Thursday, 16 December 2010

Defining Engineering

Last week I went down to London for a very special event: the Institute of Engineering and Technology's award ceremony for the Young Woman Engineer of the Year. (Before you ask, no, I didn't win anything. Everyone seems to ask that!)

It's funny because I've never really thought of myself as an 'engineer' but, since I moved into a computer science department, I've been hearing the term more and more. Software engineering, of course... and there's even a journal called Natural Language Engineering which is very much my field. But as I got ready to go out and celebrate the stories of other young women in a variety of engineering disciplines, I wondered if I was going to feel out of place.

It turned out the opposite was true. When I found myself nattering with other girls I'd just met, getting excited together about the prospect of purple steel-toecapped boots (made in women's sizes, for once!), I knew I'd found kindred spirits. It was great to be in a room full of people who - whatever their branch of engineering - seemed to think like me. And it was nice to have girls in the majority for a change! (though, strangely, several of the companies sponsoring the event hadn't even managed to find any young female engineers to represent them)

Thinking more about the definition of engineering, it seems to be mostly about making stuff, and/or working out how to make it. Well, that's very me! But I think it also includes a lot of other women who wouldn't necessarily think of themselves as engineers - anyone who's done knitting or dressmaking, for starters. Fabric engineering, anyone...?


Anonymous said...

Proper tailoring _is_ engineering, believe me. You're taking something flat and making it fit something three dimensional that moves...

Red-haired hiker said...

Engineering, to me, is about figuring out how stuff works, then building other stuff that works better. This can just as easily be abstract systems like teams and business processes as it can be actual systems like a 1940s tea-dress or a knitting pattern that REALLY would work better the way I've decided to make it.

I used to want to be an aerospace engineer. I've drifted sideways into business analysis, which uses a lot of the same principles, but without all that boring stuff like how wide the i-beam needs to be and what tensile-strength steel you need to support the weight of the structure it's part of,

Jim Murdoch said...

My wife was an engineer for many years and so I wrote this poem for her:


      She engineered the words with care
      a mechanical act
      but an act of love nonetheless

      putting them into her poems
      assembling verbs and nouns
      until they run like model trains

      destined to derail in dark tunnels.

      16 March, 1997

Ginny said...

I think you've just boosted the self esteem of a lot of us, we now have a legitimate brainy title!! I'm such a forgetful bumbler, wish I had someone like you to call on when I'm in a fix! Think you could move in next door? I'm glad you had so much fun!

Tabor said...

Put engineers and biologist in the same room working on the same project and your head can explode!

Louiz said...

Lovely:) I do know someone who regularly used to put her profession down as "domestic engineer" for that reason (although she originally took the title when extremely cross with a repairman who assumed that "as you're a housewife you can wait around all day until I arrive" - this was during the 70s though).

Jeanne said...

I suppose I'm a software engineer, but I generally just think of myself as a computer programmer.

And it seems to me entirely likely that you'd win this award.

Or any other.

Slamdunk said...

I have lots of respect for engineers of all types--since I am just a liberal arts graduate.

Galit Breen said...

I love that you found solidarity (and purple toecapped boots!). That's so-very-important no matter what arena we're defining ourselves in!

And as for engineers? Hmm- I've heard domestic engineers? There has to be something for packing a diaper back or cooking and ingredients? LOL I think I'll leave the definitions to the expert: YOU! Greta post! :)

Joey @ Big Teeth and Clouds said...

I'm married to an engineer so my criteria might be a bit different. Engineers have special social skills compared to us ordinary folks. I'm not sure I'd want to throw the word around the general population!

Alice Braga said...

You've literally inspired poetry here. And a thoughtful discussion.

As serendipity would have it, "tranquility engineer" showed up in my journal the other day. How's that for expanding the definition?

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