Purpose in Engineering

IMG_0265It’s all about the money.

One of my engineering co-workers received a survey from his alma mater. They were having an unusual problem with their engineering students: either while working on internships or in the first years of employment, they were becoming disillusioned with the profession. This statement– “it’s all about the money”– along with others like “nobody believes in the product” and “I want to help people” was being fed back to the university as students left for medical school and other professions perceived as being more service-oriented.

I couldn’t have been more surprised. So while I didn’t receive the survey (not my university), I’ll answer here, to engineering students and recent grads anywhere who feel like their purpose is diminished to just making money for a large corporation.

First, it is about the money. Part of your responsibility to your employer and its owners or shareholders is to make them money, whether that’s by finding efficiencies, designing a high-return product, or solving problems. Each one of those  tasks represent a puzzle, with economics as a scorecard.

But it is not ever only about the money. The real beauty in being an engineer — absolutely my favorite part — is that you have a responsibility to improve safety, protect the environment, and protect the public all while meeting financial objectives. Now, it’s a multidimensional puzzle. This is why we have professional licensure for engineers, and why we take a pledge that promises in part  “to place service before profit, the honor and standing of the profession before personal advantage, and the public welfare above all other considerations”.

Any bozo can build a project; engineers optimize their solutions for all of those objectives. And that’s a beautiful thing.

 

 photo courtesy Bart McGuire, Flickr

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What an Engineer Looks Like (on the inside)

IMG_0191The ILookLikeAnEngineer buzz this week has been amazing. If you’ve missed it, here’s the short version: An engineer (young; female; pretty) is featured in a job recruiting campaign in San Francisco. The local community reacts by saying she “doesn’t look like an engineer”. In response, engineers everywhere, of all gender, race, age and background, respond with selfies tagged #ilooklikeananengineer.

What I’ve noticed most of all, though, is not the pictures. It’s what the engineers choose to include on the signs they’re holding. As it turns out, not only do engineers all look different – we have different interests and personalities, too.

For me, the assumptions about who I am and what I should enjoy are potentially more damaging than the assumptions about what I should wear and how I should look. So in that spirit, here’s what I “look like”, as an engineer:

  •  I’m a runner,
  • a backpacker,
  • a volunteer,
  • a Christian,
  • and a writer.
  • I crochet. I like to crochet while waiting for economic models to converge.
  • I love shoes, but I don’t like wearing anything that makes me prance at work.
  • I don’t love makeup. My face melts if I have to go out in the plant.
  • I’m not really good at math, but I can do it.
  • I AM really good at patterns.
  • I get bored doing one sort of thing for too long.
  • I’m more productive in late afternoon / evening.
  • I’m an introvert.
  • I’m also the social planner in my group.
  • I love pedicures.
  • I hate manicures.
  • I do not wear dockers and polos to work.
  • I am still figuring out what I do wear to work.
  • I’m also an MBA. I’m good at economics.
  • I love being outside.
  • I’m an organizer and a coordinator.
  • I’m a collaborator and a teammate.
  • I’m creative.
  • I love projects: serious work ones and silly home ones.
  • My ideal place: a library with a coffee shop inside.
  • I love books. Physical books. Especially when they’re smelly.

Do yimage_medium2ou notice that the usual high school guidance counselor criteria, “loves science and math (and – subtext – star trek)” are not on my list? Yet I can’t imagine any career that would suit my personality better than engineering.

Readers: Any surprises in the above list? For my STEM readers — how do YOU look like an engineer?

The Artsy Engineer, Seraphina, and a mini-review of Shadowscale

sscaleAre there any Seraphina fans out there? I just finished reading Shadowscale and was reminded of how much I love the concept behind this book. (Very mild spoilers for Seraphina follow).

Seraphina is half-dragon, half-human. So she has this wonderful, human artistic side that she pours into her music. But her half-dragon side is brainy, analytical, intellectual. It’s a perfect band-nerd dichotomy that she struggles with every day.

As an artsy engineer myself, I struggle with this dichotomy every day, so I identify intensely with Seraphina. It’s what made the eponymous first novel so compelling for me, and it got me through the somewhat rougher second novel, Shadowscale, too.

All-dragon types should avoid Shadowscale, as it has some plot inconsistencies and other technical issues. On the other hand, those of you who loved Seraphina’s garden in the first novel will love exploring it further. And my half-dragon, half-human, mixed up engineer friends out there will love it most of all.

Readers: Any half-dragon / half-human types out there? Or is it just me and Seraphina?