer that kept driving good ol’ Al to his great discoveries but his wonder at the question.

Forget the cat and never stop questioning. As Einstein also said, “Curiosity has its own reasons for existing,” but only a few lucky few understand the saying’s meaning. That understanding and living of life in a curious way sets those lucky few, including engineers, apart.

6. See things in different, wonderful ways

In my humble personal opinion, there’s a fine line between being an artist and being an engineer. Both see the world through a lens most cannot. Both create wonderful, until then unthought-of things. Both (for the most part) care deeply about their work.

As such, it’s never surprised me that Leonardo da Vinci was able to move fluidly from his inventions to painting the Mona Lisa and back again. The creative mindset is the same. It’s the medium that is different.

7. They can fix just about anything

Get in a jam and you don’t ask yourself: What would Don Draper* do? You ask: What would MacGyver do?

There’s no problem engineers can’t fix, even when in a pinch. Heck, give them some components, a little solder, a battery or two, maybe a roll of duct tape, and enough time and they could fix anything you throw at them.

When the rest of the world creates problems and makes demands, engineers step in and clean up the mess.

8. Don’t understand something? They’ll figure it out

Not only can engineers fix just about anything, they can figure out just about anything.

It may take some time and, in truth, they may “overthink” it, but if there’s a topic that offers some confusion, find an engineer and you’ll find an answer.

They’ll harness their ever-curious, detail-oriented, analytical, and meticulous nature and not only be able to figure it out, but explain it in full detail, diminishing or erasing all confusion.

Like the earlier mentioned math skills, these problem-solving skills should be common. But take a look around at the many others you interact with in a day and see that such skills are not.

Engineers don’t assume, they investigate, research, tinker, and learn. That adds up to a lot less “making asses out of you and me” and a lot more accurate answers.

9. Job prospects: Yeah, we’ve got those

First, an acknowledgement: The US job market for engineers isn’t what it used to be. Budget cuts, outsourcing, often abused visas, offshoring – it’s all taken a toll.

Even still, the job prospects for engineers are better than many other professions. US News & World Report in its 2012 Best Graduate Schools issue pointed out that at its worst in September 2009, the unemployment rate for engineers reached 6.4% versus nearly 10% for all occupations. By the middle of last year, it had dropped to less than 2%, according to the magazine.

Also, compensation continues to rise. Engineers employed full time with median incomes in the United States enjoyed an average 1.7% pay increase from 2010 to 2011, according to an IEEE survey.

To be true, the rise from 2009 to 2010 was 3.96% but, as layoffs continue to abound at near 2008 levels in many other sectors and the overall US unemployment rate sat at 7.9% in January, the engineering employment situation is better than many others.

10. What you make is awesome

Here’s perhaps the most important reason to celebrate engineers: What you make is awesome.

Pocket-sized phones that do more than a room full of equipment did just years ago, medical breakthroughs that save lives, Space Shuttles and rovers that bring mankind to new worlds, energy-conscious TVs that span walls, safer cars that will soon drive themselves, wireless everything, robots that do and go where no human has gone – the list of what engineers create is endless, as seems their ability to innovate and inspire.

So cheers to you, awesome engineers. Know you are appreciated and honored.

Celebrate all that you are and all that you contribute this National Engineers Week and the whole year through.

* Donald Francis "Don" Draper (born 1926) is a fictional character and the protagonist of AMC's television series Mad Men.

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