by Gerard Fonte
In The Trenches
The Business of Electronics Through Practical Design and Lessons Learned
In The Trenches
...You Might Be an Engineer
The characteristics that are
associated with engineers
are both stereotypical and
somewhat accurate. This month, we’ll
take a not-too-serious look at some of
these traits to see what they are. After
all, it’s important to understand how
others see the profession, as well as
what features make someone a good
engineer. (Note that the pronoun “he”
is used for simplicity and brevity.
Most hardware engineers are male;
however, more women are entering
the field every day.)
Samantha Carter on Stargate. These
characters can create a transmitter
from coconuts or time machines,
Yet, they are all incapable of
leaping a tall building in a single
bound. (Which, actually, seems
much easier to do.) Remember, this
flattering image is what many people
truly think engineers really are. These
people don’t understand about
specialization or learning curves.
I was at a high school career day
recently and the question was
asked, “What type of person makes
the best engineer?” That stuck with
me for some time. An engineer is
more than someone who likes math
and science. There does seem
to be an engineering personality.
Of course, that’s not really too
surprising. It’s natural for certain
types of people to be drawn to
certain types of jobs.
So, if you go into the basement
only to find that half of it is
submerged in deep water and your
first thought is, “I didn’t know the
floor was so tilted.” You might just be
an engineer. (My apologies to Jeff
Foxworthy.) Engineers notice things
others don’t and they apply physical
principles subconsciously. Others
just see the water, the ruined possessions, and the difficult clean-up.
There are few realistic role model
engineers. Popular versions range
from The Professor on Gilligan’s
Island to Scotty on Star Trek to
If you buy some items that cost
a total of $12.87 and give the
salesperson $18.12 to simplify your
change ... you might be an engineer.
Math is easy for engineers. It’s second
nature. Admittedly, some would say
it’s first nature.
Engineers are always using math
— mostly simple arithmetic — but
continuously. An engineer can
perform many calculations mentally.
In-your-head conversions of Fahrenheit
to Centigrade or millimeters to inches
and frequency to wavelength are
Engineers have a feel for numbers.
They know what a reasonable value is
and what it isn’t. Often, they can just
look at a column of numbers and
determine if the sum is accurate. Of
course, no real engineer would be far
from his calculator. It’s a vital part of
his anatomy. Taking away an
engineer’s calculator is defined as
torture under the Geneva Convention.
They can’t sleep and they lose their
Then, they spend their time
generating logarithm tables by hand
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