The USS Quad Damage

The crapification of engineers

I take a guess that Engineers are crappy now. Am I right? Only time will tell...

I think the best Mechanical engineers were around a long time ago, around about when cars, washing machines, and fridges were first invented and gaining popularity. What you have now are a handful of brilliant minds and a whole lot more engineers who really don’t know what they’re talking about, when compared with these core engineers who were around at the dawn of Mechanical Engineering. Similarly with Electrical Engineering, the best were spawned around 30 odd years ago. Today you’ll have the brilliant few who still have “it”, and the rest, who may understand the content but are a far cry from that core group.

I believe that we’ve seen the best ever Software Engineers. In 20 years, graduates of Software Engineering will be brilliant, or they will be overwhelmingly disappointing compared to us. To be clear, this is merely belief, but it seems borne out in both the innovations in certain fields, as well as, let’s say “personal statistics”. I also have a bit of a reason for believing this stuff:

When solving the physical problems was the domain of children, like mechanical problems in those days, those children would grow up to become mechanical engineers. Some kid may have been able to fix a fridge or service a car, or even invent some kind of simple mechanical solution to a problem. Back then, you didn’t have Electronics to solve problems, so things like doorbells, clocks, etc. would all have been mechanical problems to solve. As such, those that did really well in university / college would have done well beforehand in solving their everyday problems with mechanical engineering. In effect, they would have known some of their art before even starting college. The reason for this is the low barrier to entry and creating value. I suspect a lot of the old-skool awesome mechanical engineers were (hobbyist) watchmakers.

But why solve a problem mechanically when you can solve it electrically? The electrical and electronic industries took off and left mechanical solutions in the dust. Carburettors gave way to EFI, Washing machines, watches, doorbells, as well as a slew of devices which mechanical engineering could not solve. I reckon in this age, kids would’ve played with transistors to build their radios, or amplifiers, or some such. I suspect a lot of old-skool awesome electrical engineers are also into ham radio.

But why solve a problem using electronics, when you can just write an app? The software industries took off and left Electronics applications in the dust. Specific circuit boards gave way to standards compliant technologies and VLSI. You can even get an alarm clock with an internet connection now, and I suspect a lot of devices contain a CPU where previously they would’ve needed none. Kids these days would’ve played around in BASIC or C or assembler to write some programs to solve some simple problems. I suspect a lot of old-skool awesome software engineers have also been in the demoscene.

As time went on, the technologies involved in each of these fields became muddied with more knowledge, and more sophisticated. One of the things a lot of engineers push for, without saying so, is this idea that the technology which enables the field must remain tinkerable in order to allow a new wave of awesome engineers to be formed. With cars having a cover over the engine, and a lot of important parts such as spark plugs, filters, etc. a sense of wonder is not created for mechanical engineering. Similarly for electronics, with large scale integration, and similarly for software, with polished UIs and no direct view into the parts which go into making the machine.

Once we abstract away the hard drive, the RAM, and other parts, people will fail to know of their existence, and fail to be entranced into the field. I understand that part of what I’m saying is that today’s teaching methods (at least for Engineers) are fairly ineffective. This is sort of true. While teaching Engineering is very effective, it is really only good for filling in the depth of knowledge that turns a tinkerer into an Engineer. It is not good for making a tinkerer in the first place. Importantly, it does not give one a good intuition for working in that field, something vital in Engineering.