Engineers as Loner-Loser-Uncultured-Geeks - Not!

Remember being shunned at college (at least in England) for being an engineer (or scientist) by the oh so trendy arts and humanities crowd? I do. We geeks were characterized as uncultured loners and losers. Well I've been re-examining the evidence and I think we should have stood our ground and turned this whole loner-loser-uncultured-geek thing on its head and fired it right back at the arts and humanities posse.

Buzz Aldrin and Apollo 11 Lunar ModuleEngineers Did This: Apollo 11 Moon LandingImage courtesy of NASA


Engineers as loners is simply not true. The earliest days on my path to engineer-dom were characterized by team work - whether it was group lab activities or group design and build contests - it was always in a team. In industry too, teams are the domain of engineers - how else would you conceive, design, and build something of the magnitude of the Apollo Moon Missions? Contrast this with the lone author or lone artist working on their masterpieces - no mention of team work there. Seems to me we engineers were characterized as loners by those who more aptly fit the description and yet somehow it stuck to us.


Ok, maybe there's something here if you frame it in terms of a popularity contest amongst teenagers - where historically would-be engineers haven't faired too well. However, I prefer the idea that engineers are slow starters but persistent - life is not a sprint, it's a marathon. As we engineers mature we are classed as highly valued citizens - making something from nothing - a stretch for many of the arts and humanities set that became lawyers and politicians. Let's rerun those popularity contests now!


Why is it that culture seems to be defined in terms of the frivolous? Things like what you wear, how you look, your grasp of the classic writings of Shakespeare et al, or appreciation of paintings from bygone times. It's because engineers have better things to do. Culture is defined by those who have little grasp of everyday reality because they don't have to, so they levitate towards the frivolous. Whereas engineers are a different breed - from the people for the people - attempting to ever improve or provide new innovations for the human condition, whether it be a vacuum cleaner or a car.


Ok, I'll admit that I prefer numbers and equations to words and sentences, but so what? How is it that numbers and equations equals geek yet words and sentences equals a higher purpose? I'm willing to write reports and make presentations if it serves a practical purpose such as the communication of a new design or the findings from a series of tests. As an engineer it's a duty instilled in us from our first days at college to share insights with the team in whatever form helps get the message across.


On a daily basis we are surrounded by the works of engineers - you name it, from light bulbs to airplanes - we engineers are responsible for a lot of the world around us and on the whole it's for the better.

I know it's probably time I moved on, and now I can finally having let my thoughts loose. I'm proud to say I'm an engineer no matter what anyone else thinks - really I'm over it...


Not so geeky freaky engineer

I love your article on not-so-geeky-engineers, but I'm proud to say that as a long time practicing engineer, we Civils considered ourselves different. Geeks yes! But different.
At college, the civils, mechanicals, electricals and chemicals were all an obviously different breed from each other and stood out as such, almost as much as one's skin colour.
We civils partied hard, drank profusely, pranked often, injured ourselves at sport, got busted for speeding in our hot cars or bikes, had equally hot girlfriends, yet we all managed to graduate and many have gone on to achieve greatness, one of my college mates even achieved the status of engineer of the year.
I'm probably more of a geek NOW as I get older and slow down more, but the geek in me lives on, as I love to sit with an equally geeky engineer mate and pontificate over mathematical conundrums, solve unsolvable problems and design the most obscure things while our wives sit and chat over the grandkids.
Whether we're closet geeks or out-there geeky geeks, long live the Engineer geek.

Nice article

Very nice article. I enjoyed reading it.


Rich, I'm going to have to take issue with your classification of "the writings of Shakespeare" and "paintings from bygone times" as frivolous. What stereotypically makes engineers seem uncultured is their awkwardness when dealing with other people, their slovenliness, and their general inability to communicate orally or in writing. Just as we mock lawyers or doctors or politicians for their complete lack of understanding of scientific principles or engineering in the world around us (for example, the infamous "the internet is a series of tubes" comment), we too should be equally mocked for not having a basic understanding of the arts (whether that's music or film or books or painting), geopolitics, and other related topics. For reference, I recommend C.P. Snow's The Two Cultures.

I take issue with your

I take issue with your assessment of Lawyers and Politicians not being valued citizens. Maybe people say they hate them, but just like bad boys get all the [Edit: action] while nice guys get [Edit: rained on], the squeaky wheels get the grease. Americans love powerful people. I'm an engineer and I hate it. I have no power, all I do is develop technology that lawyers, politicians, businessmen and the [Edit: women] who love them use to oppress me with. Now I'm 30 years old and I'm stuck in this counter-productive career that enslaves me to this evil global socio-economic order. I should have gone to Law School and then I'd be powerful and popular.