The other day, I was on the bus with a few female co-workers. We were talking about some TV shows when the Bachelor came up as a topic. While I don’t watch that show, these two clearly did and were talking about it as though it were happening in real life. Anyways, apparently the current bachelor is a doctor and the previous one was a fireman. “Who wouldn’t want to marry a hot doctor,” one asked. The other preferred the fireman. At this point, I thought to myself, hmmmm has there ever been an engineer Bachelor? I can’t recall anyone talking about that so I’m going to assume no. The fact of the matter is, engineering is about as unglamorous as a profession gets. Think about the allure of medicine or law or (insert name of profession other than engineering here). My point is, engineering was never considered as a “sexy” or attention grabbing profession. How many parents want their kids to marry doctors or lawyers? Now think about how many you’ve ever heard want their kids to marry… engineers?
So why is engineering such a dull profession in society’s eyes? Our Engineering course at university would have you think that we’re not as highly thought of because we’re more a more introvert group and that we keep out of the news. But I don’t think that’s true. I know of numerous cocky engineering students who think the world of themselves (I was in the group until I realized I had nothing to be cocky about…) While we must take numerous courses on ethics as engineers, we invariably find ourselves caught in the middle of a big scandal every once in a while. We’re not unknown. No, that’s not the problem.
So what is the problem? Think about the doctor for a minute. The noble doctor working long hours to help others. People see these efforts first hand. They’re overworked, they work in difficult environments and they have a lasting effect on people they’ve worked with (on). Think about the fireman. The gallant, brave fireman. He rushes into flaming buildings while everyone else is trying to get the hell out. He puts his life on the line so that others may live another day. Think about the lawyer. Okay… I haven’t really much good to say about them (hehehe, joking) but they’re involved in big cases and very public issues. Everyone needs a lawyer at some point in their lives.
Now let’s think about the engineer. He sits at a desk and draws up the plans for a local bridge. His designs can mean the difference between a solid bridge that lasts many tens of years or one that collapses, sending people to their doom. He is pressured to meet financial, time, and ethical requirements. He labors late into the night to finish the design on time. His final seal of approval puts his career and countless peoples’ lives on the line. One mistake and both could be lost.
But how many people think about engineers in that way? We take so many of the things in our world for granted. The things engineers design are used by us each and every day. You’re reading this on something an engineer designed. The heating system in your home was designed by one of us. The traffic lights outside, the mouse you’re using, the light that brightens your room; they were all the result of many hours spent by an engineer. Engineers create things that are not only conveniences but necessities in our way of life today. We expect, no that’s not the right word; we no longer even think of expectations. The things engineers design MUST work. Too much is at stake for them not to. Society runs on them.
But how do we repay the engineer? We repay them by having that awkward look on our face when we try to think of an engineer on a show like The Bachelor. We repay them by not thinking about them at all in our day to day lives.
But to be honest, I wouldn’t have it any other way. While being in an engineering program has really opened my eyes to all the work behind even those ‘simple’ devices, I have learned that the seamless integration of our work in society is the way it should be. Who wants to consciously thank their coffee maker for working or the engineer who created the design every morning? (In the same breath, you could say, who would want those grumpy people to curse them when it doesn’t work? =D ) I think subconsciously everyone’s just glad that most of the things they rely on regularly just plain function properly. When’s the last time you were fearful of using your MP3 player? It would have the potential of blowing up in your hand if the design was shoddy. But you don’t think about that. You don’t think about that because you (hopefully) don’t have to.
So while it’ll be a long time before, if ever, a computer engineer gets on a show like The Bachelor, I hope you have a better understanding of what an engineer really is. Our contribution to society is every bit as important as the doctor, the lawyer, and the fireman. We don’t have the sort of public status that many other professions do, but that’s okay; we don’t need it. We know what we’re doing. We don’t need others to tell us.