Tuesday, 29 May 2012

On Engineering

For those who haven't read it before I'd like to share with you these thoughts on engineering, an extract from the memoirs of Herbert Hoover, 31st president of the USA, and an inspiration to engineers the world over:

‘It is a great profession. There is the fascination of watching a figment of the imagination emerge through the aid of science to a plan on paper. Then it moves to realisation in stone or metal or energy. Then it brings jobs and homes to men. Then it elevates the standards of living and adds to the comforts of life. That is the engineer’s high privilege. 

The great liability of the engineer compared to men of other professions is that his works are out in the open where all can see them. His acts, step by step, are in hard substance. He cannot bury his mistakes in the graves like the doctors. He cannot argue them into thin air or flame the judge like the lawyers. He cannot, like the architects cover his failures with trees and vines. He cannot like the politicians, screen his shortcomings by blaming his opponents and hope that the people will forget. The engineer simply cannot deny that he did it. If his works do not work, he is damned. That is the phantasmagoria that haunts his nights and dogs his days. He comes from the job at the end of the day resolved to calculate it again. He wakes in the night in a cold sweat and puts something on paper that looks silly in the morning. All day he shivers at the thought of the bugs that will inevitably appear to jolt its smooth consummation.  

On the other hand, unlike the doctor his is not a life among the weak. Unlike the soldier, destruction is not his purpose. Unlike the lawyer, quarrels are not his daily bread. To the engineer falls the job of clothing the bare bones of science with life, comfort and hope. No doubt as years go by people forget which engineer did it, even if they ever knew. Or some politician puts his name on it. Or they credit it to some promoter who used other people’s money with which to finance it. But the engineer looks back at the unending stream of goodness which flows from his success with satisfaction that few professions may know. And the verdict of his fellow professionals is all the accolade he wants.’

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