While most people don’t realise it, being an engineer is not really a description of your career. It is very hard to define what an engineer is, and actually you can hear almost anything described as engineering. Sure, for the most part we think of engineers as people who construct buildings and structures, and perhaps as people who create electronic devices at a push. These are ‘engineers’ and ‘electronic engineers’ respectively, already demonstrating at least some diversity in what it means to be an engineer.
But then again you can also get ‘software engineers’. These are people who write programs, and on the face of it the job seems very different from typical engineering. Then again though, there are also many similarities: writing code involves coming up with an initial design, looking for potential flaws and improving the efficiency, and then coming up with unique solutions to make that design a reality. Few engineers actually carry bricks themselves when building a bridge, so how is this any different from planning a piece of software?
And at a push you hear people talk about being ‘wordsmiths’ and ‘word engineers’. You hear people describe themselves as ‘marketing engineers’ and ‘food engineers’ even. At first you might regard this concept with snorty derision, but how different is engineering a good meal really from engineering a piece of software? In reality you can engineer anything – so it’s not so much a career as an approach. And ironically you can work as an engineer but not really be much of an engineer yourself. So how do you know if you’ve got that spark that makes you an engineer in your field? Read on and let’s take a look at whether you should start classing yourself as an engineer…
An Engineer in Your Free Time
When trying to get to the base of someone’s personality and their approach to things, it’s not really much good to look at the way they operate when they’re at work. At work you are doing what you have to do, not what you want to do, and as such it is not truly a reflection of who you are.
More telling then is how you choose to spend your spare time and how you approach the other problems in your life. Do you address these as though you were an engineer?
In other words, when your toilet breaks are you the kind of person who will open up the cistern and start prodding around with your laptop open on ‘How Stuff Works’, or are you the sort who will call a plumber? Engineers don’t necessarily have much plumbing knowledge (plumbing engineers do), but then they don’t need it in order to tinker.
Let’s take another example, when your last Bluetooth keyboard broke, what did you do with it? If you were a true engineer then chances are that you will have taken it apart to see how it works. Your partner will have come home to find you sitting in the middle of the living room rocking while looking around at all the parts and wondering if there’s something else you can do with it.
Engineers love to reverse engineer because they love to learn and they love to see how things tick. They can’t stand being mystified by a piece of technology and they are always trying to figure out how they could make things better.
So to be an engineer you need to have an inquisitive nature and a can-do attitude. But more than that you also need to be inventive. You see, although not every engineer is an inventor – you may never create something entirely new that changes the world – every engineer still needs to come up with inventive solutions to problems. Coders will know that satisfying feeling of writing a line of code using limited knowledge that solves a tough problem or that gets around an issue and speeds up their program. That’s inventive even though there’s no one to show and no one will understand how original you just were.
They say that there’s no such thing as a lack of resources – only a lack of resourcefulness. This is something that a true engineer believes and takes to heart. If that describes you, then welcome to the club.
The author of this post is Sam Sheppard, an employee at TRJ Engineering, leading providers of stainless steel fabrication in Melbourne. Sam is an ardent cricket fan and loves going to the games with his buddies.