Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Reading Response #1 - Tyler Smith

I believe the article, The Life-Styles of the Victorian Engineers, did a remarkable job of creating an insightful look into the mind and body of what it took to be a 19th century engineer in Britain. Buchanan was very straight-forward in noting that these observations of Britain’s engineers could only come from the few and far-between that stood out as Britain’s best. I find it very difficult to summarize the ideals of an entire profession (if it may even be called that according to previous readings) based on a small sample size of engineers who were probably atypical; however, giving the circumstances and lack of documentation of every engineer that has walked this earth, I think Buchanan was able to make very reasonable conclusions of the common engineer of that time period. One overlying theme of this article was the diligent work ethic of British engineers and many examples were given to show that indeed these engineers worked grueling hours and under harsh conditions. What I found interesting in his argument was the depth of his understanding of what makes these engineers work so hard. Not once did Buchanan mention the pay of these engineers or money at all within the paper. Comparatively, an engineering career today is highly regarded for its comparable pay as well as its stress on a strong work ethic. One point I would like to stress from this article comes from the following excerpt, “Most important of all, the reason for the chronic hard work of the engineers, however, was the attitude towards their jobs generated by the successful members of the profession: stated simply, the engineers enjoyed their work and preferred it to most other activities.” I find this statement to be very profound because it embodies the ideals of British Engineers during that time period that is still true in many ways to engineers from The United States. Another reading added a detail to this stating that the Engineers of that time period were held in low regard compared to the typical professions of philosophy, law and medicine. With that being said it would appear very strange today to see a career held in such low esteem yet on the other hand known for having hard-working and dedicated workers. Personally, this embodies my idea of what a global engineer should be, in terms of hard work, dedication, and enjoying your profession without the need of being so highly revered in society. I agree with Buchanan on the motivational reasoning behind being an engineer and I find it very interesting how different the process of becoming an engineer is and also the perception of what an engineer is from a country that many would say is similar to the US in many ways but clearly not from an engineering standpoint. I would like to dive deeper into the daily life and culture of the British population to see why there are so many difference compared to engineers today in both Britain and The United States respectively.

Another reading I found to be very interesting was the article by Adam Smith about classical economics. An excerpt from The Wealth of Nations about laissez-faire economics and the “invisible hand” that I found very intriguing states, “By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it.” The reason this is true today in economics, as well as many other aspects of society is because this creates a strong sense of competition between individuals and groups. This competition, sometimes very intense I might add, is the source of brilliant creativity and resourcefulness all in the selfish aims of being the best. Some might argue that by pursuing your own interest you may tend to work more diligently and thus create a better product (or whatever the goal might be). However, I respectfully disagree with Adam Smith by comparing his work to John Forbes Nash, a fellow Economist and Nobel Prize winner in Economics. What is now referred to as Nash Equilibrium, states almost the opposite of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” ideology. Simply put, Nash Equilibrium means that by working together and incorporating each other’s decisions as a group, each person in a group would make the best decision possible taking into account the other member’s decision. The difference between Smith and Nash’s ideologies is taking into consideration the other members decisions and using those decisions as a way of helping each other rather than attempting to “beat” the other person. Although in the grand scheme of things Adam Smith’s laissez-faire principles reign supreme, on the contrary in highly organized businesses and notably on executive boards Nash equilibrium is quite common. Looking at the core of these two economics principles shows a strong characteristic in trusting people. The main argument I see for the laissez-faire rationale is that nobody trusts anyone and as a result, instead of working together for a common goal, selfish aims take over and the invisible hand economics becomes dominant. When a goal can solely be achieved by cooperation between individuals do you see a trend in Nash’s equilibrium and trust being negotiated or instilled in the relationships. Although these two individuals were famously known in their fields of economics, these principles follow us in our day-to-day life and have personally changed the way I view society and a macro and microscopic level.

After comparing and contrasting the readings as well as comparing my own life experiences with these intriguing findings, I can already see a change in my perspective on what it means to be a global engineer as well as removing the black and white notions of right vs. wrong when designing and building. I think I have noticed a wall created by my own ignorance that caused me to be closed minded based on the formal education that I have received. I have always thought that a formal education was needed for becoming an engineer and only through rigorous learning of theory would I ever be useful in industry and the British clearly disproved this. In conclusion I found that I am heavily influenced by my own culture, specifically in the discipline of engineering, in ways that I had never fathomed and there is much more to becoming a global engineer than I anticipated but it is well worth the challenge.

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