What's "wrong" with young engineers?

Oct. 15, 2009
Readers reply to "what's "wrong" with young engineers?

A letter from a reader posted on the recent CAD/CAM e-newsletter about "what's wrong with young engineers?" provoked a flurry of responses. Here are the comments:

  • Great commentary. Looking at the last statement: "At the risk of sounding nostalgic, maybe there is a need for "the good-old-days" skills when we used our minds, not computers, to derive answers." I would expand this statement to say, "...used our minds and our hands..." The company where I work is privately owned with several thousand employees worldwide but is headquartered in rural Ohio. I've heard the term "farmer-engineer" several times in reference to local engineering staff. A number of these individuals are actively engaged in farming on the side while working as engineers. They have a good sense of "what the appropriate answer should be" because they have twisted off a few bolts in their time. Furthermore, they are very creative, having repaired farm machinery or welded up some useful device in their farm workshop. They know from firsthand experience the effects of weld draw from excessive heating, how cracks propagate through a joint, and how the laws of physics can work for or against them. My preference: Give me an engineer who has an engineering degree but also has had a little grease under his fingernails. I've been using CAD since 1985 and absolutely love it, but without some practical common sense knowledge, computer programs only help you make mistakes faster!

  • Nothing that experience and working for an experienced engineer won't cure. These kind of errors happen all the time with new engineers — they have the "book smarts" but won't have the application smarts until they get some seasons under their belts. The concern I have is when these jobs get outsourced, who will be gaining the experience to review the work done on the other side of the globe? Companies that sell outsourcing solutions tend to work with the newest of the new. Your experienced engineers might catch their mistakes now but what are these companies going to do when their experienced engineers retire?

  • I agree wholeheartedly with your opinion. But it is not limited to young engineers. One must always step back and make a reasonableness check of their design. We get lazy and let the computer tell us what is right without questioning the answer. Of course, a few years experience designing stuff that doesn't fall down helps in making the reasonableness check. I am a professional Civil Engineer in California. Former Asst G.M. for water at the Pasadena Water and Power Dept. I had an engineering staff of about 50 people.

  • I have to agree. I went through engineering school with a calculator, but I was taught by teachers who used the slide rule. I developed an appreciation for the "old school" way of thought. I fear the engineers of today, who are being taught by "calculator guys," have less of a grasp on general physics as well as the importance of simply keeping track of your units! I walked into a lab one time and asked if there was an analog ammeter available. Everyone just about fell out of their seats. The few engineers in the room who actually knew what one was, tried to convince me to use a digital one. New engineers think that digital is the answer for everything. The real shame is that they were only a few years behind me. Sure, I'm a calculator, but let me be taught by a slide rule.

  • I was reminded of this article that was recently mentioned in a recent AMSER bulletin (if you don’t subscribe to The Scout Report and The AMSER Bulletin – both free - then may the bird of paradise fly up your nose!  ) In my experience the only serious mistake young engineers make on a regular basis is to make me look bad. But, as I am slowly turning into a curmudgeon it won’t be long before I don’t care!

  • Its the culture of "short-cuts." Our students are very lazy as well as short in patience. Fast food, fast relationships, and fast computers are the rage and respect for others and product pride is is "out." I teach at the high school level and they have 10-15 min. maximum patience levels. Food, commercials, attention from mom and dad, are all to blame. It'll get worse before getting better!

  • I couldn't agree with you more. I am currently enrolled at Madisonville Community College in the Advanced Technical Program and I can tell you for a fact that people are being pumped through it as fast as they can while just scratching the surface and not actually "learning" the how an why of much of the science involved.

  • You are right, we need to use our minds more, less computer, especially for the younger generation
    (of which i am one and plan on being one forever). I agree with too many people taking computing technology for granted and instinctively trusting the output. As it's been said many times, "garbage in: garbage out." But your claim to be "not totally 'down' on young engineers and designers" would seem a complete lie. The mere title of your editorial would claim otherwise, and your ageism, just like any other form of discrimination, is not constructive, nor well received.

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