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What Does it Take to Think Like an Engineer?


What does it take to think like an engineer? This is what I was left pondering after reading this article from the EE Times. Throughout the article, the author explained what he believed qualified someone to “think like an engineer”. Based on his list (which included presidents such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and current President Obama) the term “engineer” seemed to be a bit of a stretch, but as I continued to read the article, the list also included Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter— the only two presidents who actually were engineers.


While the author had made some great points, what really got me thinking was the comments from readers. One president who many commenters claimed had engineer-like qualities, but didn’t make the author’s list, was Dwight D. Eisenhower. His creation of the interstate highway and the establishment of NASA were just a few of his noteworthy achievements as President of the United States. So why didn’t he make the author’s list? What DOES it take to think like an engineer? What are the qualifications and how do we define this?


While many of the comments were directed towards criticizing the author’s selection methods and discussing specific presidents, it was one user’s comment that really struck me, “but is being a skilled project manager and leader the same as thinking like an engineer?” 


To understand what traits helps someone to think like an engineer, we asked a few of our own employees what they considered was a ‘pure’ engineer (a term the author used to describe Jimmy Carter). The definition of a ‘pure engineer’ ranged from, “Someone who is innovative and inventive toward their craft and has the ability to track trends and adjust them to build their solutions,” to “Analytical and creative. Someone who is able to have a strong grasp of what’s possible and is a little bit of a dreamer. Someone who does things people don’t think are possible—to have a bit of both art and science.” The general consensus after answering this question was that in order to think like an engineer, someone had to be able to think both analytically and creatively, be able to quickly solve problems, and think outside the box.


Although only two presidents on the list were engineers, the other presidents mentioned have strong traits that seem to enable them to think like an engineer. With Barack Obama being the only 21st century president to make the list, why is it that some of the presidents immediately before him didn’t make the cut? Do you think either of the current candidates running for office demonstrate the qualities and characteristics we’ve mentioned? Will the next president think like an engineer?


Well, we won’t know until you go out and vote!

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