Friday, May 18, 2012

To Engineer is Human

If you boiled an engineer down to only one trait, there are many that wouldn't make the cut.

The awkward, problem solving, introverted, geek/nerd, smarty pants, pyromaniac, detail oriented, coffee swilling, fashion disaster you might know from Dilbert or Iron Man, doesn't really boil down what makes an engineer different from most people. My fiance and I have boggled many non-engineers, because at the end of the day, an engineer is eternally curious about any and all things.

I am not an always engineer, my fiance is however. His parents rue that day they taught that boy the word why. He spent the next two weeks "why-ing" every single thing. Frankly he hasn't stopped twenty-some years later.

Last week at knitting the gauntlet was thrown. Did I not know something about anything?

I know a little or a lot about: Electronics, Softball, Drawing, Chemistry, Piano, Cooking, Fractals, Biking, Newspaper Publishing, Technical Writing, Knitting, Drafting, Home Preserving, Color Theory, Swimming, Gardening, Fish Keeping, Material Science, Rock Climbing, Baking, Mathematics, Creative Writing, Tennis, Psychology, Astronomy, World Religions, Poetry, Genetics, Boating, Typography, Vibrations, Song Lyrics, Physics, Yoga, Computing, Birding, Solid Mechanics, Geography, Graphic Design, Programming, History, Glass Blowing, and Instrumentation.

There are not enough hours in the day to know everything about anything, or satisfy all of the things I am curious about. Frankly there are probably more things on the list I forgot, or not listed things which I would like to know a lot more about.

I am continually impressed on how my bizarre interests contributed to my career so far as an engineer. I never knew that learning design theory, and photoshop were going to be the skills from high school that set me apart as a research engineer/scientist. I thought that was one set of skills that I was never going to need again.

It all goes back to be curious, asking questions, figuring out why something is acting in a given way, tracing back an issue to a reason, and therefore a solution. You need to draw on all of you knowledge, and the more random crap you know, the more likely that you will open to the unexpected. You can draw parallels between seemingly unrelated fields, and speak to a broad spectrum of people in a technical language they are comfortable with. Resonance in vibrations and new age healing are surprisingly similar concepts.

Generally overlooked, a good engineer needs creativity far more than analytical prowess, and creativity is not something that comes from a vacuum.  A curious engineer can draw from far more sources of inspiration, mix them up, and create something novel and unexpected. If the solution was obvious, it would have been done 40 years ago.

I would say engineering is a surprisingly human trait. Who doesn't want to improve something, to make their lot in life better, to save some time doing a boring task, to see beyond what something is currently and realize the potential it holds? Kids do it all the time, imagining, playing, goofing off. As an adult I really feel that we should continue to nurture these impulses, encourage exploring, banish rote memorization, and demonstrate our own sense of wonder, and curiosity. I suspect if we did a better job, engineering wouldn't be so mischaractarized and misunderstood.

Engineers ask why.

That's all for now, take care guys,

Molly : )

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