February, 1933


When is an Engineer Not an Engineer?


ENGINEERING schools thruout the country have the common experience that many students enter their courses without an adequate idea of what engineering is, or what it demands of its followers. Some find that they do not care for this introduction to real engineering, and drop out, after going through a troubled semester or two.

This has serious results upon both the school and the student. The energies and resources of the school are expended without producing worthwhile results. The student is disillusioned and disappointed, and he is very likely to receive the impression that he is a failure. He may be so much affected that he believes that studies of the college level are beyond him, and he may give up any thought of a college education. All of which is probably wrong, for he could undoubtedly do well in a properly chosen course.

On the other hand, there are some students who should be in engineering courses who are not there, because they do not know what engineering is. They do not realize that it would prove to be a delight to them, as well as a means of livelihood.In the first place, engineering has to do with scientific principles and is not a mere accumulation of practical experience and data. It is not a "rule-of-thumb" procedure.

We distinguish between the work of the professional engineer, and that of the mechanic, the electrician, the surveyor, the engine-driver, the operator. Engineering is not confined to the manual side of the art. The engineer must be able to plan the work of the operator, design the machine, direct the processes of construction, use Nature's products and forces safely and economically. He must be able to perceive interrelations between the facts he establishes. He must deal in quantities so large or so minute that they are difficult to comprehend.

The engineer does things by making use of scientific facts. Mathematics measures for him all of his works and products. He must accomplish his purposes economically.

It would not be an engineering feat to roll ten thousand rocks into a stream and raise the level of the water above this dam.

It would be an engineering accomplishment to raise the water to the same level by a scientifically designed and constructed concrete dam, which uses just enough material to provide a safe structure—one which will not slide on its base, tip over, break through under the hydraulic pressure, or let water scour away
the earth at its ends or beneath it.

The professional engineer must have a good sense of values. He must be practical minded. He must have some imagination. He directs the work of other men, and he must have those qualities which lead other men to respect him.

Another phase of the professional activity of the engineer is that of organization. The success of an engineering project rests not only upon the technical accuracy and completeness of its plan, but also upon the reliability of the process for its production and the plan for its use. The requirement of ability to organize may appear in the actual construction processes.

For example: if a construction engineer is directing the laying of ten miles of pavement, he will need to determine how close to the job he should mix the concrete; how many teams will be needed to haul the concrete in order to keep the mixing crew busy, as well as the spreading crew;  how far ahead material must be purchased in order to be on hand when needed; the size of each crew—and many other such points.

Failure properly to balance these several parts is wasteful of time and money, and is not good engineering.

Or take the building up of a great organization like that required to operate the American Telephone & Telegraph Company. All of the problems are involved from the study of materials to the study of men; from the science of chemistry to the science of human behavior. One must be keen-minded, accurate, and absolutely honest in using his data to arrive at correct answers to such exacting problems.

Elsewhere in this issue of the Blue Print may be found a discussion of the preliminary school work one should have before taking up engineering. I shall not go into that matter here other than to emphasize the need for English, mathematics, physics, and chemistry—and. perhaps I should say —more English!

The student should not think that a considerable mechanical skill or interest in radio, or in automobiles qualifies him to become a professional engineer. These things are indicative, and will be helpful to him, but he should search further to see if he has a real scientific curiosity, a liking for the basic studies, and an ability to do at least passably well in them. These qualifications and WORK will see him through.