Being the ‘Engineer’
Professions in the 21st century are seeing convergence. There are many overlaps between two entirely different fields of work to create something new. The hunger for innovation is driving industries to adopt unique methods of work for employees, and their production systems. At the center of it all, there’s a huge chunk of people who call themselves engineers, who work day and night to make things happen. The hunt for perfection, something that can never be achieved is always on. But what does it feel like to be an engineer in the 21st century?
With an experience of almost two years working in the industry as a Mechanical Engineer, I’d say that I’m still too young to comment on how things are changing (for better or for worse). There’s one thing though that I’ve noticed on an academic level that I’m not sure was true in the past as well. That academic knowledge isn’t sufficient. Not only is it not sufficient, in many cases, it’s not even relevant.
Out of the forty-odd subjects studied by me over the course of four years for a Bachelor’s degree in engineering, I hardly use even ten of those for my current job profile. Even when I’m required to step out of it and work on something a bit out of the box, I’m still not using about half of the topics I studied in college. It feels weird and those four years of struggle feel stupid at times as well.
I’ve talked about focused learning in schools in the past and I firmly believe that the same idea can be extended to university courses as well. Instead of being absolutely clueless about what we are doing after we’re done with higher education, it’s better to work on topics that serve current needs in the world. As the knowledge requirements increase with an improvement in job profiles, it’s better to learn on the go rather than learning everything at once and not implementing what’s learnt for many years.
Being the engineer in the 21st century is messy. In developing countries like India, becoming an engineer is fairly common, and that’s not how the course should be treated.
I’ve also realized that we treat courses such as engineering as purely academic. That’s a big detriment when you want to impart knowledge and skills to others. While teaching isn’t something every engineer would relate to, at some point in life, we must be able to teach what we’ve learnt. It’s the first step towards self-improvement. But when it comes to teaching, we’re just awful at presentation. As Richard Feynman said,
If you can’t explain something in simple terms, you don’t understand it.
Engineering isn’t something that can be treated like a joke. It just cannot allow learning stuff that isn’t even used by most people, all work profiles considered. Rather, it’s important to include skills related to presentation and creating an environment where future generations can learn in a convenient sense, without being as confused as we are. This evolution in learning and understanding will lead to speedy increments where they’re due.
I think something that stops me from growing at this point is still failing to understand what the industry needs. There are specific requirements for each industry and while I have been working in an atmosphere that promotes literally helping me with meeting those requirements, not everyone is equally fortunate. As an engineer, if we’re not able to understand the terrain we tread, we’re bound to fall and fail. As I mentioned earlier, skills related to other fields are slowly finding their place in unfamiliar situations. Adapting and incorporating those skills instead of subjects that don’t find their utility in the future sounds much better.
The job of an actual engineer is tougher than it sounds. I’m seriously hoping it’s treated that way, not only for the present, but for our vision of the future as well.