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Who Cares About Engineers?

Posted April 07, 2008 8:37 AM

Many engineers complain that their's is an "invisible profession." In this opinion piece, the author says "not so!" He asserts there is widespread public interest not only in engineering achievements, but in the personalities that make them happen. This is especially true when people recognize the impact such achievements may have on their lives. How can engineers better promote their accomplishments and claim their rightful share of public recognition?

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#1

Re: Who Cares About Engineers?

04/07/2008 2:41 PM

I will leave it to he who said it best:

"Ours is a great profession. There is a fascination of watching a figment of the imagination emerge through the aid of science to a plan on paper. Then it moves to realization in stone or metal or energy. Then it brings jobs and homes to men. Then it elevates the standards of living and adds to the comforts of life. That is the engineer's high privilege.

The great liability of the engineer compared to men of other professions is that his works are out in the open where all can see them. His acts step by step, are in hard substance. He cannot bury his mistakes in the grave like doctors. He cannot argue them into thin air or blame the judge like the lawyers. He cannot, like the architects, cover his failures with trees and vines. He cannot, like the politicians, screen his shortcomings by blaming his opponents and hoping that the people will forget. The engineer simply cannot deny he did it. If his works do not work, he is damned...

On the other hand, unlike the doctor, his is not a life among the weak. Unlike the soldier, destruction is not his purpose. Unlike the lawyer, quarrels are not his daily bread. To the engineer falls the job of clothing the bare bones of science with life, comfort and hope. No doubt, as years go by, people forget which engineer did it, even if they ever knew. Or some politician puts his name on it. Or they credit some promoter who used other peoples money...But the engineer himself looks back at the unending stream of goodness which flows from his successes with satisfactions that few professionals may know. And the verdict of his fellow professionals is all the accolade he wants."

— Herbert Hoover
Inauguration speech 1929.

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#8
In reply to #1

Re: Who Cares About Engineers?

04/08/2008 11:43 AM

And if that doesn't bring a lump to your throat, you're in the wrong profession!

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#2

Re: Who Cares About Engineers?

04/08/2008 12:17 AM

I always thought that engineers were greatly respected and appreciated by the public. It is a profession to which I could never aspire, but having spent several months in an engineering room, working side by side with several I gained even greater respect for them. Hence, I hang out here, admiring them, and learning.

An old joke somewhat tells the story: "One day the devil was out walking when he happened to see God. God asked him how things were down below, and Satan replied that they had received a couple of engineers who had installed air conditioning, swimming pools, etc. and Hell was really tolerable now. God said "How did you get engineers?" Satan replied, "Well they came by mistake, but we're gonna keep 'em."

God said, "Oh no you're not. You have to send them back." After a couple of exchanges of comments God said, "If you don't send them back, I'll get a lawyer and sue you and make you return them." Satan replied, "heh, heh, heh, heh, where you gonna get a lawyer?"

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#20
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Re: Who Cares About Engineers?

05/18/2008 11:33 AM

Brilliant joke!

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#3

Re: Who Cares About Engineers?

04/08/2008 7:39 AM

Engineer is silent worker, who works in hostile envoirment to finish his job.He rarely gets recognised by general public for his achivements except a award by his own organisation. He does not bother to get personal exposer to media or public in general he is busy quitely finishing tasks assigned to him.

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#4

Re: Who Cares About Engineers?

04/08/2008 8:02 AM

I would say that engineering is a respected and rewarding career. But when it comes time to hand out the accolades the sales types are always better at convincing others that it was their efforts that produced the results. There are reasons for this. Engineering tends to be a collaborative effort. Marketing and sales (and law) tend to be individualistic and competitive.

Net result is that engineers tend to be well off on average but very few good engineers get the perks that a good salesman will get.

We could get into outsourcing engineering to the lowest bidder as well, but I won't open that can of worms...

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#5

Re: Who Cares About Engineers?

04/08/2008 8:04 AM

An engineer has the problem that he loves what he does, and he will do it for less money if he has no choice, give others the credit, just for the love of his job.

The biggest problem is: the others know this and will act to this knowledge.

In many companies you can only go up in the ranking if you handle money of people, but the true enables of the company are mostly "forgotten" as they will continue to do their job without the big recognitions.

A true engineer is born as an engineer and will die as and engineer just like a nurse.

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#6

Re: Who Cares About Engineers?

04/08/2008 8:55 AM

Does it really matter? There have been many unsung hero's among and in the profession. Most we will never know and a few we could have done without but on the whole with a little attention to detail from the birthingroom to the crematorium you will find us there, very few eco's could go green without us!

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#7
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Re: Who Cares About Engineers?

04/08/2008 9:43 AM

Does it matter? When you get laid off at the same time senior management is getting bonuses it matters.

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#9
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Re: Who Cares About Engineers?

04/08/2008 12:36 PM

Damn straight.

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#10

Re: Who Cares About Engineers?

04/09/2008 12:50 AM

Here's a thought;

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if all engineers were unionized?

Not that I'm advocating it, it's just that engineers are notoriously poor self-promoters.

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#11
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Re: Who Cares About Engineers?

04/09/2008 1:00 AM

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if all engineers were unionized?

To what end?

it's just that engineers are notoriously poor self-promoters

Isn't that part of what professional societies are for? A coordinated network of professionals to promote the interests of a specific discipline? Are you suggesting more of an umbrella society that covers al disciplines of engineering? I can imagine a huge organization that regulates education, licencing and placement of engineers in industry. One that has complete control of the supply of talent and so can control the price. Sounds a little like the original masonic order to me.

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#16
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Re: Who Cares About Engineers?

04/22/2008 12:13 PM

However, I would suggest engineers are better self promoters than physical sciences.

The US government early on made sure that unionization of engineering and sciences would not occur. This is why they set up some of the professional technical organizations themselves through acts of congress, e.g. American Chemical Society. The government realized early on in the unionization of industries that unions in science and engineering might severely adversely effect profits and slow business development and change the dynamic of wealth accumulation, and since advancements in these fields are necessary for the advancement of a society it represents is security risk to the country (and the wealthy families of that time), unlike construction, coal mining or automotive manufacturing which are mass production, use unskilled labor pulled from the masses, and only minorly effected profits to the owners relative to the popularity amongst the voting masses.

Professional societies do not really promote anything, and most of the engineering societies (like ASCE) appear to spend more effort promoting the marketing eforts and management of large engineering corporations than anything to do with the engineering. ASCE spend more effort on the most profitable and largest engineering corporations listings, trends in the business market, projects wins, etc., than they do on the actual project accomplishments. They make no distinction between marketers or managers who claim to be engineers and engineers, and thus they include the wages for all in their lists of pay scales. I have never heard of ASCE working to increase the technical professionals wages or benefits by actively lobbying congress (they don't even make a distinction between technical professionals, management and marketing/sales in the industry).

Unionization would promote higher wages amongst those technical professions, making it harder for marketing and management to retain mediocre staff from them to oversee their efforts and market their corporations. The truth is they need the technical professionals to do any work at all, but the management and marketing is a luxury to facilitate higher productivity amongst the technical professionals. If the technical professions were better wage earners, then who would do the management and marketing so the executives could waste corporate funds on their mistresses. Plus there are times when you need to hire someone to get the job done fast with out the overtime costs and such eating into your profits, unions tend to force stricter tiered pay scales relative to actual time worked and require better benefits than most corporations would like to be forced to provide (again you would be eating away at corporate profits and executive benefits, and as we know American executive are in a bad situation as it is).

Alternately, the down side is that unions tend to stiffle advancements as they see these as reducing union labor force employment (and their dues paid), and they tend to be highly corrupted by organized crime (though maybe a union of highly educated tehnical people might not be as susceptible as the trade unions to organized crime).

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#12

Re: Who Cares About Engineers?

04/09/2008 3:34 AM

I will not recommend engineers being unionised. Unions, as per my experience had negative approaches such as :- 1. Only self interest not bothered about inconvinence to public in general or nation. 2. There had been political interference and exploitation by political parties. 3.Corrouption among union leaders. 4. In fights between unions. So I would suggest a International Institution of Engineers having local bodies and chapters. Purpose should be to promote Engineering Profession, built a network of engineers, conduct local meetings and social gatherings, collect funds for charitiable causes and helping students by giving scholarships, Giving awards for achivements by local engineers, liasioning with media for promotion of our profession. Well it is my wild thought others can give comments/ suggestions.

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#13
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Re: Who Cares About Engineers?

04/09/2008 7:59 AM

Are you describing union leaders or the management of any major corporation? In any major corporation I would think that a professionals union could be a good thing. Yes, any activity taken to extremes is counter-productive. On the other hand there does need to be some counterbalance to the senior managers of major corporations who, in general, act as their own union.

My observation has been that unions are at their worst when management is trying to have their bonuses whilst blaming the union for the ills of the company. The union will then react in the ways you describe.

In companies I've worked for that had "enlightened management," e.g. we really are a team, the goal is to be successful and the results for the stakeholders will follow; these are the companies that don't need unions.

In companies where the management is busy trying to manipulate the results to boost their bonuses - that's where unions are necessary.

Nobody is going to care for the engineers unless the engineers take care of themselves.

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#15
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Re: Who Cares About Engineers?

04/10/2008 8:24 AM

Dear Eric, I am narrating my 33 years working experience in engineering industries located in India. May be in your country or whereever you have worked unions were responsible and protecting the interest of employees. You are right if management is interested in filling only their pockets, then it is highly objectionable.In such situation union has to protect interest of all employees.. Suresh Sharma.

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#14

Re: Who Cares About Engineers?

04/09/2008 8:46 AM

If memory serves (always a chancey proposition!) back when "engineering" meant "mechanics" and a good blacksmith or motor repairman qualified as an engineer, they had a craft guild (perhaps plural) that was/were the forerunner of both unions and professional associations. Due to both specialization and ratcheting up of qualifications, "we" kind of got away from that, but maybe the concept is once again valid. At least to the point of being worth discussion. Especially here, where we seem to have the fabric available for the creation of such a guild close at hand...

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#18
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Re: Who Cares About Engineers?

05/06/2008 11:45 AM

I suspect you would find too much resistance to such ideas, as any unionizing efforts amongst active professionals would cause issues for those in management who are relatively inactive but want the status and title (there are many times more engineers functioning as project managers than engineers, but still have the title). Additionally, companies use the title to retained skilled people for many non-engineering tasks, and do not want to restrict it to those tasks described by the State board let alone a union. On top of this, since the formation of unions began the US government has strongly opposed the formation of any professional guilds for technical professionals. Technical guilds would cause wage increases and issues much like the actors guilds, but since engineering is necessary for a society to advance, and art is not, the technical guilds would adversely effect the advancement of american business profits and society unless pay scales. You would create a change in society that does not favor the masses or wealthy business profits, and politicians need two things the favor of the masses and the favor of the very wealthy businesses. The dynamic could also change how wealth is acquired, moving more wealth towards the educated technical professionals and less towards sales/marketing/legal/ and artistic professions. Technical professionals are more skilled at managing money, and irrational spending is something modern governments depend on to keep the economy moving.

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Re: Who Cares About Engineers?

05/07/2008 1:26 PM

"The dynamic could also change how wealth is acquired, moving more wealth towards the educated technical professionals and less towards sales/marketing/legal/ and artistic professions. Technical professionals are more skilled at managing money, and irrational spending is something modern governments depend on to keep the economy moving."

Bloody optimist!

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#17

Re: Who Cares About Engineers?

05/06/2008 9:59 AM

Fat paycheck!!!

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#21

Re: Who Cares About Engineers?

05/16/2010 12:35 PM

Re. unions ... like for everything in this world, it's all contextual. Engineers at Atomic Energy Canada noticed in 70s-80s that technicians were getting big raises and that engineers weren't. After this had gone on for years, the engineers unionized and got a fairer deal out of it.

They went on strike once in the 90s (pay again, I think, and maybe pensions), but apart from that things stayed pretty quiet.

Cheers! DZ

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#22

Re: Who Cares About Engineers?

05/16/2010 12:42 PM

Keep in mind that jocks and nerds (including engineers) rule the world. Really, they do ...

One extreme case is China. Ever noticed the very high percentage of top political bosses there who are engineers? Hu Jintao, the current Head Honcho is one. So was Zhu Rongzhi. And many other El Almost Supremos are, too.

This makes eminent sense in controlled economies ... people who 'think properly' by training and inclination (which means professionals in general, with emphasis on technical ones) are favoured . Doesn't make for a democratic and long-term-stable society ("Listen, you. I'm telling you to do this because I really DO know better than you; and it's for your own benefit, too!")

China ... THE great example of a society being grown and developed as explicitly planned by engineers.

Cheers! DZ

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#23
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Re: Who Cares About Engineers?

05/17/2010 4:30 AM

They used to rule the world, now it are the accountants who rule it.

Why do you think that BP keeps on failing to solve the problem with the oil spill? (or even why did it happen after all?)

To much financial driven decisions.

When real engineers would have decided they wouldn't be drilling in deep waters. way to complex and risky.

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