It's often more than just a love of math and science that brings people to engineering; it's solving problems, too.
In my last blog, I questioned if there was a shortage of engineers in certain disciplines and experience ranges. It seemed to touch a certain nerve with a number of responders. Certainly it raised more questions than it answered.
Before getting back into the technical discussions in future blogs, I want to see what put us all on the engineering career path. I'll have been in this field for 35 years this April and it has been a ride to be sure. Before we can say why we choose this field, perhaps we need to define what each of us believe an engineer is. For me, the best definition is someone that develops solutions for science, technology, or even society using experience either gained or learned. Most of us here are from the electrical engineering field, but certainly there are engineers in all aspects of life.
Inventor or engineer?
Most people without technical knowledge may find us Spock-like: strictly logical in our thinking. But, many engineers must be creative and think outside the box to derive a solution to complex. Great engineers are artists and have a vision that can't be taught. Their ability to think outside the box can bring them legendary status. We lost two of these unique individuals several years ago as Bob Pease was killed while leaving a memorial for his fellow legendary friend and analog engineer Jim Williams
. It was not just their knowledge and contributions to their field that distinguished them, but especially in Bob's case, his wry sense of humor and often opinionated personality.
I still remember when Bob used to oft his opinion that in many cases an education was inversely proportional to an individual's creativity. That leads to the question, "Are engineers made or born, or perhaps both?" I don't believe that in modern society we will ever see another Thomas Edison, a man who had less than a grade school education but over 1,000 patents. Still, we have Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Woz, Jobs, and others, who all succeeded far beyond their education levels. While Pease attended MIT, Williams was also an early college dropout who came to work at MIT for many years. Many can argue that Edison and others mentioned are really inventors and not engineers, but I fail to grasp a significant difference.
Jim Williams was famous for his messy bench.
So why do we become engineers? For many of us, myself included, it just fits. This isn't something I thought about in high school and I can't remember ever seeing a guidance counselor. My father convinced me to try electronics because he worked on radar systems for the FAA and felt my math and science skills fit the field. Being a good son, I followed his advice, not really understanding what an engineer did.
Even after taking my first job, I honestly can't say engineering was that interesting. Fortunately, my father was right and the job fit. At that time working for Honeywell, I was immediately placed in a position where we had to tie electronics, hardware, and software together. System engineering was born for me. It took many years for me to look back and see the value of this experience and the true complexity of some of the solutions.
At the time, all that mattered was that engineering paid well. I saved enough to build my first house and have time to party on weekends. Others also went into engineering without a real understanding of what it really was. Those of us who followed this path and found success are lucky. Far too many others followed this path, but quickly found the time and effort to stay current in the world of Moore's Law wasn't for them. They turned to other professions. Today, most children and parents have much more data and help in determining a proper career.
A love of math, physics, and science can lead someone to engineering, but a chance to solve real-world problems with creativity makes it worthwhile. Without this drive, and the understanding that there will be failures along the way, it's unlikely that you can achieve long-term satisfaction in engineering. It is definitely not a field for everyone, but if you're like me, you found that engineering was the right fit.