"Engineering" is Broader Than We Think.

We should have a more comprehensive view of the word engineering.

Question: What do you think of when you hear the word engineering? or what type of first image do you have in mind when you hear the word engineer?

2 most common mental images from the people I asked this question to are:

  1. a guy wearing safety hat and yellow vests;
  2. a guy wearing hoodie sitting in front of a computer.

The funny thing is, I’ve been coding for a long time and still doing a lot of programming everyday, tho I don’t consider myself a typical programmer wearing hoodies and thinking in bits all day, those two types of people are my first mental images of engineers as well.

So “engineering” is doomed to be boring? There might be a different way to look at it.

But what is it engineering tho? Well, according to Wikipedia:

Engineering is the application of knowledge in the form of science, mathematics, and empirical evidence, to the innovation, design, construction, operation and maintenance of structures, machines, materials, software, devices, systems, processes, and organisations.

The mentioned applications like structures, machines, materials, software, devices, etc, we are all familiar with, this is kind of where the yellow vest worker or the programmer in hoodie images come from. But what’s interesting is the mentioning of systems, processes, and organisations, because they are not just only the description of bits or components, but how something works & behaves as well.

Now, what’s that something?

To put it simply, this something can be treated as energy, or the process of how the energy flows & transforms.

Let me explain.

Think of a water powered hammer:

water powered hammer

courtesy: primitive tech

It’s a water powered hammer in the photo. Let’s assume that you want to crack some nuts with it. You put the nuts in the bowl, and every 30 seconds the hammer gets lifted up by the water in the log, drops down when water leak out and then hit the nuts.

The nuts, the log, the water, and the stone, all these elements are still in the jungle. So what changed? The nuts are cracked open, and we’ve got one happy you.

There are many ways to view the world, or to view anything you encounter in the world. One simple and general but very effective way of thinking about it is treating objects in the world as an IO (input/output) process. Sounds very geeky? Not really.

IO basically means you take an input, and then you get an output. In between, you can do whatever you like to effect the output based on the input you get. An IOer can simply be anything (tho they can be simple or complex):

  • your computer. you type things in it, it performs certain tasks for you;
  • your car. you hit the gas, it moves; you stir the wheel, it turns;
  • you. you read this post, you come to an conclusion whether you like it or not, whether you agree what I said or not.
  • etc.

Like Steve Job said once, you may find out that life is much broader than you think, and when you poke it from one side and there will be something pop out on the other side, you’d find how amazing it is and how much effect of what you do can have in this world.

And engineers are systematic poke-ers, they do something to make something pop out on the other end, and what popped out effects our lives, good or bad.

Which leads to my point, that we are all engineers, one way or another, we just vary in qualities, expertise.

Writers are engineers, like Ernest Hemingway, they construct words to express feelings, arouse emotions of the audience to make us feel something. So as painters construct colours, shapes.

Entrepreneurs are engineers, like Steve Jobs, they construct products, services, companies, to provide values to the market, to figure out the right way to meet the customers’ needs, ultimately to effect our work & lives.

Stand-up comedians are engineers, like Chris Rock, they construct jokes, that pike you so hard that makes you can’t stop laughing.

That’s why I always tell people (and I truly believe this), that Everything in nature, and every field in the human world, is interconnected. You can always take inspiration from one field and apply it to another field that might seem completely different and make something work, even though it might seem unconventional to other people who forgot to look outside the box they live in.

Engineering is the universal form of creation. As long as it involves planning, structuring, and stitching little pieces/components together.

That’s why, leaning the HOW and WHY of something from someone is much more beneficial and useful than just learning the what. Because the what changes often though out time, but the HOW rarely changes, or changes very slowly.

Couple of examples:

  • the skills of How to write is as essential as thousands of years ago, but what you write with (pen & paper back then definitely, keyboard now most probably);
  • the philosophies in Sun Zi’s Art of War are still extremely relevant to current affairs, even tho it was put together by an ancient Chinese man;
  • Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations still delivers great perspectives to whoever read it.

I’ll write more about the HOW in a future post.