Engineers and culture

I do not know if it is widespread, but I have the feeling that engineers are often considered narrow-minded, almost illiterate. They are accused of having no interest except for the core of their activities. Consequently, most people are reluctant to speak with engineers because they know they will have no common center of interest.

This portrait is as slightly exaggeration of reality but it features some real problems.

The general culture of an engineer is not to underestimate. I can take the example of France, which I know quite well: humanities are part of the program of future engineers, of course with a weight which is ridiculous in comparison with maths or physics but it is all the same present.  But we cannot deny, that a lot of students neglect it.

In addition, non-scientist people do not know the immensity of the knowledge to acquire to master physics or math. Each area of interest is a continent. I would dare to say it is like learning a new language, it is an effort which needs concentration and time, leaving few time for other activities.

But, once more, engineers are not illiterate but they tend to hide most of their knowledge outside their field of activity. I think there is one reason for this behaviour: the engineer thinks in terms of efficiency: always find the best and fastest way to a goal, no wandering, no second-thoughts. Culture is the opposite of objective-driven work: it takes time, there no goal to reach, there is no planning to do.

There is one occasion when the engineer shows his overall knowledge: when writing his resume. Indeed he was taught, that showing signs of culture is a good thing to be hired. Thus, in this case, he is not reluctant to present his interest for sport, music, cinema. But these days, this attitude can go to some extremes: people learn a foreign language because it is good for the resume and for the work. Forget the discovery of a new culture, forget the opportunity to discuss we people from new horizons. The only interest is to put on language more in the resume’s list.

I put it to you, I exaggerate but not much. I dream of a new generation of engineers, far more open to the outside world. Instead of registering for endless Management/motivation/negotiations seminars, they attend theater plays, music performance, participate in rhetoric clubs… Not because they are forced to but because they like it. What is the impact on their work? No matter. Openness, creativity, passion are drivers of a better life.

I recommend this article: Does the engineer need culture? by J.S.  Peck (I am not sure the article is in free access).


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