Wednesday, June 06, 2007

What is an engineer?

I had a full day of invigilations today. All I can say is that invigilations are mind-numbing work. It is not a good idea to do a full day of exam invigilation at a go. After going through the stack of engineering and technology magazines that I had with me, my mind began to drift onto many things. Many of the engineering students here are themselves confused about the difference between an engineer and a scientist. One of the articles that I had read in the magazine provides a few answers.

Learning is the first attribute of an engineer. An engineering must first and foremost be someone capable of self learning. This is due to the environment that we work in. Unlike many other career environments, the engineering world changes very quickly. There are new things discovered and old things improved on, all the time. Hence, an engineer has to be able to learn and adapt very quickly to changes. However, some may say that scientists need to do this too. That's true, not just for scientists but some other vocations too.

Intelligent design is the second attribute of an engineer. Like I've said before, someone who cannot design and build stuff, doesn't have any business being an engineer. An engineer is someone that puts theory into the real world. This is where things start to diverge. A scientist is rarely in close contact with the final application of their discoveries. A scientist is usually capable of turning their theory into a prototype or a product. However, an engineer will go further and turn ideas into useful things that everyone can afford to own and use.

Project management is the third attribute. This is where engineering diverges totally from most other sciences and starts entering the realm of business and management. No engineer works alone. So, project management skills are a definite requirement to be an effective engineer. An engineer makes for a very unique manager as we understand what it actually takes to accomplish a task, as opposed to simply factoring that as a cost, like what many management types do.

Business acumen is the fourth attribute. Engineering is about efficiency, getting the most output from the least amount of input. This is true for all branches of engineering. Therefore, an engineer also needs to have a hand on the financial aspects of the design. Given enough time and money, anything in this world can be built. However, an engineer needs to know how to balance what they have, with what they can deliver. This is possibly the most important attribute of an engineer.

Engineers are capable of working in both a scientific and a business context. However, many people in the world have a misconception about engineering. Hence, a lot of engineering jobs are looked down upon and not paid well. All these people should just take a minute and try to imagine a world without any engineers. Every human activity would cease to function. Unlike some other careers, an engineering career contributes greatly to humankind but doesn't get any of the respect it deserves. We only have ourselves to blame for this predicament.

*** Pic of Kaylee Frye, ship mechanic from Firefly ***


Zen said...

You forgot the fourth attribute: geekiness. ^__^

Kaylee is great.

Shawn Tan said...

zen, the fact that you know who Kaylee is proves that you're a geek too!! hehe..

dan said...

zen, a geek? yes. i agree.