In The Trenches
and trying to remember the sine values for various angles.
So, if you know every function and feature of your scientific
calculator ... you might be an engineer.
A complicated calculator is not the only toy an
engineer carries. Engineers like high-tech gadgets ... pager,
MP3 player, laser pointer, web-cam, USB drive, GPS
locator, etc. The Dilbert cartoon about the “belt-appliance”
competition is not too far off the mark. If you avoid deep
water because: A) All the belt hardware will drag you to the
bottom and you’ll drown, B) the water will ruin all your neat
toys, and C) you have difficulty deciding whether A or B is
worse ... you might be an engineer.
Engineers like learning new things. Unlike many
people who turn off their brains after they finish schooling,
engineers continue their education — both formally and
informally. They have to. The half-life of technical expertise
is usually considered to be five years. That is, half of any
technical subject will be obsolete in five years. Obviously,
this means that any engineer must constantly refresh and
update his education or else he’ll be obsolete. This is a
major reason why older engineers have trouble finding
jobs. Many employers assume — erroneously — that the
older engineer hasn’t kept up. So, instead of actually
interviewing that person to determine the truth, they
simply dismiss the candidate.
The good engineer has an ever-expanding bookcase of
technical manuals, data books, application notes, and
conference proceedings. Of course, with the proliferation
of CD data books and the Internet, the engineer’s library
may no longer look like one of a few years ago.
Nevertheless, if you read a textbook for enjoyment ... you
might be an engineer.
Engineers are meticulous and truthful. They have to
be. A product that fails is never a good thing. Sometimes
— like O-rings and rocket boosters — a failure can be
catastrophic. Unlike many other jobs, an engineer cannot
shift the blame for a failure. Either his design works or it
The responsibility ultimately rests with the designer.
He can’t say he didn’t know, that it wasn’t his responsibility,
or that he wasn’t informed. An engineer’s design is truly
his brainchild. He has spent a lot of time developing the
design and is proud when it works properly.
This is why engineers often have a difficult time with
marketing, romance, and other social interactions. The
honest and whole truth is not always appreciated by
other non-engineers. If your girlfriend asks, “Do these
NUTS & VOLTS
Circle #51 on the Reader Service Card.
Circle #33 on the Reader Service Card.