I thought I’d start out by addressing a few of the Engineering Myths / Stereotypes that I hear all the time. Feel free to add to the list via the comments section. Once we meet a critical mass, I’ll compile everything together and make it available for download and distribution. Ultimately, I’d like to get the truth put into the hands of High School students who are thinking about becoming an engineer.
MYTH: Engineers have no soft skills. They are introverted and difficult to work with.
REALITY: If you are thinking of being an engineer, you need to think of yourself as a leader, not a cubicle dwelling, anti-social, door mat.
In today’s reality, engineers are the new leadership class. Don’t believe me? Well, consider a recent survey of the S&P 500 CEOs by the global executive search firm SpencerStuart. Of these 500 key corporate leaders, nearly a quarter (23%) were educated as engineers and computer scientists.
In fact, engineering is the most common college major among S&P 500 CEOs, with the number two, not surprisingly being business administration (15%).
However, when you appropriately adjust for the relative numbers of majors (U.S. colleges and universities award four times as many business degrees as engineering degrees) you uncover a striking fact: A young college graduate with an engineering degree is approximately six times more likely than a graduate with a business degree to become a CEO of an S&P 500 corporation – and not just among traditional engineering companies. ExxonMobil may be headed by an engineer (Rex Tillerson, BSCE), as is Texas Instruments (Richard Templeton, BSEE) and Raytheon (William Swanson, BSIE), but engineers are also running financial institutions like Wells Fargo (Richard Kovacevich, BSIE) and Harford Financial Services (Ramani Ayer, BSChemE) as well as insurance giant Progressive (Glenn Renwick, BSME). The list goes on and on.
MYTH: Engineers are Geeks.
REALITY: No. Engineers are nerds, not geeks. A geek is someone whose passions/obsessions are outside the mainstream (i.e. Star Trek geek, WOW geek). A nerd is someone with above average intelligence and debatable social skills. An Engineer is a nerd by default. The degree of social awkwardness is usually offset by personality, confidence, and hanging out in the right social circles. An engineer CAN be a geek…but it isn’t a prerequisite to the profession. They don’t call us Enginerds for nothing.
MYTH: Engineers must love math
REALITY: This simply isn’t true. Engineers need to be good at math, but that doesn’t mean they like doing it. My wife, a fellow engineer, states it beautifully: “Engineering requires the fortitude to enthusiastically apply your energy toward a task you find undesirable.” Engineers are valuable to businesses because they don’t balk at difficult assignments and will dig in to find a solution. The advanced math classes merely test your resolve. But you only have to enjoy the journey, not the subject.
MYTH: Engineers aren’t creative people.
REALITY: This is the core myth that this blog strives to address. I think too many “artistic” people shun the profession because they feel that all the creativity will be sucked out of them once they start working. Of course, every organization can use more logical, intelligent, creative thinkers on the payroll. The profession needs to open itself up more to the creative, but detail oriented, individuals out there.
MYTH: Engineering is boring work.
REALITY: Well, it depends on where you work. At various points in my career, I’ve either loved my job and hated to go home or I sat watching the clock, waiting for it all to be over. I suppose the same is true for any career or job. I mean, it is a JOB, not a stroll on the beach. However, the main reason I think that engineering is an exciting career is because of its flexibility. After all, at it’s core, engineers are problem solvers and thinkers. Every corner of your organization can use someone with an engineering head. Your only tether is your ambition.
MYTH: Engineering is a male-dominated profession.
REALITY: I don’t have the stats in front of me, but I’m sure there are more males in the profession than there are females…but things are quickly changing. In fact, some of the best engineers I’ve ever worked with have been women. It must have something to do with the combination of technical prowess and actual human emotion, which is often lacking from their male counterparts. If you happen to be interested, check out the Society of Women Engineers.
MYTH: Engineering school is difficult.
REALITY: Engineering is brutal, not difficult. Imagine a class of over-achieving individuals, hailing from every corner of the globe and all speaking different languages, coupled with an instructor who is mumbling in a defunct dialect and is a little upset that he must take time away from his research in order to lecture whiny undergrads. Throw in a difficult subject matter, a vicious curve, and a sprinkling of enormous egos…and you have one frothy broth. It’s not for the faint of heart, but nothing prepares you for the reality of the business world like an engineering degree.