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Bustin' The Top 5 Engineerin' Myths

Diya Dwarakanath |
April 16, 2013 | 1:12 a.m. PDT


Not all engineers are glasses-wearing nerds. Some don't wear glasses. (Riedochse, Creative Commons)
Not all engineers are glasses-wearing nerds. Some don't wear glasses. (Riedochse, Creative Commons)
Yesterday was the birth anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci, the quintessential Renaissance man. He was not only a fabulous painter, but he was also a creative engineer who invented ball bearings and parachutes. The boring-yet-essential and the fun-yet-life-saving inventions capture the heart of engineering, which is as much about the technical humdrum as it is about the glittery solutions. With da Vinci at the back of my mind, I decided that it’s time to break down some of those myths about engineers, so here goes!


MYTH #5 : Engineers don’t care about social and political issues.

Reality: A major change in the U.S. patent system occurred on March 16, 2013, when the U.S. moved from a first-to-invent to a first-to-file system, the latter an almost universal standard. This profoundly impacts how engineers in companies and research labs apply for patents in the future. In addition, the U.S. National Academy of Engineering announced 14 Grand Challenges in 2008 that face 21st-century society and that require engineers to help develop feasible solutions. Even personalized learning in schools needs an engineer’s touch to make the use of technology effective and sexy (by that, I mean visually appealing).

MYTH #4: Only smart people who are good at math can be engineers.

Reality: Not necessarily. While it is nice to have, an engineer with a problem-solving attitude and critical thinking skills is more desirable than someone who can calculate a derivative. After all, that’s what calculators are for! Many engineers neither use complex mathematics in their day-to-day jobs nor enjoy solving calculus problems. But knowing how to use it when needed is why complex topics are included in any engineering curriculum, not because college professors enjoy students’ suffering (though that may be debatable).

MYTH #3: Engineers work alone on obscure projects in their basements.

Reality: Nope, they’ve moved up in the world—now they work in garages. Though Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are two engineering icons who started tinkering in their garage, it wasn’t long before they sought advice, business partners and other sharp minds to become successful. Today, engineering is all about collaboration. Working as an engineer can span the spectrum from building robots from scratch to helping a city council do their urban planning most efficiently. As you read this on an iPad, don’t fool yourself into thinking that engineering is obscure.

MYTH #2: Engineers aren’t creative.

Reality: "Creative engineers" is not an oxymoron. The word creative may not mean what you think it does. Let the words of someone wiser than me give some food for thought: “Before you can think out of the box, you have to start with a box,” says Twyla Tharp, a renowned American dancer and choreographer who has published multiple books on creativity. Creativity starts with knowing the boundaries and then breaking out of them. For engineers, creativity usually occurs in the design thinking phase of a project, but then reality kicks in. IDEO, a major design and product development firm, demonstrates in the video below how being creative means designing innovative solutions while following real-world constraints.

MYTH #1: Every engineer can fix your computer.

Reality: Unfortunately, even computer engineers can’t always fix your computer. Why? Because computers are complex machines and software is not the same as hardware. Trust me. But your engineer friend won’t want to disillusion you, so if you ask them, they’ll probably take it to a repair shop or find a friend—working in a garage, of course—to fix it and take credit for it with a wide grin when they return it to you.


Sadly, some myths are true, such as more men than women are engineers. That is precisely why I’m eagerly awaiting a female Tony Stark in this century, and in that regard, the future looks bright.


Reach Contributor Diya Dwarakanath here.



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