The nuts and bolts of Engineering-CEO’s writeup

The nuts and bolts of Engineering-CEO’s writeup

One of the commonly asked questions from an aspirant at this time of the year – ‘Is engineering for me’. I was researching over the question to find some answers. Felt that I should consolidate my findings that I gathered by interviewing academicians, thought leaders and by applying own experiential wisdom. The process threw out a lot more questions and some answers, which is depicted in this article.  In the attempt to answer the above, I embarked two corollary questions: ‘what is engineering?’ and  ‘what do engineers do?’ One of the most simple definitions of Engineering I found was from a Stanford professor who said ‘Purposeful use of Science is Engineering’. That gives the first linkage. Anybody who can find a purposeful use of his or her learning can be a potential engineer. Now how can they test it? Whenever a student listens to science subject, if they start pondering about the purposeful use of what they learn, it is a sure sign that the student is a potential candidate. If it is looked from the other side, an aspiring engineering student will be very curious to know the science behind the many things they see in real life.

Now coming to the second question ‘what engineers do?’ I recollect one of the famous thought leaders in the academic world once aptly mentioned – ‘If a doctor makes a mistake, it would harm or at the worst take the life of an individual; but if an engineer makes a mistake, it may affect many lives’. A true engineer’s contribution to the world is very critical to many lives. An engineer strives to make the world better (at times the intend gets misplaced or get misused resulting in destructive engineering work as well!) by designing systems. That brings up another important attribute for a potential engineer – to design systems that influences humankind positively, makes an engineer highly creative. Creativity need not be to find something always new!  It is also about creating benefits with limited resources. Classic example for this is India’s Mars Orbit Mission (MOM). While it was a significant achievement for Indian scientists to send a successful mission to Mars ahead of a lot of others, the real glitter is that ISRO managed to accomplish the mission at 15 – 20 % of the cost that USA incurred for a similar mission–a lot of sophistication in the US mission was taken out while designing the MOM, but it was successful in meeting its mission objectives. It will be remembered for the frugal innovation behind the design

The next question that is asked by aspirants is the heavy dependency of Engineering on mathematics. In India, many fear mathematics – thanks to traditional teaching and for many, the image of maths teacher is that of a strict and stubborn personality, creating a stereotype amongst students! One needs to understand that mathematics is a tool to abstract the laws of nature. An engineer uses these abstractions to design, build and simulate systems and its behaviours. If an understanding of this sort were made available to students, perhaps they would see mathematics as their friend that helps in fulfilling their engineering dreams.

While, learning technology and the specifics of Engineering is important, there is one aspect that is often ignored – i.e. the soft skill of Engineering. I call it engineering mind-set.

Let me take an example to simplify my thoughts on engineering mind-set: if you are wanting to build an additional door in your house, one of the ways to go about it is to get an estimate of the labour and materials, find a good mason and get it built. An engineering mind will not get to the building stage that quickly; they will go to the drawing of the building – find out if this door is required in the first place (can the need be fulfilled by other means); they will then look at the impact of having a door on the stability and aesthetics of the building; and if it is convincing that a door is required at that place, then they get to the act of designing it in the most optimal way! It was an over simplistic example of engineering mind-set, but one can hopefully get the point. As a definition, an engineer mind-set is about looking at the problem holistically and designing solutions with the impacts (a longer-term view) in mind; depending on the problem, the impact can be to individuals or public at large or for environment etc.

And that goes into addressing the next question about the choice of engineering discipline one should opt for. To look at it from an absolute subject perspective, the philosophies of engineering are same; it’s the application that may vary. To cut an analogy, a painter may use the medium of oil, acrylic, charcoal or many other means in bringing out his/her creativity! Students should make the choice based on their personal preferences more than being driven by a lot of external factors. Some of my HR friends say that it can become difficult to groom certain individuals in their industry domain, because they never wanted to be that stream!  If the individuals made the choices based on their preferences than going by external pressures, such incidents could have been reduced.

A student, before taking the final call of starting the engineering education, should visit sites like ask the following pertinent questions. Can I see the ‘purposeful use of science’ in the world? Will I learn mathematics as my best tool to solve real life problems? Can I keep my vision forward? And finally do I have an engineering mind-set? If the answer is yes, don’t wait – go and enjoy the art and science of engineering. The world is waiting for the next big thing that would make it a better place!

Santhosh Kurup