The Calling of an Engineer

This entry was cross-posted to The Network Buzz

The Obligation will be taken on cold iron of honourable tradition, as being a solid substance of proven strength and physical characteristics.  It will not be taken on any other written works of man, but upon a product from nature, used by every engineer.
– Kipling

The month of March is a big one for the Engineering profession in Canada.  Not only is it National Engineering Month, but it is the time when most newly-graduating engineers receive their iron rings.

I had the fortune of attending a couple of events to bookend the month – a conference on Global Engineering and Engineering education at McMaster, and then the Global Engineering Innovation Symposium in Toronto.

These events make it clear to me that the engineering profession is changing.  A quote from the Toronto event sums it up quite well: innovation is no longer just about technology, but the way we use technology too.  The event used transportation as an example and case study of the interaction between technology and human behaviour; and the day was engaging and interesting – especially for those of us Torontonians =)

Earlier in the month, at McMaster, we looked at engineering education – and what is needed to update it for the 21st century.  There was a strong focus on non-technical soft skills (essential for an engineer to match technology to human behaviour), and participating in the day gave me glimpses of the engineering education that I wish I’d had.

These examples may make it sound like I am downplaying, or even eliminating, the technical work of engineers.  This is absolutely not the case.  Engineers will always a technical role to play, and our iron rings remind us of the consequences when our technical work is not sound.  But the technical alone is not enough.

EWB chapters are at the forefront of understanding human behaviour and the diffusion of technology – with both our engineer and non-engineer (honourary engineer? ;) ) members. This balance of members gives us a unique perspective, and the many engineering graduates with an EWB background gives me a strong sense of optimism.

As the Calling of an Engineer reminds us – our work, as engineers, is ultimately in the service of society.  We are not called to only play with new and cool technologies, but to find ways for these technologies to make a real difference in peoples’ lives.

Engineers have done great things in the past, and as a new generation of engineers graduate into the working world, I wish them all the best.