[Edu-sig] "engineer" image (updating)

kirby urner kirby.urner at gmail.com
Tue Jan 27 22:20:16 CET 2009

The more I look at it, the more I'm thinking peoples' stereotype of
"engineers" is what's keeping 'em from wanting to tackle any of this
"programming" stuff.

They think of "an engineer" as someone "cold" who lives in a
florescently lit windowless basement, a stereotype, but still pretty
vivid (I've been there many times).

We look at this at Wanderers (Linus Pauling House group), a lot of us
engineers by training, got some good insights from Dr. William Wulf,
who spoke directly to bridging the "digital divide" between the "two


Bouncing off David MacQuigg's spiel (which I liked) about OO being
over-hyped within the industry, there's that whole problem of
"objectifying" which we're told is callous (part of the problem), as
when we "see people as objects".

And that's exactly what we do, let's be honest, when writing OO code
atop SQL tables, bringing all those pieces together to give us a "sim"
(a model human) with a person.creditcard and a person.bankaccount who
lives at person.address.

What I continue to stress is that we ("we engineers") see *ourselves*
that way too i.e. this isn't about being aloof and above it all,
looking down on miserable animals that aren't us, as if we had gods'
eye views.  No, we're those patients in those beds, those people on
the roller coaster, those people with shopping carts, on airplanes.
We're not misanthropists.  We're philanthropists (like Bill Gates,
Mark Shuttleworth...).

This is a lot the same ethic in open source too:  no, it's not "cheap"
what we're making, we're not "cutting corners", because we're
designing this *for us* (not snookering some customer, not trying to
pull a fast one).  Of course some people *do* get away with shoddy
work, but the point I'm making is engineers have plenty of incentive
to do a great job, because hey, we're gonna live with the
consequences, with the tools we create (or fail to create).

If no one builds bridges, there won't be any, pretty simple.

When I go into all this stuff about stressing "self" in Python (see
archive), maybe replacing "self" with "me" just for fun, or with some
Chinese character, if only as an exercise, I'm not trying to insinuate
some esoteric belief system or cult religion about selfhood.  I'm just
wanting it to be OK to have empathy for the things we're programming
about, just as any writer gets to feel for those characters, even the
fictional ones.

It's not "stupidly anthropomorphic" to imagine oneself as an airport
or dam, any more than to imagine oneself working inside same.
Bringing your kinesthetic sensibilities into play is a basis for sound
civil engineering, doesn't get you off the hook from learning those
formulas, but hey, don't forget what a bridge "feels like" in high
winds, get it that into your bones some, like a sailor (a survival
skill, we don't have all those neurons just fer nuthin' ya know).

This is admittedly a lot about marketing and PR, where my head's at
these days, what with OS Bridge coming up, Pycon in Chicago.  I signed
on to Chipy by the way, sent 'em a heads up, per this blog post:



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