There was a time when engineers were shunned from juries because they were too analytical and lawyers want people that can be swayed emotionally. Engineers might be good for the post of CEO because they tend to look at the facts, but I'm not sure that is a good trait for public office. They would end up stepping on the toes of just about every special interest group. Solving problems on a national scale invariably means some people would have to give up something and no one will do that voluntarily leading to gridlock. I've come to realize over the years that most people don't really care about solving other people's problems, only their own. And today, everyone is pulling different directions. I don't think even an Engineer could change that.
A colleague once told me the same thing, he was not accepted for jury duty because he was an engineer and for the reason you described. I was accepted on a jury, but I had listed my occupation as 'designer' rather than 'engineer'. Maybe the lawyers thought 'interior decorator'...
The only time I was ever in the jury box was for the juror evaluations. After that, both sides can toss off so many people for no stated reason. The defense attorney asked me what my occupation was. I said "Engineer" and he said "You're out of here..."
Stepping on the toes of special interest groups (SIGs) may not be a bad thing. Most of them are selfishly driven and an accomplished engineer thinks differently. Eventually the SIGs will start moderating their demands differently.
Hi BobSound, you may not remember any more but there was a time when the US hat a president who was one engineer, and the situation was much better, by the way China is run by engineers interesting? the may will eliminate special interest so we would not have war after war , it would be not better? an ingenieurs as CEO? Well look Daimler Benz, BMW, Intel and many others the all run by ingenieurs, European stile, since they have what a CEO should have: the capability of systematic thinking
In english speaking countries science and engineering are deemed to be professions that need to be too honest to qualify as seed beds for politicians or leaders.
There is also the disdain in these countries for people who make a living by productive skills rather than manipulating the public or gaming the system. This has always been true in England, and unfortunately since WW II it has become progressively so even in the US after the German - Americans who really built the US as an industrial powerhouse were sidelined.
We are now paying for it.
Engineers "get no respect" and must get a MBA to join the white collar elite.
The tradition of scientists getting prominence in policy making is much stronger in France & Germany and gets even stronger as one moves further East, since those once backward nations have looked at technology as the main enabler in catching up with the West and consequently have valued technologists.
Mr. Chipmonk, this one is too loaded a statement to be without clarification: "...and unfortunately since WW II it has become progressively so even in the US after the German - Americans who really built the US as an industrial powerhouse were sidelined."
I don't know, Frank. While there are certainly a ton of lawyer jokes out there, and plenty of ambulance chasers advertising on cable TV, I think the fact that so many hold elected office is one sign that the profession as a whole is very well respected in the U.S. To judge by income and power, I dare say that, as a group, lawyers get more respect in the U.S. than engineers (please note that I am certainly not arguing that this is right). A random Google search turned up this list, the accuracy of which I cannot vouch for, which shows that lawyers as a whole ranked 22 in median income in the U.S. in 2010, while computer hardware engineers came in at No. 33. Electronics engineers other than computer engineers were even further down the list at 46, strangely ranked one place behind "All other engineers."
I stand by my assertion that an infusion of engineers into U.S. politics would be a good thing. But to be fair, I can also see the value of having law makers who have studied (and therefore presumably know) the law and the legal process. (I am sure I wil be verbally lynched for this comment).
This whole discussion has spun out of control quickly. The point of the topic was to invite people with less intention to manipulate others and more intention to solve problems. I'm not saying these items are opposites, but I'm saying that everyone sees there is a problem and out current round of congressmen are not the solution. This is one perspective on how to solve the problem. I happen to agree with the idea of bringing people with a history of honesty in to replace all congress. The fact that they will make honest decisions for the sake of the country without the intent to get gain (other than working hard for a living) is better than having the most brilliant . Unless the most brilliant have proven to be honest and hard working.
The same situation (of virtually no engineers in public office) exists here in Australia. The vast majority of political representatives are from law or accounting/business backgrounds.
Meaning: they have little understanding of the destructive power of exponential growth, and do not comprehend the mechanisms by which feedback systems become unstable.
As for respect: I get none from them, so I give none back. If a person who is supposedly my superior cannot work out that 10% annual growth rates in consumption of virtually any non-renewable resource you care to name is patently unsustainable, then that person deserves nothing but the worst of the destruction that they wreck upon others. They are at best ignorant, or at worst sociopaths, and therefore have no rigth to lead.
I, for one, will not follow such leaders to mutual destruction.
This is a very interesting topic. I'm not sure I buy the argument about engineers not having the management skills, leadership and people skills -the soft skills if you will. Engineers do indeed move beyond the cubicle. I read on a marketing site that perhaps 90% of technology companies are headed by former engineers. This is not surprising, but it illustrates that engineers can lead, persuade, and engage outside the gambit of technical questions. Why they do not make it into politics is harder to answer. The fact that there are so may lawyers is perhaps due to their closeness to the political world. Often a lawyer may work on the staff of a governor or other representative. This is one path for them into the political world.
In Ireland we have a peculiarity where, along with lawyers, a good many teachers enter politics. Strange perhaps, but one reason is that in Ireland the teaching profession allows long sabbaticals which gives people the opportunity to take up the, lets face it, risky game of politics. Until you are launched you know you have a fallback.
But the broader question raised in this interesting article deserves to be answered.
Mostly engineering graduate study technical subjects in their college level.That is the age the brain growth is optimum and capable of receiving analyzing calculative forming impressions on every action and reactions in their life.Where as arts group people study totally a different set of subjects related to human behaviour,history. So naturally that group will have more leaders.
I am not sure the involvement of Engineers in Finance was a great success :-) Too much analysis can create a lot of havoc! I think Engineers are good executives. Let Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) graduates and lawyers do the politics, and leave real problem solving and execution to the Engineers, I say.
Perhaps somewhat unrelated, but one thing I've always noticed is that, at a small-ish company (less than 150 employees), in a pinch, "senior" engineers can usually be used to fill pretty much any job in the company: product development, purchasing, administrative, IT, sales, manufacturing/technician, etc. The opposite is definitely not true (i.e. administrative assistants have no clue how to design Printed Circuit Boards; technicians do not typically have great project management skills, etc.)
My first response to this was a flippant "Never trust anyone who actually wants to be elected"
However, on a more serious, for engineers to succeed in politics they would need to learn to put their preconceived notions of what the right answer is to one side. Lawyers, almost by definition, already have this skill; so it's not a surprise there are able to be more successful in politics.
Engineers hate loose ends; politics is loose ends, unfinished business and contradictory solutions.
What is the correct solution, from an engineering perspective, to the issue of the correct level for a minimum wage? Or Guantanamo, or Somali pirates or the trade embargo on Cuba? Or sending young people off to die in a foreign land.
Now I have my views on all of these topics, but none are a direct result of my engineering studies. They come form my upbringing, my knowledge of history and my classical English liberal mindset.
So sure, push for more engineers to explore the options and choose to become politicians, but don't push for more engineers in politics.
1) To give any "third party" candidate a chance, we need the "Schulze method", or similar, where you can vote for 1st choice, 2nd choice, etc. This approach would allow a third party winner where voters would, otherwise, be afraid their normal party allegiance would be "thrown away". An alternate method is "approval voting" but the Schulze method seems better.
2) It seems like today's "leaders" are mere puppets of big money. The puppet's party doesn't matter, the puppet's views don't matter, nor the puppet's degree; a pupit has to do what it's told.
3) The comment about right and wrong is spot on. There needs to be a solid moral basis for all government. "One nation under God" actually means something.
good idea. It may have more impact than public financing of campaigns and without the downside of that approach.
I also especially appreciated Rich Krajewski's comments.
Before solving any problems, everyone has to agree what the problems are. For example, apparently, dedicating one's life to studying climate does not make one as much of an expert on climate as some politician or the other. I've also had a disagreement with someone on social security. His point was that it would be the individual's and their children's tough luck if they were homeless and starving and not society's problem. I did not have an answer for that. Social security is indeed not an issue if one does not care about one's neighbor's plight. How is an engineer to deal with such non-technical questions any better than anyone else?
I agree that engineers could help to fix our political problems. Look at the news today. Companies are laying off workers to get to the balance they need to survive. Our government needs to do the same thing. It's easy to crunch the numbers and see what needs to be done. It's hard to make the changes that are required.
Rich - You propose a solution and then in the same breath cite two prominent examples -
"Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran, and Boris Yeltsin, the first president of the Russian Federation, are other notable examples of international engineer-politicians."
With friends to the cause like this, who needs enemies?
Rich: look at US history! Two presidents were degreed engineers: Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter. Not exactly giving any great support to the concept! Now, if you broaden the qualifications to not require an engineering degree, and expand to political figures beyond the president, you could count Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson to help balance the case.
The idea is close, but your not quite there yet!
It is not the engineering degree that is important, but the engineer's analytical thought process that is the key to successful social problem solving. All politicians are ideological in nature, and their decision making process is bound to their ideological point of view. However, a true analytical problem solver is not shackled to a particular ideological stance, but guided buy a singular desire to solve the problem.
One must first understand the difference between ideological symptom solving, a practiced perfected my the modern day politician, and analytical problem solving, championed by engineers, scientist and the like. Once comprehended, you then move on to the understanding of modern politics. Here you will see that having one or a few analytical problems in a sea of ideological politicians will accomplish very little. What is truly needed is a new analytical political party that rewrites politics as we know it. This would be a ground breaking paradigm shift in the world of politics.
We’ve been here before, not in politics, but in engineering. About a hundred years ago, we depended on blacksmith to build our most important tools and machines. Now we use engineers with particular specialties in analytical problem solving. Politicians, like blacksmith have become obsolete because of their lack of analytical skills. The problem is there is not an analytical party to replace them … NOT YET!!
If you broaden the qualifications to that of a "highly analytical individual" you can include Lincoln, even though he was a lawyer. He like nothing better than to find a new piece of equipment and examine it from every angle; tipping it over, staring and thinking, evaluating practical uses and potential improvements, etc. He sounds more like an engineer than a lawyer!
I think it depends on how you define engineer. There's more to it, than having a degree. There are lots of people with engineering degrees who can't do the job, and lots of people without the paper who are inherently engineers.
Was Steve Jobs an engineer? By my definition of the word, yes. Could he have effectively run the country? He sure had an uncanny way of figuring out what the general public wanted and then getting it in their hands on time.
If an engineer was in charge would he have the balls to vote for bills for the good of the people or would he vote along party lines? If it's the latter, then lawyer, accountant or engineer makes no difference.
Its not all good news- Margaret Thatcher was a chemist. No-one felt more let down by her than scientists and engineers.
So analytics and energetic leadership are not enough on their own. You also need heart, and soul; a moral compass.
Belbin: 'There is no such thing as a perfect leader, but you can make a perfect team.' Remove the need for exceptional individuals in leadership positions, construct leadership teams, and give them the job of running things. This can all be done out in the open. (I am not talking about committees :-).
Political animals will have to go and find another place to play.
So, Democracy is not for you?
I take it will be quite at home in the emerging EU super-state oligarchy, then?
Where all laws & government is done by technocrats and we, the public, no longer have any say in how we are governed.
That is a truly retrograde step back to medieval times and the thought is truly depressing , not to say terrifying!
DaveE, it's worse than that. In medieval time, states were ruled by hereditary authorities, who to a great extent did as they pleased. They had no particular qualifications, except this: the mass of people accepted their right to govern, often justifying this authority as being divinely sanctioned. In the EU superstate, who thinks any of the Brussels suits have divine authorization, public authorization, or any right to rule other than the fact that they have wrested it from the component no-longer-sovereign states? It seems to be a few centuries of grey poverty and virtual slavery in the making.
We engineers are politically naive, believing the US media's distorted views of the world, unlike politicians who realize that everyone has their own prejudiced viewpoint. Couple this with engineers' tendency to want to "solve" every "problem" with "the right tool" (weapons in this case), and I see a government made up of US engineers as starting World War 3. Though engineers can solve technical problems analytically, they are heavily biased when it comes to foreign policy, without even realizing it.
@mrwood- This is actually the exact question I wanted to pose to the people on this thread, because there seems to be too schools of thought on that. Can a person be considered an engineer by virtue of his/her knowledge, skills and accomplishments, or does being considered an engineer actually require the piece of paper that certifies that you took the courses, did the required reading, etc.?
Personally I would side with the former camp. Jim Williams was certainly an engineer, as are many other brilliant people who earn a living doing engineering work but never earned a degree. But I am curious what other people think on this.
I think the valuable extraction from "engineer" is the ability to apply the scientific objective method of reasoning to solve problems, and believe even a lawyer might possess that skill. I don't think holding a patent on an ic, for instance, would be a beneficial requisite.
The reason we have few engineers in politics is really more that engineering types gravitate to the concrete and typically shun the fuzziness that is central to political systems. Unless we are able to evaluate decisions in the full visible light spectrum (democratic) instead of just black and white,(fascist) we are likely destined to be less successful in politics.
someEmbeddedGuy's response, despite its lack of statistics, examples, and projections, may be about as close an answer as one is likely to get. Engineers don't learn that there's not all that much certainty in their profession until well down the road. At that point, they have finally begun to learn the profession. But don't be misled: engineers understand "the full visible light spectrum" perfectly well. We call that process design compromises, and most of us are all too familiar with weighing opposed goals.
There are degreed engineers, registered professional engineers, and (just) engineers, including the self educated, such as Jim Williams. Having the paper in hand does not make you better BUT it DOES open a few more doors for you. The concept of putting engineers "in charge" is interesting, I think, because we do have several different types of engineers. Some are brilliant across a wide spectrum, like Williams, while others genius extends only slightly beyond a microscopic field. I don't think that a well chosen group of engineers would mean automatic war, but the right group would certainly be much harder to bluff. The problem that we have with lawyers running the show is that they choose to go by president, tending to let people get away with whatever somebody got away with before. That is a well lubricated PTFE coated slippery slope with a steep incline. My assertion is that lawyers can never find that some action is wrong, and at best may be able to brand things as uncommon.
Putting real engineers in charge would probably not make our present situation much worse, no matter what they would do.
What a smug bunch -- Maybe it's like this: young engineers and lawyers start off with ideals and a black-and-white view. As each mature in their field they become better at doing engineering or law, but in both cases are constrained by the tools and systems at hand. Both struggle day-to-day with a bad approximation of a job; both are frustrated with 'Them' and wish that things were different. But I think that the compromises each has to make to sell his/her soul to get by are very similar, so that otherwise good engineers work in corrupt and ineffectively managed companies producing inferior products. Otherwise well-meaning and earnest lawyers produce bad cases by following bad law, and in both law and engineering both have the power to fix things but -- well, why don't they(we) do something about it?
Say what you like about environmental or political protesters, at least they have been trying to achieve change, instead of just taking the money and complaining about how things should be better.
sharps_eng, much of what you say in your first paragraph is sensible. But there's a vital difference in the way we "sell our souls" between an engineer's training and that of an attorney. An engineer struggles to put the most accurate face on data or a system. If he fails to do so, he produces failure. Therefore, he slants observations or cushions reality at risk. An attorney, in litigation, is trained to distort facts in a plausible manner to meet the needs of clients. Sometimes this is called by pretty names, sometimes it is called "lying". The engineer would be castigated for the actions that make an attorney successful. That's just the way the professions operate.
As far as environmental or political protesters, they are trying to achieve change for their own reasons, which are simple: power over other people. Since they cannot easily obtain their wants through the normal legislative process, they resort to mob tactics. Before I want a change, I'd like to know if it's for the better. Changes for "sustainable" this or that, or protests against the people who employ most of us are just the actions of yet another group of adolescents who want things their way, right now.
Law and politics are close enough that a lawyer can skip back and forth between the two with little career impact. Engineering and politics are very different...the political arena will tend to reject (e.g., not elect or work with, if elected) the engineer as an outsider/unsuited/different, and the engineering arena will tend to reject (e.g., not employ, except perhaps as an independent consultant) an engineer who worked in politics for awhile and then decided to come back to engineering. So, for most engineers, a stint in politics would be a one-way career change, and I think that folks who really like engineering (whatever your definition is) are disinclined to risk not being able to come back to engineering.
Curiously, MLED, I agree with your conclusion, but not the method by which you obtain it. That is, I agree that engineers are not likely to be better than any other professional at governing. However, you reach this conclusion by invoking an ad hominem attack on my politics. This isn't a very convincing argument: I admit to being a conservative, but by concluding that because that I always take certain positions that engineers are no better at governing than anyone else is a pretty poor argument. By all means, disparage my positions and politics (The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about--Wilde), but why not use something else (such as a reasoned position of your own) as support for your positions?
@Bob Lacova: the corruption of purpose I was trying to describe is very similar between engineers and lawyers; many of each end up producing compromised and corrupted 'product', despite having started with high ideals.
I have experienced idealistic protest myself in the past and can tell you that one attraction is feeling part of something bigger than oneself, maybe it offered escape from the angst of youth, but there were plenty of genuinely altruistic people and altruistic acts around.
Looking back over many years of entrepreneurial rat-race it is easy to see what has been missed, squandered or lost in the process of self-gain.
Back on topic, you can no doubt have too many engineers, and a drear world it might be (although many are musicians), but you can definitely have too few. Examinations and qualifications were introduced i order to regulate and create a peer-regulated profession which could be trusted with big money for enormous projects.
Brunel created many lasting monuments but I don't think he made much money for his immediate investors, did he? Correct me if I am wrong.
sharps_eng, I think the "corruption of purpose" that you are talking about may be similar between engineers and attorneys, at least when the corruption occurs when idealism encounters reality. In any real design, various factors contend, priorities rank objectives, and no two people may wind up with the same priorities: hence design compromise. The sentence above could be rewritten slightly to describe political designs, i. e., what do we spend tax money on? We may agree that taxes are needed, we may agree that we need sewage systems, but we might have plenty of trouble deciding between a new sewer and a new fire engine. Hence, both professions find themselves in battles, sometime pitched, that result in a solution that doesn't please anyone. If that's what you are thinking of, I am in agreement.
Idealistic protest is just that: idealism. The ideals are not often obtained, but sometimes things are made better. Just as often, the ideals turn into a French Revolution, and idealism becomes bloodshed. The idealism of youth is natural and good; the cynism of age is also natural, and good: when the two average out.
I believe you are correct on the topic of Brunel. Still, he was an interesting guy.
Reminds me of a similar article and discussion over at The Economist. Technocracy is hard to build and sustain where the government derives it's mandate entirely through the electoral machinery. An entirely different skill set is at play at such places.