Wednesday, January 21, 2009
The Makers of Things
My husband, Alan, and I were struck by how inspirational as well as inclusive President Obama's speech was. We got renewed inspiration to continue our careers as nerds who make things by this paragraph:
"Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted -- for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things -- some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom."
Obama's speech indirectly mentioned people from all walks of life -- scientists, educators, farmers, and yes, engineers! If you are one, you know what I mean. Engineers make things.
I used to be an engineer, and I sort of consider myself one still, even though these days my creations consist mostly of training classes and websites, rather than the software or network designs that I used to develop. (I'm getting TOGAF-certified next week, though, for what it's worth. The A in TOGAF is for architecture, which is similar to engineering, though different also).
What does engineering mean exactly? What makes a good engineer, I wonder? Persistence, problem-solving skills, a structured mind that thinks in terms of systems are all required qualities. What else?
A good engineer designs systems that are maintainable, scalable, usable, affordable, and safe. A good engineer analyzes requirements and constraints and develops a system that meets specified objectives. Good engineers test their designs in a systematic way and optimize the results if the performance needs tweaking. Good engineers have criteria for recognizing when a test succeeds. What else can we say about engineers? They make good spouses, lovers, and friends, even though many of them don't have good social skills. But they know how stuff works and can fix broken things. They are reliable, realistic, knowledgeable, helpful, and in my opinion, great fun to be around!
Artists make creations that delight the senses and evoke emotions, but if they also apply science and technology to the development of systems that meet stated objectives, then they are engineers. They are the makers of things.