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An Engineer's Dilemma

Updated on ・5 min read

Food for thought..

An Engineer’s Dilemma

I believe there are two fundamentally different ways our brains can think and process thought progression,

What to do? and
How to do it?

As an engineer I am more accustomed to the later, my brain is wired to think about how to do things, how to fix stuff, how to solve problems.

While that is well and good, (infact it is very respectable)
I believe this particular thought process may have an inherent flaw. And I will try to explain what I mean in this piece.

Engineers are very capable problem solvers. Like for example, if you give, the challenging task of building a bridge to a capable Civil engineer, they will find the best possible solutions to build it, they will think about each and everything that goes into the process, they will make great technical decisions, and deliver incredible results.

If you give a software engineer a challenging product to build, they will think, they will design, they will find various 3rd Party implementations to help solve the given problem.
It could be related to networking, it could be related to data, whatever it may be, no matter how difficult it might be, or how impossible sounding it could be, engineers will always find a way.

And then there are people who think about ‘What to do?’
Usually these people aren’t engineers, they are managers, leaders, think tanks, they are people of great vision. A great example of this category of people would be Steve Jobs.

That man had a vision of pushing the entire computer industry into a completely new domain. The domain of thin client, lightweight, smart devices, which are always interconnect with each other.

He had the vision of a world where almost everything could be done on a device that sits on the palm of your hand. But he didn’t always know how to do it, how it would work, what new technology needed to be developed, how will those ideas get realized. But he trusted his engineers to do all these things, while he provided them with a crystal clear Vision. And his engineers, they did deliver!

The iPhone and all smart phones in general are a technological marvel. The phone that was once used only to communicate will people wirelessly, is so much more now.

Alright, getting back to the point I was trying to make,

There are Two modes of Thinking. [two domains of processing thoughts]

They are..

  1. What to do? and
  2. How to do it?

One cannot survive without the other, if you only have resources those who can think about ‘What to do?’ But none who know ‘How to Do it?’, nothing can be done. Every thought, every idea will be a fantasy, no matter how new, how innovative or ground breaking.

On the other hand, if you only know How to do stuff, but don’t know what to do. Nothing could be made.
Without vision, without innovative ideas and imagination, Engineers would not know how to harness the amazing tools that they possess.

For every solution there is, a problem needed to exist.
For every Innovation there is, An Idea was behind it.

I have been haunted by this dilemma for a long time now. As an engineer, I can do a great many things but I lack the vision of what to do.

Now it is indeed possible for a person to possess both of these thought processes, to have both the vision of what to do, and the skills/mind-set to actually do it.
A good example of which are Designers. Most designers from various domains such as Graphics, Typeface, Illustration, Writing, Architecture and sculpting have this ability. They possess the ideas and vision, and they hold the tools to realize them into fruition.

This is why I have a great respect for Designers. The creative people of this world.

So in conclusion,
I believe that the Ultimate Engineer is someone who has both The Vision and The Skill.

Personally I admit that I lack the Vision, the Ideas and the Innovation. And I am deeply concerned about this. I may be a great engineer, but I am not a visionary.
Therefore, whenever I sit down to write some new software, a new project, or to make a great game, to create the next big thing, to solve a problem. I often find myself lost and frustrated.
I have the tools, I have the skills, I have the technical knowledge and I know how to tackle problems, yet, I am unable to produce anything by myself Unless told what to do.

I believe this is dilemma, besides me, haunts many other engineers in the world too!

And I’d like to call you guys out, including myself, All of us who face this dilemma every day.

We as a community, need to come together and learn this great ability of new thinking, of having visions and innovative ideas.

When someone knows about all the extents, the technicalities, the governing laws, the restrictions and the possibilities within their respective domain (such civil engineering, chemical engineering, software engineering) their brain may end up creating a virtual wall because of that vast knowledge. A comfort zone. A barrier that dictates what is possible and what is not.

This is why children are so full of ideas. Their brains do not have such walls, they do not know those extents, their brains are elastic and full of colour.
Alright so, what to do then…? What can we do as engineers to tap into that creativity, that world full of new ideas and new thinking?

I have a proposal to that, and it is as follows:

  1. Reading: We must Read, and not just those technical books, but the fictional ones as well. Get ourselves familiar with those wild imaginary creations that exist in those fictional worlds. And this includes not just reading books but also watching sci-fi movies or playing supernatural games.

  2. Exploration: We must explore, not just our own domain/career but other’s as well. A lot of computer science techniques were inspired by nature and biology. Such as ‘neural networks’ and ‘natural selection’ algorithms.

  3. Communication: We must talk to kids, talk to people that know nothing about our domains. We could ask them about the problems we are trying to fix. Since they have no knowledge about the extents, barriers and laws of our domains, they will always end up giving us a creative, out of the box and maybe an absurd idea. The likes of which we never could have thought about before.

I once asked my mother how would I stack 3D models of Train wagons on virtual 3D train track (which so abstract it’s basically a curved line).
And she said, ‘Son, Why don’t you use magnets?’

That hit me quite hard :D, albeit it wasn’t possible to use magnets, it did give me a wonderful set of ideas on how to solve my problem.

I believe all of us should strive to keep evolving. Once we become great engineers, the next step in our evolution shall be to become great thinkers, visionaries, people with colourful & wild imagination.

Thank you for reading 

Alright, that concludes my long ‘Food for thought;

What do you think?

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