3 May 2012

Good Engineers

Good Guy Greg, the Engineer
In response to this post, Magilson said...
As an engineer, I take issue with your aside. Engineers aren't, in fact, "notoriously good at building whatever you like without regard to the cost." We are good at building what we can at exactly the price you specify. At least of the hundreds of engineers I know and work with that is the case.

We don't design things willy-nilly. We ask for specifications and ask for cost expectations and then begin. A more correct statement, and maybe your point worded differently, is that we'll design exactly what you want if you tell us price doesn't matter. This point was taught to us on day one, class one, hour one of the engineering program I attended. Cost is what matters, the rest is just math and imagination.
and Appalling, Really said...
I agree with Magilson above, but would go further.

It is, in fact, politicians and other magical-thinking academicians that routinely build, mandate, regulate, and otherwise interfere and inhibit without regard to the costs, financial or otherwise... and certainly "without regard" is the most favorable interpretation. I would suggest that "cynically in spite of" is more accurate.
to which I replied
TOTALLY agree. My apologies. IMO, politicians are definitely driving the show, BUT there are SOME engineers who say "this is the solution and it costs $X" without considering other (non-engineering) solutions that cost <$X. That may be the case with ones who've been out of school for too long to remember their humility...


Umlud said...

Although still in academia, I do see how engineering training rarely goes the point of learning systems dynamics outside of the box in which the engineer finds him/herself. This includes the points that you mention: if given a problem, an engineer will provide and (often) support the engineering decision (over the social, economic, ecological, etc.) solution. The argument I normally get is that it's not the engineer's fault, because his/her training is to work within certain parameters.

In my mind, this just abrogates the responsibility of the engineer; it's the "just following orders" non-defense of poor action and poor judgment.

Mr X said...

The 'inside the box' thinking is good for focus, and for jobs of those who build bridges between the boxes. :-)

Daniel Gilbert said...

The above debate brings to mind:

"Amidst the backlash caused by the Jacobins’ brutality during the French Revolution, a heretofore little noticed aristocrat, the Comte Henri de Saint-Simon (1760-1825), made a breathtakingly visionary announcement.

Henceforth, he declared, it would be engineers, not politicians, who would change the world. His disciples quickly proved him right. One of them, the great engineer Ferdinand de Lessups, designed and built the Suez Canal, which brought far more change to the Middle East than Napoleon’s vaunted expedition to Egypt and the Holy Land.

Others transformed the world from the Americas to Asia.

Since Saint-Simon’s time the image of the heroic engineer, conceiving and constructing giant power dams that bring electricity to impoverished regions, linking continents with bridges, and devising communications technologies that obliterate distance, has become a commonplace in virtually all cultures of the world.

The image is powerful, but very much in need of revision as a new millennium dawns."

p9 of http://www.silkroadstudies.org/new/inside/publications/BTC.pdf

Tim in Albion said...

"An engineer is someone who can do well with one dollar, that which the ordinary person can do poorly with two."

Can't remember where that quote originated, but it has stuck in my head since I began studying engineering 26 years ago.

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