Friday, 11 January 2013

Engineering Methods in Life

Design, build, fix, as engineers this is what we spend the majority of our time doing. We enjoy problems, we enjoy solving problems, contemplating issues and devising eloquent solutions for them. I am sure that if more political types were engineers the nations of the world would run much smoother. There are a lot of situations in life where engineering best practices and methodologies can be easily applied and the results positive; however, there are those times when these applications produce somewhat undesirable, if not comical results.

To me some of the most humorous situations arise when engineering concepts are applied to social situations. I had a college friend who spent weeks designing a dating flowchart, that he was convinced would help him improve his success with woman. He never told any of the women who he went out with about his flow chart, or that it was a work in progress, though he did a good job of keeping true to the process. Oddly enough he is still single, but when we get together he always has the best stories about the single life. My understanding is that he is still working on perfecting his process; though he is in graduate school now working on a MS in systems engineering so maybe he can tie it into his thesis somehow.

I have had periods in my life when I have allocated a fair amount of time to exercising; and of course the engineer in me took over each of those times. I would do ample research on the best ways to work out and the types of things I should be doing in order to get the most out of each movement. Then I would start keeping a gym journal, and as I would thumb through the journal at night I would find areas where my data collection could improve. So, I would add more fields, then I started keeping timed records, by this point I think I was spending more time collecting data at the gym then actually working out. Before I knew it I was maintaining several spreadsheets of data and trying to figure out the best way to run a statistical analysis on my data. On the bright side, I am sure the people at the gym got a kick out of watching me fuss over my notebook after each and every exercise.

No matter how we apply our engineering knowledge we will learn something from the experience, sometimes even more so when the undertaking is not successful. Even though my friend is still single he has learned a lot about dating from working on his process, and I am sure he will meet the one for him at some point. And even though my excessive record keeping in the gym hindered my workouts at the end, it did help me to optimize much of what I was doing at the gym, so if I ever decide I want to work out that much again I will have solid experience to build upon. So, no matter what problem you might be facing do not be afraid to unleash your engineering mindset on it and be sure to let us know how it turns out.

This blog post was written by Dana Blouin who is a telecommunications engineer, technologist and geek currently living and working in Cleveland, OH, USA.

Feel free to leave a comment about what you think. Have you ever applied the skills you learned in engineering in real life/world situations?

5 comments:

  1. Jed Sutherland11 January 2013 22:12

    The idea of breaking a problem down (understand what is important, what is irrelevant, what must be dealt with first) is useful in a great many areas of life besides engineering. Many people don't understand this and treat it as voodoo.

    The procedure is useful whether you're going to move to another abode or planning a trip.

    It applies interpersonal (with some modifications) as well as technical situations.

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  2. While I'm not an engineer, I will at times break down problems in a similar fashion, but only if it seems applicable. I'm reminded on the way Sheldon will do such things on The Big Bang Theory, and as a result, some of the humanity if taken out of his decision making process. I guess it really is true how life is all about balance in everything you approach.

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  3. Since I have two brothers in the field, I can relate to what you are saying. The funny story that I have about my brothers is they always say "No good engineer worth is salt will read instructions before assembling an item. Read instructions only when necessary."
    Haha though this does not always work out in the end. :-)

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    1. I have to completely agree with you Susan. I'm still an undergrad ME and last Christmas I actually stayed up till 4 am working on this kid size kitchen model for my little niece. Avoiding the instruction I went ahead to build it, after and hour I realized how wrong it came out. That was a disaster redoing everything haha.

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  4. The Labor Department of the US revealed that there were close to 300,000 civil engineers working in 2008. Almost half of these civil engineers were employed in companies that specialize in engineering, architecture and other related work. One fourth of this figure belonged to those engineers working in government facilities, while the rest were in the construction industry.

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