An Engineer: My Definition and Why You Can Be One!
I don’t quite recall the age I had heard of engineering as a career path, but I was in middle school. In my naivety and sheer youth, the first and only thing came to mind was that an engineer was someone that drove trains. That was it. That was all I got. My mom was a chiropractor, my dad was a teacher, and none of our close family friends were engineers, so I was not exposed to the world of engineering beyond Thomas the Tank Engine from when I was five years old.
Fortunately, I got older (Maybe fortunately? I want to stay 27 forever.) and wiser, finally discovering that engineering was a general title that could apply to someone who had multiple jobs and job responsibilities. If you google the definition of an engineer, you'll get "a person who designs, builds, or maintains engines, machines, or public works." I know because I googled it.
In my opinion, this neglects certain areas of engineering and does not focus on what is truly the heart of engineering. My definition of an engineer is incredibly simple, and describes what we all do, no matter if we are mechanical, electrical, chemical, aerospace, biomedical, petroleum, robotic, you name it engineers. An engineer is a problem solver. That’s it, in a nutshell.
So, here is my question to you. Why can’t you be an engineer? If we define an engineer is a problem solver, what is preventing you from solving problems? We all solve problems every day. Each problem is different; some problems are small, some are large, some have minor consequences, some have major consequences. But we all have the capability of solving problems or at least volunteering our talents and efforts to work with others to solve problems. There are plenty of problems and opportunities to help others in this world to go around, ranging from helping your parents learn how to Tweet (been there), to teaching a child to read, to devising a strategy for your department to meet its targets for this year, to curing cancer. There are an infinite number of problems, and as our world keeps evolving, problems will keep evolving, too. My challenge to you is to be a problem solver. You don’t need an engineering degree to do it.
For those of you interested in the different types of engineering and what we do, read on! I have summarized what different types of common engineering categories encompasses. Note that this is not an all-inclusive list, but rather some examples. Check out EducatingEngineers.com for additional engineering examples and details on what they entail.
Aerospace- design, advancement and production of air and space craft
Biomedical- combines principles of biology, medicine, and engineering to devise solutions for various medical challenges such as tissue regeneration, bionic limbs, enhanced surgical tools
Chemical- applies principles of chemistry, thermodynamics, fluid mechanics (e.g. how fluids behave), and material science in multiple industries. We’re basically the super-engineers that can do anything J
Civil- designs structural things like roads, bridges, and buildings by understanding static forces
Computer engineering/computer science- creates hardware and software programs for computer systems
Electrical- these gals and guys know electrons like nobody’s business and apply their knowledge to the design of things like wiring, circuit boards, and signals
Industrial- break down complex processes and look for ways to reduce waste
Mechanical- also well-rounded, mechanical engineers understand motion and forces to design and repair equipment
Though there are different types, we often work together, using the technical aspects of our background, to solve problems. The fancy, corporate-world name for this is a “cross-functional team.” As an engineer, it is an absolutely crucial skill to be able to work well in a team environment and work well with other people since 99.99% of challenging problems are not solved by a single person. Employers want to leverage the full talent and capabilities of their employees, so working in a group is common in workplaces. Colleges understand the emphasis employers place on collaboration, and engineering classes often assign group projects and encourage collaboration for homework assignments and studying. Plus the professors make the homework assignments ridiculously hard and complicated, that if you don’t work together, you’ll beat your head against the wall. There’s a reason why engineering is considered the hardest major on campus, and the engineering professors want to maintain that title.
Looking back, most of that group work provided two valuable things other than teaching me phase diagrams, the Carnot engine cycle, and the Bernoulli equation. First, it set the scene for some of the best afternoons and nights of my college life with my friends and fostered friendships. Second, it gave us all an opportunity to learn from one another. Some of us were better at thermodynamics while others were better at fluid dynamics, but we pulled together to help and teach one another. Working with others elevates the learning and understanding processes to a higher level; having to teach or explain something to another person not only helps them, but also tests your own knowledge and communication skills. In my professional experience, working with others still provides both of these things.
In industry, working well with others is pivotal, no matter what your job title is. Engineers, doctors, nurses, teachers, construction crews, accountants, bankers, factory workers, oil drillers, grocery store clerks,- we all work with other people, whether it be in business or in life. And we all solve problems. See, everyone can be an engineer!