Monday, April 6, 2009

Design the System

(click image to see full-sized)

I knew a guy back in high school who had one of those "F--- the System" shirts. He was a pretty cool guy and he managed to get away with the blatant infraction of the school dress code that occurred each time he wore it.

Still, as fun as it is to wear slogans like "eff the system", there comes a point a in one's life, around the time when one enrolls in a systems design engineering program, when such slogans start losing their appeal. It's pretty hard to stick it to The Man and The System when you're the guy who's supposed to be designing the system.

It's a frightening thing realizing, after all these years, that you're The Man everyone's been printing angry t-shirts about. "Look," you want to say, "the System's not that bad, all right? I mean, okay, it sucks a little, but I'd like to see you do better and hey! Stop making those hand gestures at me, you little twits!"

The point is, it's easy to criticize and it's even easier to not criticize and just ignore things, but when it comes down to actually fixing problems things get a bit more complicated. Now, I'm obviously biased, but I think that engineering is probably one of the best equipped fields to deal with these problems. But what I didn't really consider before beginning my degree is that there's only so much that can be taught in four years and during that time the world's problems are not going to get any easier to solve.

It's particularly mind blowing to me that, due to the amount of new knowledge about the world gained by scientists and engineers in the past few decades, a few years of an undergraduate (or really even a high school) degree will give you more theoretical knowledge (in certain fields) than practicing engineers of a half century ago. The reason this blows my mind is that it leads to the question: knowing only what you know today, could you invent and build a lightbulb? A record player? A computer?

Naturally, I'll be more qualified in five years than I am right now, but you have to wonder: if I there were a reasonably good chance you could become a practicing engineer five years from now, what could you do right now?

[DISCLAIMER: I am not an engineer (yet). The PEO would destroy me if I tried to claim otherwise. Not that they read my blog. (And PEO members, if you do read this, I'd love to hear about it.) ]

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