The Grumpy Old Man

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Observations on Life as an Engineer in the UK

...How do you see an engineer in the UK....

When I left university with a degree in engineering I was looking forward to utilising my newfound knowledge. Previously as a young lad I had always relished making things and like many young lads, taking other things apart to see how they work.

It soon became clear in those heady days of ambition and hope for the future that "the lot" of a UK Engineer was perhaps not what I had anticipated. Being associated with the Institution of Electrical and Electronic Engineers it was soon apparent, not only from other members correspondence, but articles written by senior learned Engineers in their publications, that there was a general disenchantment of the public perception of "The Engineer". As an example of this, if one said one was an Engineer, Joe Public immediately imagined you in a greasy boiler suit holding a large spanner in an oily hand!

This was certainly not helped by firms who provided a maintenance or sometimes an installation service for domestic equipment, to say that they would "send an engineer" to fix your problem. Joe public of course didn't see anything wrong with this when in actual fact the person who was sent was invariably either a service technician, mechanic or fitter.

To put this in context, we must take a step back and look at how the nation survives. We are continually being exalted to export goods and services. I would observe that the exporting of goods, somewhere down the line, will require somebody to design a piece of kit. Not necessarily to manufacture it, just to design it. That person is The Engineer. The person who makes it afterwards is normally a technician, mechanic or fitter. In this high-tech world in which we operate I would hazard a guess that the large proportion of goods that we export have been manufactured after having been designed by an Engineer or processed somewhere down the line by a piece of machinery designed by an Engineer.

Even the service industry now relies heavily on computers. This is a good example. The computer is designed by the Hardware Engineer (who makes a one off definition of how the nuts, bolts and electronic chips should be put together), the assembly technician on the shop floor will put them together by the thousand, and then the resultant hardware will be programmed by the (one off) output of the Software Engineer.

Thus, behind every product or service we purchase or export, as a nation, lies the efforts of an Engineer. The Engineer is crucial to our current standard and way of life.

What is interesting about the whole argument is that other countries in Europe view the status of "The Engineer" as being very distinct and different to that of the technician, mechanic or fitter. In fact in Germany as well as Mr., Mrs. or Miss., one's title could be Engr. (for Engineer) thus recognising the importance of The Engineer in the overall national economic cycle. I can't fail to observe that Germany is the current economic powerhouse of Europe. Could there perhaps be a connection?

A further observation I made during my working life was that "The Engineer" needed to be far more than 'just' an Engineer. He also needed to be a Scientist to fully understand the basic properties and capabilities of the materials he was selecting to use in his solution.

Which leads me to a very simple and light hearted whimsy which exemplifies the status with which The Engineer is still, most incorrectly, viewed by UK society.

What is the difference between an Engineer and a Scientist? Well, the Engineer washes his hands before visiting the toilet, the Scientist washes his afterwards.

And Grumpy? He washes before and afterwards!

Touche, nuff sed