***Editor’s Note: We’re starting new weekly section called “I Became An Engineer” that will run every friday. To share you story email firstname.lastname@example.org***
This week’s story comes to us from ECN reader Bob Scoff:
The best that I can answer is that from the time I was 12 years old, I always knew that I was an engineer, and more specifically, an electrical engineer. The family always talked about the importance of college and I was the first or second of about 40 cousins to go to college.
After that, many followed, but few were engineers. In fact, only one that I can remember. One of my cousins married an engineer, but I’m not sure that that counts. Those that didn’t study engineering just knew that they were something else. Unless someone knows that they are an engineer, they would just not have the staying power necessary to complete the education.
I really appreciate all engineers, regardless of discipline. We all had at least 4 years of intensive study and work. We all had to pass Thermodynamics. It wasn’t easy and will never be easy, and a lot of students smarter than me either dropped out or became business majors.
Those that dropped out just didn’t have that inner knowing. The bigger question is, “Why do some people have that inner knowing and others don’t?” Of all the kids the family–six in total–I am the only engineer, but I was always different from the start. Incidentally, in my immediate family, out of 5 kids, we came within one semester of everyone having a 4 year degree. There are two master’s degrees and a PhD among me and my siblings.
There were no student loans, and we did it without borrowing money. There were part time jobs and scholarships. I hitch hiked to Houston from Pittsburgh to attend Rice University in 1964 with $200 in my pocket. I graduated in 1966, owing the University $200. Paid it back with my first pay check.
I took apart radios and televisions and was lucky enough to have a one year course on radio and television at a technical school in Pittsburgh that helped a great deal. But I would have been an engineer anyway.
It all came about because our parents talked about the importance of education, but I was the only one that knew that I was an engineer.
It’s an important distinction, “was an engineer”, not “going to become one”. When I started college, I was just 4 years short of having a degree. Quitting or failing was not an option. Freshman English Composition gave me the most trouble. I recently looked up my English teacher from 1960, called and thanked her. I found her in Kent, Ohio. I couldn’t write this letter without her class. Also, as a matter of interest, I never got a better grade than “B” in any mathematics class until after graduate school. I earned that “A” in Numerical Analysis or Matrix Algebra at Penn State, years later. So straight A’s in Math doesn’t make someone an engineer. D’s in Freshman English don’t do it either.
I realize that I didn’t really answer the question, “What makes an engineer?” I’m not sure that the question can be answered. There’s a well known poem by A. A. Milne about the wind titled “Wind on the Hill”.
No one can tell me,
Where the wind comes from,
Where the wind goes,
It’s flying from somewhere
As fast as it can,
I couldn’t keep up with it,
Not if I ran.
But if I stopped holding
The string of my kite,
It would blow with the wind
For a day and a night.
And then when I found it.
Wherever it blew,
I should know that the wind
Had been blowing there too.
So then I could tell them
Where the wind goes…
But where the wind comes from
- A. Milne, Author of “Winnie the Pooh”
So “What really makes an engineer?” The answer is “Nobody knows.”
Read the other stories, here:
A Note From The Editor: An Engineer’s Story
I Became An Engineer: Because Of A Lunch Box
I Became An Engineer: Because of Christmas Lights
I Became An Engineer: Because Of The Cool Jackets
I Became An Engineer: Because My Dad Said Not To
I Became An Engineer: Despite Being Bad At Math
I Became An Engineer: Because of Uncle Chet
I Became An Engineer: Because I Can’t Stop Asking ‘Why?’
I Became An Engineer: Because of Star Trek (Specifically Montgomery Scott)
I Became An Engineer: Because I Was A Really Lucky Nerd