Is there anyone not on this list who belongs there? Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and a few others came close. Obviously, anyone who was at West Point, in the Army Corps of Engineers, is a candidate.
Politics aside,.. Are you kidding me? Even before I got to the end, I knew that Barak Obama was going to make the list. The reasons sound like a "facilitator" position.
-- the uses of iPads and other mobile devices in his presidency. My daughter uses an ipad for notes, streaming video, that doesn't make her an engineer.
-- involved in technology, such as making sure his BlackBerry was secure at the start of his presidency. Really? It wasn't the NSA, FBI and Secret Service that wanted him to have secure comms? If it wasn't them, then why wasn't it secure before his presidency? I mean if he was an engineer-minded person.
-- and the problems caused by NSA surveillance on individuals of American as well as non-American descent -- earn him a spot on this list. Again, really? So the president isn't involved with what the NSA does? And as a "constitutional lawyer by trade, his thinking reminds us of that of an engineer" he can't follow the logic to realize that the 4th Amendment protects against "unreasonable searches and seizures and requires any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause.". Considering that you must have a warrant to tap someone's phone in a criminal investigation, it is common sense that if they are doing that WITHOUT a warrant or probable cause, then it must be illegal.
No Dwight Eisenhower? Responsible for planning the invasion of North Africa, D-Day, and during his presidency, The Interstate highway system, DARPA, NASA...
Politics aside (I know the engineering comminity embraces a wide political spectrum) I buy Obama as part of the list but not for the reasons the author gives. I think he in the words of theheadline "thionks like an engineer," generally looking at problems in a practical way, airing different points of view and then trying something--and if it doesn't work, admitting it and trying to fix it.
I realize of course he leans to the liberal side and some engineers tend to be conservative or in the case of one of our giants, TJ Rodgers, libertarian.
... generally looking at problems in a practical way, airing different points of view and then trying something--and if it doesn't work, admitting it and trying to fix it.
Sorry, Rick, but I think a whole lot of people will disagree with your specifically on this score. There are probably many examples of illogical thinking on our President's part, but one really glaring one is his insistence that people could hold on to their existing health care plans, when Obamacare took effect. When I first heard him say that, I couldn't believe my ears. And this has absolutely NOTHING to do with whether or not I support the principles of Obamacare, which generally I do. This is simple understanding of cause and effect. Not to mention, his insistence that Obamacare would save money. Another example of serious lack of logic.
Another example might be his long term support of ethanol, without first considering what the net effect of producing ethanol was to gasoline usage. Some things should ring alarm bells to make one ask important questions, BEFORE making decisions.
The idea that being able to play with electronic handheld toys makes you "think like an engineer" seems kind of silly to me. Lawyer, all the way, makes a lot more sense.
I can't believe Obama was on the list, either. However, here's a list of British Prime Ministers who I know are/were engineers:
2. ...that's it.
Thatcher was a chemist, that's the closest I know of. I wuldn't be surprised if there has never been an engineer in charge in the UK.
I don't know the specifics about Obamacare, but did you know our NHS was a contender for being the most efficent healthcare system there is, so adding the state to the mix certainly doesn't make a healthcare system necessarily more expensive? (We pay something like 1/3 of the US cost per head for healthcare, yet our life expectancy is higher than yours. Obviously, there are other contributors to life expectancy, so I'm not claiming our system is better than yours, just much cheaper. In the words of the apocryphal Rolls Royce salesman, it is "adequate").
Cost of care is, indeed, one measure of efficiency in a healthcare system, but so is quality of care and outcome. It is easy to reduce cost of healthcare in any system and all government healthcare systems do this to one degree or another. 80% of healthcare costs are spent on 20% of the healthcare recipients. We call this 20% of the healthcare cost recipients "sick" people and the sickest cost the most to treat because they have cancer or some other disease that is costly to treat. If we just stopped treating the sick, and instead spent the money on prophylactic care for healthy people, we could reduce costs by 80%. The advantage of doing this from the government's perspecitve is that sick people are probably unable to vote and the healthy people will be grateful for their free checkups and they will vote. Everybody wins - well okay, except for the sick, but how many of them are there, really?
I agree about Hoover and Carter being maybe most direct examples of engineers who became presidents. The premise is vague on this piece, so it naturally, perhaps purposely sparks debate. Often the case, the debate is more interesting than the original argument. Being a tinker, having a curious mind, staying up on scientific trends seems part of our vague definition "thinking like an engineer." But is being a skilled project manager and leader the same as thinking like an engineer? Being able to deal with complexity? Is that thinking like an engineer? A lot of jobs need those skills. Do engineers think they would be more willing to blow a whistle and warn others doing the right thing, like Dwight did in warning the US about the military industrial complex? Yes Dwight would have been good to include.
I think the best way to characterize engineers is the Guillotine Joke. The point of that joke is that an engineer's passion is solving technical problems and presenting solutions in an honest way, even at high personal cost. So Jimmy "I will not lie to you" Carter most assuredly qualifies. Politicians who are more interested in deceiving the public than solving the real technical problems the world is facing? Definitely not engineers.
DDE qualifies as a good engineering manager and advocate. NASA and the Interstate Highway System are excellent examples.
P.S. If you haven't heard the Guillotine joke, I'll be glad to post my version.
Thanks for asking! There are several versions of this joke. This is my favorite:
During the French Revolution there was a custom that if the guillotine malfunctioned, it was considered an Act of the Supreme Being and the accused would go free.
One day they were executing professionals. First they brought up a lawyer. The crowd booed. They put the lawyer on the machine, pulled the lever, and... nothing happened. The machine just shuddered but the blade didn't come down. So the lawyer went free.
Next they brought up a banker. The crowd booed even louder. They put the banker on the machine, and the same thing happened. So the banker went free.
Then they brought up an engineer. He looked the machine up and down and said "You know, if you don't take that knot out of that rope, this thing is never going to work."
But is being a skilled project manager and leader the same as thinking like an engineer? Being able to deal with complexity?
I'd say no. There are many aspects to complexity, as well as many aspects to project management, including "people skills" for instance. And certainly being an engineer doesn't guarantee any more willingness to blow whistles, or for that matter, to be a virtuous human being.
But I think it's most imperative for engineers to think in terms of what makes systems tick. Spouting slogans to describe how some program will work, just because the slogans sound good, and then insisting on them, would make one a really bad engineer.
Take the Obamacare example. Engineers are supposed to know intuitively that in ANY system with a given transfer function, if you feed it certain inputs, you can expect certain outputs. The transfer function of the system converts the inputs to outputs.
If you feed the system different inputs, you normally expect different outputs. Although some systems may be designed to be self-regulating, so outputs might not change too much, if inputs vary between certain limits.
So what happens with Obamacare? The inputs are changed rather drastically (50M more people to be covered, irrespective of pre-existing conditions and ability to pay), and the outputs are different from previously (many more people, including people who were already covered, given more complete coverage than they may previously have had).
Okay, so the most basic systems analysis will say that the system's transfer function, i.e. the health plans, MUST change. Said another way, "something has to give." You can't make big changes in the inputs and in the output, and then promise everyone that the transfer function, i.e. their health plans, will stay the same.
Lawyers can pretend that way. Engineers had better not, if their designs are expected to work. So how is it that this obvious result, i.e. individuals and corporations will be required to change their health plans, came as a surprise to the Administration?
Because, he and they are not engineers. This outcome should have been intuitively obvious.
Interesting. What about compromise as part of an engineer's job? It's a big theme on more design-oriented sites -- vendor-written papers frequently call it "tradeoffs." So many articles start off: "Design teams have to decide between power and functionality, or X vs N -- you fill in the blank. Isn't that what all presidents have to do too? You're saying there's one way to solve the problem but often there are more ways to solve problems. Let's say the president actually believed (and I don't think he does) in a single payer healthcare system because on the surface it seems simpler: fewer moving parts, achieves wider coverage, could keep costs down, could reduce the burden on US business, which in turn could employ more people because it lowers labor costs. But instead the president and Congress have to settle for what's possible in the political situation. Perhaps it's how a president handled compromise -- after all that is politics: the art of compromise.
Susan, we're only addressing whether or not President Obama thinks like an engineer.
Yes, compromise is not just "part" of engineering, it is intrinsic in all of engineering. Which is why hyped up stories that only give the positive aspects of some idea or new gadget, without explaining the tradeoffs, sound lame. But that's perhaps a different discussion.
My only point here is that anyone schooled in engineering would not promise "no change necessary" to a system, for those already participating in it today, while at the same time promising that this system will be handling big changes in inputs and providing big changes in outputs. The most kind explanation for such foolish promises is a severe dose of cluelessness. (Then there are the less kind explanations.)
You're bringing up other points, debates about single payer plans and the like, which would obviously change people's health care plans. Certainly, if public health plans are introduced, people's plans would HAVE to change. If for no other reason, corporations, seeing that public health plans are available, will simply drop their coverage and tell employees to use public heath care. You wouldn't have any option there, as an employee. So here again, how can anyone explain this fairy tale about people being able to keep their current plan? Ridiculous, right?
As to its costs, that's a whole other debate. Government doesn't grow money on trees. Whatever it costs gets paid by taxpayers. Depending what kind of tax is used to pay for this new scheme, it may hit only the middle class. Of course, corporations would have lower overhead costs, so theoretically their products could cost less. My bet is, single payer would hit the middle class most, as always. Because my bet is, the money for public health care would come out of income taxes, not sales taxes or social security tax. Some of the money may also come from corporate taxes, bringing overhead costs back up for companies. No free lunch.
"Perhaps it's how a president handled compromise -- after all that is politics: the art of compromise."
And that is perhaps one reason why there are few engineers in politics. Engineers are more concerned with "what works" while politics is often about debate and compromise over idealogical issues that may or may not "work" at all. Perfect for lawyer and academic types, but anathema to engineering types...
Au contraire, Barack Hussein Obama should be at the top of the list. In his role as chief demolition engineer of the United States of America he is successfully presiding over the destruction of the most magnificent and most civil society ever created by mankind.
On his watch, we have spent roughly the same amount as that spent during _all_ past administrations combined.
Along with his design team in the House and the Senate, he has championed the most complex law not even dreamed of by his predecessors. The complex and punitive nature of this law is already systematically tearing down the most sophisticated and high quality health care system in the world.
Most engineers must obey the laws of physics; their designs simply will not work if they don't. BHO has perfected a way to circumvent the laws that past presidents have had to work within, especially that pesky Constitution. His solution is simple and quite elegant. Simply ignore the laws that you don't like. No Congress in their right mind would ever impeach the first black president so full steam ahead!
These are significant demolition engineering accomplishments . . . and he's not done yet!
All polemics aside, Obama really does not belong on that list (and I proudly voted for him--twice). It's as if you gave credit to a president for being able to type, when typewriters were the principal means of recording ideas, or for using a pen, when pens were all we had. In other words: You're pushing it.
Obama didn't even learn from his years as a Constitution professor. He used a copy of the US Contitution in his studies, presumely, but he's shown that none of that type of thinking has rubbed off. His inclusion insults engineers and does a great disservice to them.
The list is great up until that last entry. The argument that his use of cool devices and he happened to be the preseident during a term when the NSA stuff leaked... doesn't make him an engineer. He doens' think like one or act like one. My father worked for HP for many years. He thinks like an engineer. President Obama does not nor acts like one in any sense of the word.
Now remember, to some lawyers the Law as written is merely a starting point. There's a creative challenge to making a law perform a function it was never intended to perform, and even more of a challenge to make it perform opposite to its intention.
Engineers often repurpose parts in clever ways, taking advantage of obscure features to implement a clever solution. For example, I once took advantage of the fact that you could assert a TTL flip-flop's preset and clear inputs at the same time and make the Q and not-Q outputs both high. (Just be sure you don't release them at the same time.)
Now, this doesn't mean Obama is an engineer. Engineers do this for good (usually). Using things in ways they weren't intended is also a hallmark of saboteurs, poisoners, and safecrackers.
All, regarding BHO being a Constitutional lawyer let's not confuse interest and intention. So he studied Constitutional law (we're told), but has anyone asked why he chose that subject? Why assume it was for reverence?
What did SunTzu say about the enemy? And doesn't a good thief "case" a neighborhood and his target household/bank before he makes a move? Closer to home, what do we do when we reverse engineer something? Tear-a$$ into it and start throwing parts around the lab? Or, do we maybe first examine how it's built and take notes? Apply that to the nation-big job of subverting or dissmantling something as complicated as a 230 year old, multi-facited institution that is at the heart of a nation. Wouldn't you first want to at least know the basic framework?
There is the mind and then there is the heart. In many cases they are aligned. In some cases they are not. In either case you'd do well to examine both separately, especially when it comes to those in positions of power.
Good point! Have we lost the definition of what an enginner is so quickly that we just toss out names of people who don't seem to fit the bill? Apparently so. I mean if I adjust somebody's back or help rub out a sore muscle, does that suddently make me a walnut creek chiropractor? I think not.
As a designer of production test equipment, I had to conceive it, sell it, spec it, budget it, design it, schedule it, sketch it, nurse it through drafting and fab, program it, write operating and calibration procedures for it, get it working, train its operators, and be the repair tech of last resort for it.
An engineer is both a dreamer and a hard core realist. When he fails there's no place to hide. You can't BS the laws of economics and physics.
I used to tell the the joke about the difference between Civil Engineers and Combat Engineers, but then someone reminded me that there are two types of Combat Engineers: one builds bridges and the other blows them up. Everyone has their own idea of which type of Combat Engineer President Obama is, but I can't see where he's built any substantial bridges in the last five years.
Most presidents had economic motives, but did not use scientific methods. Instead they used crony capitalism or moralizing law-making. I prefer those that were willing to test old assumptions by experimentation, like Medicare, Social Security and Affordable Care Act, all of which were attacked loudly. The post WWII veterans were educated by a great experimentalist, FDR, and they got low cost housing and a start on health care for veterans. That vets health care system WAS modified many times to make it CHEAPER but not better until recent years.
The famous post-WWII hiway system was designed with long straight streches to land planes in event of attack on US. It was well engineered, but not maintained in many places due to cost cutting, but worse, the STATE roads really degraded from cost cutting. The best engineering marvels require long term support, but if the crowd is raving about social issues rather then functional infrastructure we get what we deserve.
But my feeling is that SCIENCE WILL PREVAIL in the long term, and the moralizers and crony capitalists will leave more debris than working systems that benefit the people. Leave the social issues to the neighbordhood leaders, and let us improve the higher levels of the country with scientific methods and transparency in financing and procurement methods.
Mr. Obama definitely started as an Engineer when he was contesting elections. And the engineering spark could be see for few years after winning presidential elections. But is the spark difused from few months.