Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Means Little to an Engineer

I was reading a thesis today. Yes, that's how I spend my Tuesday's. Reading theses. Anyway, I was reading it and had to stop when I read the sentence: "This definition means little to an engineer."

It's really not a surprising sentence or unexpected. It was referring to a mathematical straight-up definition that basically means nothing outside of a theoretical sense; therefore, it doesn't mean anything to the ever practical minded engineer. But it made me laugh as I thought of a multitude of engineer jokes. Yes, sometimes I make up jokes about my own kind. Ask me about band jokes sometime. (I was in band for eight years).

Anyway, after I was done laughing at myself and my clever wit, I started thinking about engineers, engineers as portrayed TV and books, what engineers are, what engineers aren't, etc.

So rule number one: Engineers are not scientists.

What does that mean? We don't deal with much theoretical stuff. Oh, there are theoretical engineers, but they're the sort of engineers who spend their lives teaching and doing research at major universities. Not the sort of engineer that's going to be working on the flagship of your naval fleet.

Number two: Engineers are not magicians.

We can't pull something out of nothing. We can't defy the laws of physics. Heck, we usually leave the disproving of laws and the creation of new ones to scientists. We deal with what's real in the here and now.

Number three: Engineers are not mathematicians.

Sure we can hold our own in a math discussion. We may know what a Hilbert space is and how to derive a cross product, but we don't learn these things for the joy of learning them. We learn them because we need to know them in order to make working Kalman Filters, so that our spacecraft can detumble properly.

Number four: Engineers are not people.

Ok, I'm joking about that one. We're people.

The bottom line is that 90% of engineers are PRACTICAL. We design, build, and operate things. We solve problems as they're presented in real world scenarios....though we tend to ignore friction and atmospheric drag...We do use computer programs a lot to help us model and determine things. We are not generally theoretical, and we don't care for the mathematical definitions. Tell us the real deal, so we can solve whatever problem we're given.