My father is a mechanical engineer. I remember as a kid going with him for a walk to see trains every Sunday. On our way there was this railway substation providing power to the rail grid. My dad knew and explained to me the concepts behind power transforming. The only think he did know were the voltages used - he knew thousands of volts were involved. It took me some time to figure out that the incoming line was 110kV. After that I started dreaming about having one of those transformers in the garden... I remember being asked by some adult (auntie maybe) about what would I really like to get for my birthday - now try to imagine the face of a normal person when a 6 or 7-year-old answers "110 to 15kV oil-cooled 3 phase transformer" :)
I did not go into high power in the end, I do electronics design.
@sixscrews, quite agree if one of the parents takes out time to answer the questions of little explorers and motivates them, they turn out to be good engineers. And of course if something needs to be fixed and there is a oppotunity the kids get up and try to fix that. Engineering is just not about passing a degree but its more of a passion. The more practical hands on experience you do the better engineer you trun out to be.
My father was an anti-engineer - he could take photographs, develop them, print them and publish them in the newspapers he worked for. But when it came to the things around the house nothing worked - the toaster, the electric mixer, etc. I recall at age 4 realizing the toaster was able to toast only one side of the bread due to the fact that the heating elements were only getting hot on one side. This was due to an open circuit in the non-toast side. My mother had explained about conductors and insulators, so I took a bone-handeled knife, stuck it in the non-toast side of the toaster, pushed the open wires together and - they glowed!
We had two-sided toasd ever after.
There are two things to this - my father was happy to leave things as they were and to do what he knew - take pictures, develop them in a sequence of chemicals and send the product (4 x 5 Speed Graphic negatives) to his employer. My mother, on the other hand, knew what was behind things and could tell me how a thermostat worked or how glass was made - and could warn me that some things conducted electricty and some didn't and it was best to hold the things that didn't when you were working with the things that did.
I think that behind every good engineer is a mother (or parent) who was willing to answer those questoins - and who undertstood the difference between conductors and insulators.
On the other hand, behind many engineers is a father who doesn't know which end of a screwdriver to stick in a screw, resulting in a child who has to make things work, no matter what.
I think that sometimes my mother was concerned ... I self-started in electronics at around age 7 or 8. Soon afterward, I remember having to stand on a crate to use the tube tester in Renton so that I could fix the family TV. However, unlike my namesake, I continued on to get my PhD. After nearly 50 years, I still love electronics and technology (among other things).
About surgeons and engineers: legend has it that many years ago Dr. William Freye, who was the dean of the LSU medical school, had dropped out of electrical engineering and gone into medicine instead, because "engineering was too hard." Unfortunately I never did find out what engineering school he had been attending. But as a lifelong engineer I loved the story.
I had just received a self-winding watch for my 13th birthday. Within the first 12 hours, the watch was totally disassembled. To "teach" me a lesson, my father took all my savings (earned by shoveling snow and mowing lawns) to get the watch repaired. Later on in life, I realized that I have a very expensive watch habit and very poor respect for money/savings.
Q1) Are engineers mostly stubborn?
Q2) Are there any lessons for parents (of engineers) in the above story?
Besides taking toys apart, I remember at a young age taking apart one of our first touch tone telephones -- back in the days when they had an actual bell inside for the ringer, and when the telephone was the property of the phone company, not the consumer. My dad was, needless to say, not too happy to see all those parts laid out on the basement floor, but he calmed down after I put it back together and it worked :)
My oldest son was always a builder, even as a toddler. I remember watching his frustration when he learned first hand about the effect of gravity on tall Lego structures that lack stability. But even though he was the child I would say was the most "natural engineer" of my three, he did not pursue engineering, but my daughter did. She wasn't a builder like her brother, but she turned out to be a natural mathematician -- which is just as likely a path to engineering as a natural desire to take things apart and see how they work.