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Being an Engineer

Today is engineer’s day and all of us are celebrating our degrees. But this makes me think and should make every pass out think, what makes us an engineer? Does a formal degree, or four years of college or knowledge of C, Java or PHP makes us engineer? No, they certainly not.

Who is an engineer?

This takes me to another question ‘what an engineer does?’ a doctor treats unhealthy human beings, an architect designs buildings, and a sweeper cleans the floor. (However, it is possible that some of the individuals in these respective professions will disagree with me).  But what an engineer does, does he designs machines, or calculates loads of the building, or creates software, or mixes alloys, or studies complex structures of proteins. All these very unrelated tasks are done by various kinds of engineers. So is the word engineer a vague generalization for different occupations? Work of graduate in computer applications looks much similar to computer engineer, then of a mechanical or civil engineer. Although, the latter are called engineers, but the former is not. Isn’t it inane? No, it’s not, if you know the definition of an engineer. Which says, “An engineer is a professional practitioner of engineering, concerned with applying scientific knowledge, mathematics, and ingenuity to develop solutions for technical, societal and commercial problems”. Here the important words are “develops solutions for problems”. In short, we engineers are problem solvers. The problem can be ‘to provide an online ticket reservation for 10 million people’ or a simple question asked in GATE exam. Whatever a scale or size of the problem, whatever are available tools, whatever time is allocated to the problem and whatever your role in the solution, as an engineer, your aim should be to solve the problem in the most efficient manner.  Another thing if you have noticed, is the deliberate exclusion of the word ‘past experience or practical knowledge’ in the definition. Experience, as to any professional also helps an engineer, but is not the real credit of an engineer. It may be the biggest credit of a craftsman, but not of a scientist.

Engineer: Scientist or Craftsman?

What is the difference between an engineer and a craftsman? Craftsmen have practical knowledge, experience, and skill. They also make something. The difference is a craftsman does, what he had known by experience or by training, he does not know core principles or science working in his own creation. On the other hand, an engineer knows that. An engineer is half scientist half craftsman. Craftsman because he creates something of practical application, but scientist because his approach is of a scientist. So, if as an engineer if one focuses only on experience in certain technology, he or she will be a top class craftsman of that technology, but will be no longer an engineer.

Great engineers through history

Great Engineers through History

What one should expect from oneself as an engineer?

The comment was ‘GATE score is not important, practical knowledge is’. What do we think of ourselves as engineers? What an engineer should know? Does a person with a lot of practical experience and knowledge of PHP or Java or.NET, becomes a computer engineer. I hardly think so. So, what have I learned in the past 4 years, the syntax of C, Java or PHP? The concepts of OO? How to find the shortest path between two nodes in a graph? How philosophers should dine or how a thief should fill his knapsack? Well, I learned all of that as they are the robust tools or the ‘scientific knowledge’ which is needed to solve problems. But the primary purpose was not to study all those things. The purpose is to develop reasoning, to learn how to solve any problem that is thrown at your face. As an engineer, I should be able to solve any problem, whether it’s a complicated installation of an OS in 40 pc or a repairing an Air-conditioner. At least, I should perform better than my past self, which was not an engineer.

Engineering is an attitude

During the four years of my engineering study, I often heard from our teachers and others that “you should learn the latest technology”, or “We will teach you the latest technology with all its features”, but not once I heard “you should learn how to learn and adopt any technology, whether new or existing throughout your career”. And as new technology hits our field so often, that the word ‘latest’ in former sentences ridicules itself. So remember, engineering is not about knowing a technology or a craft and doing it rest of your life, but about finding new challenges and overcoming them with all the knowledge and resources you have. We are explorers, problem killers, the engines of the modern world and pillars of technological advancements. We are the intellectual descendants of Archimedes, Hero of Alexandria, Leonardo da Vinci, Charles Babbage, Nikola Tesla, the Wright brothers and Alan Turing. So get the right attitude and be proud being an engineer.

— * ‘Dinning philosopher problem’ and ‘Knapsack problem’ are studied abundantly in computer science to imitate actual computing situation.

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