It doesn't matter which tech company you admire, engineers largely start them all, be they hardware guys like Steve Wozniak, or software guys like Mark Zuckerberg. Imhotep, who many refer to as the first civil engineer, built the pyramids. The Wright Brothers were the creators and fathers of the aviation industry, which we now take for granted. Leonardo da Vinci was quite the engineer, sometimes credited with inventing the helicopter and the parachute, and a decent painter to boot, having knocked off The Last Supper and the Mona Lisa between engineering projects.
Those people are just a few of the reasons I am proud to count myself, and many of my friends, amongst the ranks of engineers. They are the tip of the iceberg in terms of the impact that engineers have made to our lives. They took us to the moon, yes, some famous names walked on the moon, but the engineers got them there and that was the big deal, they're the real heroes. Let's go back to the moon! They created supersonic flight, including Concorde that got you from London to New York in less than three hours. Wow, let's bring that back too…
I started my career designing printed circuit boards four days a week and attending college the other day, studying electronics engineering. This was in the days of red and blue taped PCB layouts and booking time on the college PDP-8 computer and feeding in a tape with holes in it as a program. I was lucky enough around that time to work with the people leading the computer revolution in Cambridge, England. People like Sir Clive Sinclair, who bought us the ZX80 and the Spectrum and Acorn Computers founders, Hermann Hauser, Chris Curry and Andy Hooper who created the BBC computer, which found its way into many homes and schools in the UK, a project I am proud to have worked on in a very small and probably insignificant way.
As an engineer, I learned some important skills that have served me well, I built an understanding of how things work and I developed a curiosity to explore. I've always considered myself a generalist, a little knowledge about a lot of things, rather than that ability to dive deep into one topic. (Perhaps that's why I am not working as an engineer now.) However, I would always consider myself to be an engineer at heart, applying the problem solving and innovative skills I learned then in different and new ways. Engineering taught me how to think inside and outside of the box, how to approach a problem and search for a solution and how to carry through a process. Although many that have worked with me will question my application of process. Perhaps it's just 'my' process…
The engineers I worked with back then are still good friends and many have enjoyed great success in the electronics industry. Most, I am sure, would say they still use their engineering skills in their work, even if they are not card-carrying engineers. One or two have made millions as a result of their engineering prowess and most have enjoyed an interesting and varied career.
Now is a fine time to be an engineer! At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this January there were more than 500 exhibitors in Eureka Park, the show's innovation area. Most of those founders and CEOs would consider themselves engineers first and entrepreneurs second. The democratisation of capital through crowd funding has moved power to the engineers, who we often refer to as inventors. Access to some amazing enabling technology like 3D printing is helping immensely, as is an excellent outsourced manufacturing industry and supply chain that enables those with great ideas to be supported by those ready to manufacture and fulfil those ideas. It is without doubt a wonderful time to be an engineer!
Scenes from CES Unveiled Las Vegas on January 4, 2016 at Mandalay Bay. Image Source: CES
And what's more it's cool, in a quirky way. Who doesn't appreciate Sheldon of The Big Bang Theory for his fine mind and complete lack of social skills? When Big Bang replaced Friends as TV's favourite comedy is became clear to me that 'geek-chic' is a real thing!
So, in the wake of National Engineers Week, which gave us days of inspirational quotes about, and from, those involved in engineering, let's raise a glass (that's a wine glass, not Google glass) to the engineers. Keep doing what you do, keep making things better, keep solving problems and keep creating some of the coolest stuff imaginable.
And remember, to an optimist, the glass is half full, to a pessimist, the glass is half empty, but to an engineer, the glass is simply twice as big as it needs to be.
Thank you engineers!