It is a general observation that while selecting the car , the man will looks at the details like the engine capacity, fuel economy, braking system etc while his wife will look at the different color shades and the body styling available. So as a engineer , while designing a family car , the consideration has to be given what women would like as the exterior look of the car and what men would prefer as the engine, luggage space and all that technical stuff.
Many times your boss will have certain bias towards selecting a particular microprocessor while designing an embedded system and by hook or by crook he will convince you to use the same whatever be your technical opinion.
In the early eighties, when 16 bit microprocessors were just getting introduced , Intel's 8086, Motorola's 68000 and National's 16000 were in the race each having a different architecture. In comparison National Semiconductor's 16000 architecture was much superior technically compared to the segmented architecture of the 8086. But Intel 8086 prevailed over others just because IBM PC was designed around it ( initially 8088 based) and the whole world had to follow the 8086/Microsoft windows combo for the IBM PC compatibles whether they liked it technically or not.
"Gaining a better understanding of business will make you a better engineer."
Of course! Engineering is the busines of designing products that will earn profits for your employer. Cost is always a major variable in any design, and often drives design decisions. How can engineers not pay attention to cost?
Even if engineers consider cost, a better understanding of their business will help them understand which cost is important. I've had situations where I suggested a design change that would save on maintenance costs for our produce, and had it vetoed. Turned out, the management was trying to make the current quarter look good because the product line was being sold to another company. They didnt care about maintenance cost, they cared about current expenses.
Faced a similar situation where I wanted to purchase some tools to improve design effeciency and reduce the cost of completing the design. But my business didnt want the capital expense even though it was less than the operating expenses that would have been saved. Again, it had to do with how the expenses were ranked in priority. It wasn't just the dollard, but when and how they were spent. As I learned the company's objectives for managing its costs, I was able to make "better" engineering decisions - for that situation.
There have been research that show people who were cognitively impaired due to sleep deprivation can be quite unaware of this impairment when asked to give opinions on their cognitive state.
Humans seem to fundamentally have a blind spot when it comes to self-evaluation and as Daniel Kahneman remarked, it's always much harder to find our own faults. This goes for people who think they are 100% rational.
Engineers can be especially susceptible to this, as the profession revolves around logic and we have a self-image that we all behave as such.
But any engineer should also know that, there is never 100% of anything under all conditions and that goes for rational behaviour.
I don't think that engineers should be just drones, either. There's no question that cost is important. Every design has an objective, and the objective has to be met within certain constraints. Cost is one key constraint. And there are many others.
But engineers also have the responsibility to set things straight, when management is making bad decisions. Engineers have the responsibility to "sell" their designs to management, and the give and take is part opf the engineering process.
I had to chuckle about the auto example. The implication that engineers must make purely objective decisions, sort of like robots, seems silly to me. Of course, you include objective requirements, but then after those are met, you go with what you like. For instance, I wanted a 6 cylinder engine last time I bought a new car. I didn't want a buzzy four. If I was after nothing more than a people mover, I would have not cared. Engineers who don't care to that degree, in my opinion, leave an very important ingedient out of the engineering process. Passion is important too. Esthetics is important too. Let's not kid ourselves.
You raise an interesting question. From where I sit, "business decisions" need to be made by a constant give and take discussion between engineers and other stakeholders in the business. I'm reminded of a situation from long ago where the company I worked for decided that purchasing (a part of finance) was better equipped to select cost reductions for a product - through "better buying decisions". The only problem was that purchasing, driven by an accounting group, decided that the product cost could be lowered by substituting resisters and capacitors from a lower cost supplier. All was well until the first machine came off the assembly line, and it failed final test. So did the second, and the third, and the fourth - and ALL 100 machines. After days of engineering work sleuthing out the reason, we discovered that the new components had different characteristics than those originally specified in the Source Control Document. Yes, the resistor values were the same, and so were the capacitors, but the performance of the substituted parts rendered the large number of analog circuits unsuitable for our product. That decision cost the company more money than we could save by "better buying." The right business solutiuon was to institutionalize an approvalcycle that required engineering to sign off on all substitutions. More paperwork, but better resulkts. And yes, we did cost reduce the machine by smarter decision making made by all.
One of the hardest things to do as an engineer is to stand up and say "horse puckey" when any manager is making a bione headed decision. It can be done gently or pretty harshly. The genius is in figuring out HOW to tell a superior that're full of it.
I've had a good number of engineers (and other professionals) ask me what it took to do my job. My response was "are you ready to be fired?" Product Line Managers, General Managers, and Division VPs jobs are on the line every day if they're actually DOING their job. And a passion for what the job entails is what keeps you going.
"Here's the thing, though. Don't non-engineers also have to make "engineering" decisions? Or, simply they are incapable of doing so..."
Of course they do. I've always been opposed to this notion that engineers are totally unlike anyone else. Applies to buying a car, or to (what was the other one?) oh yeah, ability to be hackers. It's mostly a matter of degree.