To Engineer is Human. Not only is this the name of a book, but it is the truth for my life, and others like me. Yes, I am an engineer, specifically a plumbing engineer, but an engineer nonetheless. The signs were there at a young age: escaping the crib and playpen, disassembling household items, occasionally reassembling those items, and fixing things the accident-prone family broke. The most important indicator was my passionate curiosity which still survives today. The anthem of the engineer is, as accurately depicted by beloved comic character Dilbert, “engineers like to solve problems. If there are no problems handily available, they will create their own problems,” and along the way we learn failure is inevitable. Failure is such a scary word, I feared it for so long, but in reality it is a starting point for further understanding. Once there, at the so called “bottom,” there is no place left to go but up, and occasionally laterally.
I am fortunate to have a mother educated in the sciences who knew the methods to engage my curiosity. I personally never knew and refused to understand gender inequality. I always thought that I was human and that professions were made for humans and not a specific gender. Although my childhood dream of being a pitcher for the Chicago Cubs was cut short, it was not because I was a girl, but because I had no pitching talent. I still believe this, and I believe the key to being a truly great engineer is to focus on engineering and problem solving and not on the petty things.
Each engineer is different. While I knew that I was destined for engineering, I had no idea how vague engineering was and is, even once I went to college. Merriam-Webster defines engineering as “the application of science and mathematics by which the properties of matter and the sources of energy in nature are made useful to people,” and defines an engineer as “a person who has scientific training and who designs and builds complicated products, machines, systems, or structures: a person who specializes in a branch of engineering.” Yep, still vague. I personally narrowed it down to a few branches based on my favorite classes: math, chemistry, and lunch (ironically lunch has not been destroyed by my vast knowledge of plumbing systems). I began my college journey on a path in industrial engineering and eventually made a turn onto another path within architectural engineering. In a bad plumbing engineering pun, you just have to go with the flow.
To all those engineers and future engineers out there, keep doing what you do. We keep things interesting, although we may tend to overthink things and miss joke punchlines. We make the world work alongside our more social and creative counterparts. So much of what we do is so vague and confusing, it is as if we are members of a secret society in which you have to be a member to understand. I salute you, all of you, and I am proud to be a member of this underworld known as “engineering.”