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Your Average Next Door Engineer!

BY Sahil Mehta

Gloried by the “Five Point Someone”s and 3 Idiots, vilified by media and coaching institutes, engineering is the enigma that always tops the discussion board when you talk about education in India. In the news; reflected in the dreams and hopes of a million kids and parents; at the centre of infinite controversies, engineering is more than just a passing fad, especially in India.

Here’s what a non-engineer learns about engineering from hearsay.

Statement1: “It’s only for nerds and bookworms.”
Statement2: “You seem to have an inquisitive mind. You’ll make a great engineer”

Statement 1: “It’s the foundation of India’s future”
Statement 2: “I tell you, all this mindless mugging that our engineers do is the reason why this country is so technologically backward”

Boy: I’m an engineer blah blah blah…
Girl1 (thoroughly impressed): “Wow, you must be a genius like Aamir Khan in 3 Idiots”
Girl2: “Oh! Never mind then.”
Girl3(thinking about how he’d make a great rich husband): Oh, so how much do you earn?

And so it would go on and on and on…endlessly. Funny thing is no one ever talks about what engineering actually is and what an engineer is really supposed to be good at. At this point I shall fall back to the ever so knowledgeable and trustworthy Wikipedia                

          Engineering is the discipline, art, skill and profession of acquiring and applying scientific, mathematical, economic, social, and practical knowledge, in order to design and build structures, machines, devices, systems, materials and processes that safely realize improvements to the lives of people.”

What it basically means is that engineering is a field where you learn and apply concepts which help you practically solve real life problems. 

With that out of the way, I shall now try and clarify a few points about engineering in India.

1     - Engineering means IIT.
No sir, it almost certainly does not. While the folks in IIT are pretty much among the brightest minds in India, they do not always make great engineers. People who love tackling problems make great engineers.  Of course, getting through of the one most competitive exams in the world does sort of seem to give you an edge.

- Engineers are cool. They attend big cultural fests, play kick ass music, drink booze on terraces and give smart ass answers to their teachers. 
If you subscribe to this view, then you are an unfortunate and ignorant member of the Chetan Bhagat generation. PS all the aforementioned things,  hippies do that too.

Engineering implies job guarantee, safe future.
Hmm. There are no guarantees in life but there is a fat chance you’ll a get job quicker than other graduates.  There is an equally bigger chance you end up working a low paying software firm which you shall hate 2 years down the line. Your pick!

4    - Engineers are geeks. They make awesome gadgets and flying quad copters and cool hacking programs.
Some of them are, certainly. But most of them(us) are just trying to get through college, enjoy it while it lasts and get a job by the time we graduate.

-   - Engineering is just difficult to get into and piece of cake after that. 
     I’m telling you. DO NOT TRUST THIS GUY. Either he’s a douche bag or he’s a genius, 10 pointer like we call him. It’s much harder than it actually seems. But in all fairness if you get in, you’re likely to get out with a degree. 
-   -  Engineering + MBA is the best combination ever.
Sadly, this is true in India. But even truer is the fact that both the branches are completely unrelated. And an MBA essentially makes your engineering degree a formality and a decorative piece.

-   Engineering is too hard. And it just makes you a bookworm.
I don’t think MS Dhoni had it particularly easy in becoming India’s captain. Everything takes blood and sweat in this ultra-competitive world. Get used to it. As to what engineering makes you, scroll down to the last paragraph.

  I’m in an engineering college but it’s all about mugging here. What a waste!
Can’t blame you for feeling that way. Been there, felt that. But seriously it’s never a waste. Scroll down to the last para again to know why.

There are a couple of points more at least but bah, I want to wrap this up before all of you run away. So what’s the true story, what is engineering and what makes an engineer? Here’s the deal. While engineering in India has become just a degree that gets you a job, it’s not   what the subject/field is meant to be. Refer Wikipedia :P

Let's be honest. What does an engineering student actually do in a day?  We attend on an average 6 hours on classes every day. We bunk as many as we can depending upon our attendance needs.  Then we get down to our real lives which vary depending upon interests. We play sports, we play music, we act, we draw, we take photos, we start companies, we do social work with NGOs or we do nothing but sit in our rooms and watch movies. Very few of us actually do any "engineering". One day before the exam we pick 600 page books and try n cram them in one or at most 2 nights. Consequently we end up staying up late. It becomes a habit in college. Somehow we get through the exams and then back to the routine of doing pretty much what we please. You'd probably say that we don't learn much. But surprisingly we do learn a lot, even if it isn't always of the subject. 

Is this what we're supposed to do in college? No. Why do we do it then? Because that's what society emphasizes. Engineering is touted as a ticket to a safe and secure career. As a means for many kids for weaker socioeconomic backgrounds  to make a life for themselves. It's touted as everything but what it's supposed to be. We're just kids, we get confused too when you put so pressure. And hence the cigarettes and booze.

But inspite of all the exams and books and pressure some engineering students try very hard to get nitty gritty with the technical stuff. And they do it because they love it.  

 You’re probably gonna meet a lot of very grumpy and disgruntled engineers. That’s just because they got into engineering for the wrong reasons. And that is because no one really explains to you what you’re actually supposed to do. Partly the blame lies on the shoulders of our educational institutions.Partly on us.

But engineers are not mindless zombies working night shifts for UNCLE  SAM.  They’re not dull people who’ve no imagination and have given up on their dreams. These people are just unfortunate victims of circumstance. 
Engineering teaches you how to look at a problem and see solutions not obstacles. And that in itself makes engineers fantastic, dynamic men and women who the world looks up to as leaders for the future. It teaches you to not be scared of problems. And it teaches you to work hard, which is really not a bad thing.

So if you want me to sum it all up, engineers are fantastic people who are creative, hard working and know how to solve problems. And that's why the world looks up to them. It's just that not everybody who's doing engineering is an engineer. 

Funny story. I knew two men, both retired. One, an accountant, spent most of his time successfully fixing things in his house. He never had to call a repairman. The other worked in a manufacturing factory all his life but always needed a repairman.  I think you know who the engineer was and who had the engineering degree!


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