Saturday, January 15, 2011

Reading Reaction #1: Billy McVicker

When I think of engineering the three words that come to mind are technology, creativity, and innovation. These characteristics define what engineers strive to pattern their work life after.In the essay “The Life-Style of the Victorian Engineers,” Dr. Buchanan describes his findings of British engineers as hard-working, ethical craftsmen. British engineers in the early 19th century were passionate about developing practical technology to help progress society. Buchanan focuses on the life-style of these engineers and the roles they played in the educational system.It is interesting to me how British engineers were so involved in training and mentoring the next generation of engineers through apprenticeships. I find this type of leadership and involvement in educating new professionals unique in other fields, such as the political field where competition for some position is very cut-throat. Buchanan goes on discussing the lack of British engineers’ willingness to incorporate theoretical knowledge and university training into the development of engineers’ training, yet I think this mindset comes from those that were raised in a society where this type of formal training is heavily pressed. I believe that the British engineers’ idea of training was developed from the thought that Cal Poly so eminently advertises, “learn by doing.” It is through this exposure to getting your hands on tools and building something that helps young professionals understand how things work that one can further understand the theoretical concepts of engineering. If you only read in a book about how a bicycle works, then you will be less capable of creating a better design. It is those that have ridden a bicycle and know the weak points of the design that can create new technology to solve problems to make bicycles better.British engineers founded many professional engineering institutions that contributed through papers to the theoretical base of engineering. When discussing the way engineers met and presented papers on their work, Buchanan states, “While this mass of readily available experience could not, any more than the traditional techniques of apprenticeship, impart new theoretical information, it did provide a very substantial foundation for the continuing education of British engineers…” I my experience at Cal Poly, I have found that working in the lab helps me understand the theoretical concepts taught in class. It is usually not until after I use the theoretical concepts in a practical hands-on setting that the theory becomes clear.

In the essay by Smith & Walley, “Engineers in Britain: A Study in Persistence,” it is stated, “In particular, the low status of British engineering and the relative lack of scientific and technical training have been held responsible for the state of Britain’s poor economic performance for over a hundred years.” I find this statement hard to believe because it was the craftsman that built the steam engine and the textile machinery during the early 19th century. If these craftsmen could not quote the three laws of thermodynamics, then how could they build these machines that encapsulate the very concepts of basic physics? If one can understand what the problem is and knows what needs to be solved, then they are better equipped with the knowledge of how to use physics and chemistry to solve the problem. British engineers were very successful at creating new technology that drove the economy in the Industrial Revolution because of their passion, ability to collaborate with other engineers, and their ability to leave politics out of the picture to think logically about their situation.

1 comment:

  1. It is true that Britain had a very unique system of engineering training. However, in the United States, similar practices take place. The idea of an “internship” often provides students or less-trained individuals to follow behind a trained professional in their work. Perhaps it is more often that the intern works with a group or a team to gain his/her experience, as opposed to a one-on-one apprenticeship, but the concept is the same. Most people, in my opinion, learn best by trying something out, or by “doing,” like the Cal Poly motto. No matter what country, background, or historical time someone lived in, I believe most people understood that experience was the best tool for learning.
    The drawback to Great Britain’s situation was that the people of the time challenged technological improvements. Although many British engineers were thirsty for innovation, the craftsmen at the time felt threatened by the possibility of their craft being blasphemed by a mere machine. It is true that technology in Britain was staunched, but it I agree that is wasn’t from lack of knowledge or education. It was the resistance to technological growth by the traditional craftsmen and a few politicians that used their power to prevent rapid growth of technology.


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