Thursday, June 10, 2004

Importance of Engineering and Public Relations

This blog paraphrases the full article at the link above.

Inventor Dean Kamen shared his thoughts with "The Institute" on a wide range of issues. Kamen, president of DEKA Research and Development is best known for his Segway Human Transporter, a two-wheeled rolling platform maneuvered by a standing driver.

What would you say to engineers to encourage them to participate in mentoring programs for kids?

There are two reasons for engineers to get involved. One is for their personal satisfaction. They simply will be enthralled. Engineers involved in the FIRST competition remember why they themselves became engineers. It’s fun and exciting to do engineering projects this way. You get to build an entire project from beginning to end, and you get to be a mentor and a local hero. You also get to dig back and use all those tools in the dusty attic of your engineering background. Most engineers today in their real jobs are focused on long-term, serious projects.

The other reason is that it’s an engineer’s professional responsibility to give kids some sense of what the future can hold, and what they are missing if they dream their lives away about the world of entertainment or sports. By the age of 17 or 18, these kids will reach an unrecoverable state.

While the engineering profession has earned an A+ for contributing to society, we get a D for communicating to the public and in particular to kids about what is important.

Engineers keep the lights on, literally. We keep the water drinkable, the airplanes in the air and not crashing into each other. The world virtually would stop if all the engineers took a vacation on the same day. I think the engineering profession gets an A+ for creating a standard of living and allowing us to take for granted that the lights are on or the water is fine.

I think engineers have to be a voice to the next generation. They will never be as loud a voice as the world of entertainment or sports; entertainers are masters at it. Engineering will never be as loud a voice as the world of sports, but there needs to be a venue where engineers and scientists can show kids what an engineering career is all about. If professional engineers of the world aren’t willing to tell them about engineering, who will?

Although the article focuses on children it also applies to all those people around you. Jump at the opportunity next time someone asks for help with technology, whether that be buying a new computer, fixing a problem, or creating a website. The reason is that you will gain better communication skills and develop YOUR knowledge of technology the more you can teach and show other people. You'll also gain their respect and appreciation, and who knows, it could lead to future JOB opportunities!! This is what we call "kindness marketing" - help someone for free, and be repaid many many times the value of your time in the future by being informed about new opportunities, information, etc. You never know! Think of it as investing in your future.

How can a professional organization like the IEEE help?

I would give the IEEE an A+ for talking to, among, and between engineers about engineering issues. The IEEE gets a D for having the world understand what it does and how important and successful it is.

For example, when Hollywood gives out the Academy Awards, they invite more than just the people who make and produce the movies. I’d argue that the Academy Awards program is nothing but a four-hour commercial that shows the world what the movie industry does and gets the world to support them. When sports teams induct people into their Halls of Fame, they care that the general public sees their ceremony.

When the IEEE has a big awards event, it’s extraordinary electrical engineers who are telling other extraordinary engineers what extraordinary work they’ve done. The public is unaware of their activities. As a consequence, our culture is dominated by nonsense that it is not sustainable. Where is the voice of the IEEE, the ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers), the NAS (National Academy of Sciences), and the NAE (National Academy of Engineers)? Where are the professionals who need to have some kind of context for the general public to be involved with and engaged in what they do?

That is a long way of saying the IEEE is a fantastic organization, it’s more important to the world than the National Basketball Association, but it’s less understood and less known, and shame on the IEEE and all the other professional societies for letting that happen.

So as professionals in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) field as engineers, programmers, etc it is our responsibility to raise the awareness of the public of our contribution to society. This is one of the main goals of Macquarie IT Society (MITS) to promote I.T. at Mac Uni.

Do you fault the universities for not teaching the soft skills?
Universities decide on a set of skills to teach. They have too little time to teach students too many things, and—right or wrong—universities specialize.

This is where Macquarie IT Society (MITS) comes in - to help students at Macquarie University to develop these essential "soft skills" such as business accumen, effective communication skills, team building and much more. If you're not a member yet - join now. And if you are a member already - start getting active with our management activities by contacting one of our staff. More info at