Engineering Doesn’t Accommodate Personal Opinions
One of the most refreshing things about the field of engineering is how the laws of physics underpinning the technologies we create are not up for debate. Acceleration due to gravity? Not up for debate. Speed of light? Not up for debate. Nuclear forces? Not up for debate. Conservation of mass and energy? Not up for debate.
In this — our beloved extension of applied physics — we are blessed with the existence of cold hard facts … complemented by how there’s very little payoff for anyone ridiculous enough to challenge fundamental realities related to our field.
Absolute facts exist in other arenas of course. Unfortunately, there are often big payoffs in non-engineering fields for those willing to swindle others with stories posing as truths — especially if the person or group being influenced doesn’t have or prefer or know how to directly access truths for themselves. One clue that this is happening is when an event doesn’t involve any violent crime or theft that truly occurred … but the source still manages to embellish facts and weave them into an emotional tale about villains, victims, and heroes. If a source turns something into such a narrative, it means that source has an agenda to shape your identity and allegiance with a movement through opinion on that subject — and certainly not to supply unvarnished facts so that you may have your own emotions and thoughts about the matter. Either that, or you are watching an action movie.
Of course, one refreshing option when confronted with narratives (and even basic facts) is to temporarily or even permanently refrain from forming any opinion at all about it.
Engineering provides innumerable opportunities to practice this tranquil nonresponse. Design engineers working together regularly and dispassionately accept a great number of physical parameters as fact before proceeding with the building of machines to operate within those parameters. There’s no room for personal preference here: Any engineer who feels offended by Newton’s second law for example probably has limited career options as well as underlying problems entirely unrelated to mass and velocity.
There are two other fantastic aspects to engineering.
1. Designs demand prioritization of top design objectives. In many non-engineering fields, an excessive amount of attention is given to anomalies, exceptions, surprising stances, dramatic contradictions, wild efforts, fantastical encounters, and other exotic issues. In contrast, the foundation of good engineering is seeing “the big picture” — with design effort allotted to a given element that’s more or less proportional to that element’s effect on the design at hand. During their work, engineers also maintain a keen understanding of how all builds require design concessions and compromises. That isn’t evidence of deep-seated prejudice against efficiency, compactness, or cost … it’s just the logical pragmatism of design optimization.
2. All engineers understand there’s complex interplay between design parameters. Such interplay demands realistic understanding of the problem to be solved and a nuanced mapping of inextricable factors. Only with these parameters collected can engineers define realistic machine output capabilities. What’s more, design challenges aren’t met with suspicion: For example, engineers building machines for washdown settings don’t cite the rusting of metal as evidence of some vast material-scientist conspiracy to sabotage the automation industry. It’s simply accepted — corrosion and oxidation just happen, man.
LISA EITEL • @DW_LISAEITEL