Beyond the Technical: Reimagine the Engineer’s Tool Kit

The epistemic character of Engineering is about problem solving and crisis management and by default as an engineer I am expected to possess decent quantitative abilities as the lingua franca of science is mathematics. The social contract between the engineer and the work-place has undergone a transformation through the proportion of jobs shifts from the shop floor to the computer screen. Recently, I had been to a Steel Plant and I found 95% of all operations on the process floor automated (complex industrial process control) and that’s real brick and mortar stuff. The core metallurgical processes have not changed since the industrial revolution.

I have worked in Engineering & Policy Research Consulting for about 6+ years until now, and I have found to my surprise that science as a social institution inhabits a force field of economic, cultural and social realities that lie way beyond the lab.  Often the top leadership, whether technically trained or not (often a lawyer, accountant or a MBA) is merely focused on the quarterly results rather than the long term; a classic business strategy conundrum.  Accountability to the masters of Wall Street is more precious to your epistemic calling.

As the meta-phenomena of globalization and urbanization over the past three decades have desolated steel towns of Pittsburgh and Liverpool in the developed world, and in contrast have led to the tech boom towns of Route 128 and Silicon Valley. Manufacturing has dipped, being shipped off to the ‘Factory Girls’ of China and the automation revolution has stemmed blue-collar job creation. The ‘Myth of Manufacturing’ is real.

Nowadays engineers have to do more project management- resourcing, scheduling, and budgeting than wielding the spanner/shifter. Marine Engineers in the engine room of a Panamax have a lot more technology at their disposal which has reduced the crew of a ship to barely skeletal.

Engineering at the present is doing technology to create products which cater to the clients need, get paid and scaling up. Simple stuff, but it needs a very different mindset.

I have often heard a strain of discontent from my fellow early career technical professionals that they don’t get adequate opportunities to chart/shape the course of their technology product driven organizations. Here are a few suggestions to grow out of that inability:

  • Understand your organizational ecosystem
  • Learn to Negotiate Hard
  • Look and Talk like a Leader
  • Do not have Tunnel Vision mind-set regarding science
  • Learn to read a balance sheet
  • Keep yourself informed

Alas, the ability to learn and be agile is more crucial to your GPA. No one cares a shit about that.

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