Have you ever wondered why an engineer is an engineer?
Is it because he followed engineering classes and got his engineering degree?
Is it because an engineer knows how to use correctly mechanical tools?
I don’t believe so… I was an engineer much before that, I just didn’t know it!
I started at five years old to build structures in Lego and Mecano. I even had the small motors and the pneumatic parts to make my imaginary engines move with compressed air. I was fascinated by the power a small tube in plastic could have to lead the air into the piston and create a movement so strong that I couldn’t even stop it with my fingers (Every time I tried, it was the small tube which actually disconnected itself due to the pressure and I didn’t know why…).
For those who don’t know what I am talking about, here it is:
(I just realized there is a small pressure vessel in the new lego pneumatic kit, I must get it quickly…see what I missed in 24 years, damn :D )
1st skill of the engineer: See the inner systems everywhere in life
Being an engineer links to something deeper in our sub-conscious that I would call the Heart of the Engineer. The engineer sees problems differently, like enigmas that need to be solved in order to allow the proper functioning of the whole. Every enigma is a piece of a bigger system and each piece is essential to it for his proper functioning.
When I was a around 10, I had this urge to understand why things are working like they are. Why when do you put a coin in an automatic distributor, it can determine flawlessly which coin you input and how he knows that the number you chose corresponds to what is behind the glass… Why a simple liquid like petrol could give the energy to a car to propel itself…Why a plane could fly…
My father was so sick with all my questions, that he decided to purchase a complete encyclopedia for me called “How things work”.
I was reading it with the utmost passion to understand the things around me, but I was too young at that time to really seize the complexity of the machinery and I understood only later that the size and the weight of the coin where the selection criteria the distributor used to recognize the coins and much much later how an automatized system can be controlled through an automatic command.
When I looked at this graph for the first time in my life, I didn’t understood. I saw only a lot of symbols, which made no sense to me. Fortunately, I read a book that explained very clearly and simply how automatic systems are working.
Here is the link if you are interested (and yes, it is in french…)
This book explained to me that an open chain system is like a car without a driver. It is extremely dangerous because no one is here to control and command it.
This is why the driver is here and plays the role of the controller. When another car is coming, you have a look in the mirror and compare the distance with your own car. If the distance is sufficient, the system is going well and there is no need to modify the command. If the car is too close, the driver car induces a movement of the car through a slight rotation of the driving wheel, which corresponds to a modification of the command to correct the “distance error.”
Now look again at the image below… do you understand better now?
This revelation was so huge that I went to consider this system theory deeply and how I could apply it to integrate my life to another level.
In fact, it is not only about cars, it’s about everything in life. Most of the people consider life as an unrelated list of events that happen without purpose and in which they are lost like in a labyrinth. Should I go to the left or to the right ? Should I choose blue or Red?
None of those decisions are important if they are not connected with a higher purpose.
This is where the engineer has a huge advantage, because an engineer knows how the system works, that an improper command will lead to an excess of water and when you know that, you understand how every choice is capital to make everything work together as a system.
Engineers have the ability to see life as a certain number of systems which govern everything and allow everything to work correctly. When the system is not working correctly, they know where lies the problem and how to correct it.
2nd skill of the engineer: see everything in details
Every system is made of sub-systems. Every sub-system is made of sub-sub-systems and the ability to view things more in details by understanding the underlying principles is the 2nd most important skill of the engineer.
Details leads to precision and precision is the key to reach the output wanted because details tell you where are the flaws in the system…there are where details are lacking… lack of monitoring for example.
From the knowledge of details comes the fact that everyone knows, quality is always better than quantity because quality comes from a well-oiled system, while quantity comes from an external depletion of all the resources available (human, time, money) hoping that it will lead to something better… but in life, certainty is always better than hope… knowing where you go and when you will reach the goal separates you from everyone else.
3rd skill of the engineer: Judge without flaw by looking at the facts
Judging without any flaw of reason leads to see the Truth behind the appearances.
I am always smiling when I see the advertisement for the banks
We are here to help you. we have the best services to help you. Our financial advisers are here to answer all your questions
What I think immediately is that if it was the case, they wouldn’t need to say it, because everyone would know about it… right? people are not stupid !
So why are they saying it? Why do they feel the need to advertise that they are here by paying some huge advertisement budgets every year?
Simply because this is what they want people to believe when they have no fact to prove it and when they probably act in their own interest before every client’s interest. This is a logic based on (false) beliefs, not reason and convincing people with belief can be treacherous if the person on the command has a wrong purpose.
What remains hidden to most of the people is never a secret for the engineer, because the engineer strive to look behind the physical layer of what seems to be to enter into the “heart of the problem”, the “inner mechanism” of things.
The engineer judges on facts that can be proved and must have a flawless judgment to be able to improve the systems !
How to have a flawless judgment will be another topic ;-)
And you, do you see systems in your life?
I would be glad to know your systems to improve your life and the life of everyone around you :)
Let me know in the comments.
Abhisek Karki says
Agreed, Great article…
This is a wonderful article, Cyprien. Even for a non-engineer like me. I had the same book “How things work” in my shelf, but eventually decided to get into computer science and not engineering. Systems in my life? I wish there were more :-) I’ve started creating checklists in my personal life in order to help me remember things, for instance what to take with me to the gym. That’s a mini system. I think any good system should be built in such a way that it is (a) working in the background (not being seen as a burden) and (b) that it’s stable and doesn’t crash when something unexpected happens.
José Eduardo says
Hi Cyprian, your article is amazing because I asked me the same things when I was child “how it works? I studied an engineering career and the passion for keep knowing and get the skill to transform things what those works for your specific propose !!!, I go to work every day thinking what I can do for getbetter results in the less time posible, from the times the subway arrive and what happens if I lost specific times at specific points in the job way to what I can learn or what I can do for update the diferents process in my job, I couldn’t get that amazing toys when I eas child but I played with the stuff in my house in fact I broken the tv because I wanted to “fix” it so I really know how it fell
Thank you Jose for sharing your experience!
I am Hun, mechanical engineer. When I was young I wanted to study Physics as this gives wide understanding. But I studied Engineering (Civil and Mechanical) as engineering provides better job chances (generally speaking). I respect your attitude as an engineer because your motivation is interest not money. I lost my passion for a better engineer. I fought to find a job (not to become a better engineer). Company or job world demand not only to be a better engineer but also a better competitor (and a better pretender) and fire him after exploit. But I respect your mind. Even though I have not much free time I try to learn something new to improve my knowledge and skills.