An Engineering Mind


What is an engineering mind?

When it is mentioned we have fairly definite concepts. Yet, I wonder how clear they are, and how nearly the ideas of various individuals coincide. How can an engineering mind be recognized? What does it do? What are its processes and products?

In the first place, we expect an engineering mind to be analytical. It must be capable of separating the mass of material before it into elemental parts.  In order completely to understand anything, its several parts must be perceived. The analysis of a subject must precede this perception.  An engineering mind must be capable of accomplishing this.

Take this definition, copied from a textbook. It is straightforward, concise, and exact.  Do you grasp it? Can you separate its parts and determine their interrelations?
"Mu is the conductivity of the gas at the mean temperature and pressure in B.t.u. per hour per square foot of surface per degree Fahrenheit drop in temperature per foot."

The engineering mind must be logical. Its processes must conform to the laws of thought, reason, deduction. Its products must be capable of approval, upon the same grounds. For example, is it sound to build up the two definitions in the manner given below?

A certain textbook gives an independent definition for the unit of electric current, and further states:

1. "The unit of potential difference or of electromotive force is the volt, and is defined as that potential difference which when impressed across the terminals of a resistance of one ohm will cause a current of one ampere to flow."

2. "The ohm is the practical unit of resistance and is that resistance which will allow one ampere to flow if one volt is impressed across its terminals."

We demand clarity, of the engineering mind. This is a matter of thought, and also of expression. Our oral or written statements are the only materials upon which other people may judge our ability in each of these particulars.

Were they engineering minds which produced the quotations which follow?

1. "I would be pleased if you could answer me these questions of if any tests or experiments have been  made to determine which of these if any are better or superior to an other."

2. "From the foundry to the power-plant was our next inspection where the electricity, steam and compressed air was generated and tanked."

Another elemental quality expected of the engineer is that of scientific soundness, security, or reliability. An extract from another textbook comes to my mind in this connection. The twenty-seventh edition of a popular text in electrical engineering contained this statement:

"The earth's true magnetic S-pole is not coincident with its N-geographical pole, but about 1400 miles west of it."

Can you find the pole?

Or, take this statement. It, also, is taken from a much-used textbook.   Is it sound, scientifically? "Meanwhile, the speed of the motor Ma continues to rise because of its acquired momentum . . ."

The engineer's mind must be analytical, scientific, systematic, logical, clear. It must also be capable of constructive thought.   The opposite to analysis is synthesis. This process is an equally necessary one, for without it the productivity of invention, development, and vision is lost. And this power is one of the characteristics which we attach to our model engineer.

And, finally, without any claim for completeness of discussion, as we must recognize the distinct limitations of a single page, let me mention the ability to make sound judgments, proper evaluations. This attribute is complex. It rests upon the other abilities already named.  But it is sufficiently different from them to be characterized as an item in our category. The engineer's judgment is often the controlling factor in his progress.

Your mind is a very complicated mechanism, but its workings are capable of analysis. In dissecting it, you have a puzzling and intriguing task. But, if you don't take your findings too seriously, it is a profitable pastime.

America has furnished to the world the character of Washington! And if our American institutions had done nothing else, that alone would have entitled them to the respect of mankind.—Daniel Webster.