Thoughts on the Engineering Industry

A blog covering engineering, technology and business topics

Archive for the month “May, 2012”

Design Thinking: Is it Overrated?

Hello everyone.  First I just wanted to give a quick school/career update.  I am probably going to take summer off from graduate school to save up some money and with the extra time I will volunteer for an engineering service organization to gain some much needed experience.  Beyond that, I’m going to just try to relax and take a break since I felt a little burned out this last semester.

Today I want to discuss something that has been popular within the last decade or so, and that is Design Thinking.  The purpose of Design Thinking is to make sure an object you are designing not only meets the specifications required by the industry, but that it is designed with the end user in mind.  And if it doesn’t meet the requirements of the user, do the object or corresponding objectives need to be adjusted to better need the needs of the end user better?

In my opinion, that concept is important in the design process.  I’m not going to argue against that at all, because that’s how the products that we as engineers make improve for the better.  But my question is whether or not Design Thinking is something new and impressive.  All the great new innovations in engineering throughout the last century have been in response to a need.  Along with that, an innovation by definition is different and creative.  You can argue that the concern for the end user is not emphasized all that much; but, by definition, engineering is the application of scientific knowledge to a problem that needs to be solved for society.

Here is what I think happens: the engineering industry goes through phases.  A method for designing something is developed and used until it fails; then at that point the design method is tweaked to account for the issue that caused the failure.  My opinion is that before Design Thinking became popular the engineering industry had lost the focus of the end user to some degree.  It was an age of finding the next big thing to look good in relation to other companies in your industry.  In light of that, a failure was discovered in the design perspective and an innovation was made to account for the issue.  To me, Design Thinking seems to be an iteration of the engineering design process.

I would be interested to see your opinion on this so feel free to leave a comment and have a good week.

Discussion of Methods for Continuing your Engineering Education

Hello everyone, I just want to apologize in advance for the less researched post this week, but I won’t be able to do much writing the day of the posting due a Judo tournament.  This week I want to discuss the methods of continuing education in the engineering field.  Just off the top of my head I can think of several methods and I want to discuss the positive and negative characteristics of each.  These are the three that come to mind: formal college courses, continuing education seminars, and personal reading outside of work.

In my previous post, my opinion of formal college courses was discussed in detail so I won’t say too much about that.  To sum up the negatives, I feel like the exam –homework concept is not the best way to learn engineering.  But that being said, there are some positives I didn’t mention.  For the most part, even if the teaching methods aren’t always the best, the overall knowledge of the professors is amazing.  There is no better source for extremely technical, theoretical, or “academic” expertise.  If the goal is to really drill down and learn every minor detail of a subject or field I can’t think of a better source.

As for continuing education seminars, I see this as an in between method that applies the expertise of formal college courses through the lecture format while skipping the college course process.  The positive is that there is a live person there to explain the subject and provide examples to explain the methods and related materials provided.  The negative is that it is difficult to strike a good balance in my opinion.  If an expert tries to present too much material or can’t explain his topic well, the learning process will be hindered.   And if the material is not of interest to the person or does not have enough substance to it, the listeners won’t retain or use any of it.  Err too far from the natural balance in either direction and the seminar will start to be ineffective.

As for personal reading, this is the one method I prefer doing the most because I enjoy learning through reading in any form.  Some things I read quicker than others due to the heaviness of the material and the style of writing, but I almost always will be more preferential to reading and learning on my own.  That beings said, there are still definite positives and negatives.  The positive is that it can be done on your own.  It may seem like a minor thing compared to the other positive characteristics mentioned above; but if you really think about it, it is a simply stated yet very good positive characteristic.  How busy are we in our lives?  And what about access at any time you want?  You can get both with personal reading.  It would require more independence in the learning process, but if that can be coped with this is a great positive.  This leads us to our negative – what happens if we can’t understand the material?  The truth is that learning anything on your own will take some effort and sometimes you working on your own is not enough.  You will need some guidance and help.  And if this something you are doing purely on your own you won’t have it.  On a side note, a mentor or fellow engineer may fill this gap; but this argument is assuming that this is an unavailable resource.

So all that being said, my preference is definitely personal reading and learning.  What is your preferred method of these three and why?  Is there another method that I haven’t discussed that you prefer?  If so, what is it and why do you prefer that method?  Thank you and have a good week.

Educational Methods vs. Professional Practices in Engineering

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Today, the topic I want to discuss is whether or not the teaching methods used in obtaining your degree will help you in the professional practice of engineering.  Before I start, I want to say that I don’t have any true engineering experience.  I did work a couple summers in construction so I some related experience in the onsite building design/construction process, but a lot of this will be based on second hand knowledge from my friends who work in the field.

My experience in school has generally been that the work you do to learn the technical engineering knowledge is homework.  The exams are meant to test whether you know the material, and it is assumed that if you truly understood the homework the test should be easy to do.  The truth of this assumption will depend on your professor, or whoever is teaching you.  There are a plenty of times I have wondered what a professor was thinking when he made an exam.  And there are plenty of times I have failed an exam all on my own accord because, for whatever reason, I just wasn’t ready.  In grad school and more advanced undergraduate courses there would be projects of varying degrees of difficulty but they didn’t seem to be the main focus of the course.  Along with that, they seemed to be the smallest portion of the work as compared to the weight of the grade in the completion of the course.

As for work, I’ve always heard in the engineering field, and experienced in the construction field, that the focus is the project.  There are times where I’ve only had to do quick tasks for a project because there wasn’t much work required for that task.  But there was always a realistic and practical reason for doing the work.  Along with that, the point was to get the work done and help/guidance from a more experienced worker was generally provided.  The point was not to test or challenge you to an excessive amount, but to make sure you can do the work required and learn how to do it on your own eventually through hands on practice.  I know there will be times when tests are also need in engineering practice – for example, the PE Exam.  But for the most part it isn’t the point of going to work, as it was in school.

I realize that learning the material will be different than the practice of engineering in the real world.  But part of me wonders if there is a better way to teach at the university level.  I’ve always wondered if it would be possible to make the projects count for more credit.  Or what if, instead of having homework, there is just the project.  It is supposed to be worked on in pieces in the same way that homework is split into different assignments.  Then you could still have exams with the same percentage of the grade if you want.  My preference would be to have fewer exams too though, but that’s just me.  I feel like I learn more by having a goal to work towards than by having me learn something with the only stated goal being to prove I learned the material.  What is your opinion on the university education system?  Should it be project based learning or is the homework-exam model the better teaching method?  Are there any alternatives to testing knowledge or are exams the only way?

Welcome to my new blog.

I  just wanted to welcome everyone to my new blog.  It may be a week or so before it starts looking complete and I start posting stuff but I just wanted to go ahead to get this started.  It will generally cover engineering and entrepreneurship with some technology stuff mentioned from time to time.  You can learn more about me by reading the link above.  Some links to my social networks will follow shortly.  Thanks and have a good day.

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