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Engineering School Grads - Tradesmen or Thinkers?

Cliff posted more than 7 years ago | from the do-we-want-our-graduates-in-or-out-of-the-box dept.

Education 325

El Cubano asks: "ITworld is carrying a story (sorry, no printable version) saying that John Seely Brown (former chief scientist at Xerox and director of PARC, currently teaching at the University of Southern California) is encouraging engineering schools to change the way they educate. The article, quotes Mr. Brown saying the following: 'Training someone for a career makes no sense. At best, you can train someone for a career trajectory...'. What do you think? Should engineering schools be producing tradesmen (like an apprenticeship program) or should they be producing 'thinkers' (people who can cope with a wide variety of problem inside and outside their area of expertise)?"

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handle (2, Insightful)

Lotharjade (750874) | more than 7 years ago | (#17673960)

More hands on training would be nice. I find a tradional engineering program is more books than experience.

Re:handle (3, Insightful)

Wandering Wombat (531833) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674820)


I graduated the EDDT (Engineering Design and Drafting Technology) course at TRU, and so far I have not done ONE thing that have been trained to do there. Sure, I've got a skill base, but I have to find a job within those parameters, and then I have to learn almost everything about that job, before I can be halfway competent.

Know what I learned the most doing in that course (as well as several people in my class?) The summer between first and second years, I helped build a 3000 sq.ft. house. I got on as a laborer, and I got some people in my class jobs there, too. We learned far, far more about house construction by getting a minimum-wage hammer-throwing job than three courses costing in the thousands of dollars.

Enginnering courses (particularly civil and building) NEED apprenticeship / co-op / hands-on approaches, because I know a lot of ythe people in my class got jobs.... and I don't want to live in anything they designed.

Re:handle (2, Interesting)

Lotharjade (750874) | more than 7 years ago | (#17675044)

In Mechanical engineering it is good to have a hands-on project that have specific goals. At my University [] there are a few yearly projects you can sign onto (rocket project, ice arch [] , steel bridge project [] ) but these are few, and only the ice arch is integrated with an course room instruction. I wish more projects like that were integrated with the curriculum and available. I expect to learn some similar structural information when I try to design and build my own cabin this summer.

I think ... (4, Insightful)

thrillseeker (518224) | more than 7 years ago | (#17673964)

thinkers - it's in darn short supply in the real world.

Both (4, Insightful)

Cracked Pottery (947450) | more than 7 years ago | (#17673970)

I am not sure the question makes sense. Engineering is about solving problems. That isn't a rote field, but teaching the solving of problems is done by example. Ideally you want to educate somebody able to solve a novel problem.

Re:Both (4, Insightful)

topherhenk (998915) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674222)

It really does require both aspects. Unfortunately when I went to school ('93 mech eng) it was strictly book learning with no connection to actual problems. I was sick of just solving differential equations by the time I graduated, thus did not seek an engineering job. A little connection to reality and the like would have kept my interest after graduation.
That said, It took awhile, but I eventually came back to engineering and the focus that was used while I was in school, and deeper understanding of the physics permitted me to jump back in after a decade and succeed far more then if it had steered toward a tradesman approach that I see others had.

Re:Both (1)

Frogbert (589961) | more than 7 years ago | (#17675002)

I don't know how it works in America but where I live most Engineers must do at least a year of work placement as part of their degree.

The education system. (1, Insightful)

Savage-Rabbit (308260) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674376)

I am not sure the question makes sense. Engineering is about solving problems. That isn't a rote field, but teaching the solving of problems is done by example. Ideally you want to educate somebody able to solve a novel problem.
The problem is that engineering students are spoon-fed book-learning in the traditional system but they are rarely forced to apply that learning to solving a real problem that accurately simulates what they'll be expected to do when they start working for a living. Engineering studies should try to compromise between the traditional spoon-feeding of knowledge and some way of simulating what you will do most of the time in the real world which is solving problems using the book-knowledge but in an economical way that results in low costs and labor times but still incorporates enough inspired design work to make the product easy to maintain and scalable when it is time to develop it further. I'm a software developer myself and I see all to many engineers who threw away all sorts of things they learned in design classes in school such as UML, in favor of (badly) writing undocumented crap-code; and keep in mind that writing crappy code *badly* is quite an achievement. I'd for example like to see a teaching system in say, Software Engineering or Comp. Sci. where students are made to develop some software during the first term and then develop it further the second term adding features and complexity. They would quickly realize as the project becomes more complex why things like clean, well structured code UML diagrams code documentation and good initial design are important. That way if they wrote a crappy app during first term just to pass the term it would come back to bite them. That's what happens in the real world if you do bad design it bites you in the balls later.

The problem of spoon-feeding people knowledge is actually much more widespread than just Engineering courses. Even at primary school level kids are spoon-fed mathematics and physics knowledge but rarely given the task of solving real world problems that would make them realize that this knowledge is actually good for something. I served mathematics like a jail sentence until my first year of Engineering school when I was finally put in a position where I had to actually use it to do interesting things which made me realize that this 'boring crap' was actually pretty useful stuff that's used absolutely everywhere.

Re:The education system. (1)

dhazard (860108) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674754)

Not a Software Engineer or anything but "Neumont University [] has been doing a great job producing some of the best Software Developers and in only 2 years... I currently attend and I have been telling all my friends about it, that the college they have is nothing near what they have to offer me there and when I get out. I am starting to think of all the other colleges and how they teach. Oh by the way, UML sucks use ORM :)

Re:Both (1)

tekaris (967679) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674710)

It's clear you didn't go to the engineering school at UVA. I do, and they spend the first year teaching the problem solving process, and in the end you can at the very least analyze any problem, and if you have the right area of expertise, you can solve it. Examples are good too, and they help you practice. But there is an actual method to approach problems.

Re:Both, but silly choice of words (1)

swordfishBob (536640) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674762)

I am not sure the question makes sense. Engineering is about solving problems. That isn't a rote field, but teaching the solving of problems is done by example. Ideally you want to educate somebody able to solve a novel problem.

Spot on. Having an engineering degree, and having taught some subjects in the same, it's not always easy; made worse when the intake contains a lot of students from a rote-learning background.

Poor use of the word "career" though. Its origins already mean trajectory or heading, rather than "job".
Merriam Webster:
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle French carriere, from Old Occitan carriera street, from Medieval Latin carraria road for vehicles, from Latin carrus car
1 a : speed in a course b : COURSE, PASSAGE

Re:Both (2, Insightful)

JohnNevets (924868) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674942)

I agree completely. I went to school for Mech. Eng. but had a tough time finding a job out of school. So I took a job doing simple design work with mostly tech school grads in drafting. I may not have been as quick at CAD as these others, but after a couple of months I could get twice as much done. This was because I could adjust, they only knew what to do if they had done it before. It's not that these folks weren't smart enough to adjust, they were never tought to think for them selves, to solve problems, and to make educated guesses. Fortunately, this was recognized at the company, and I'm still with them. Moved up to structural engineering, got my PE, and got paid. See kids this is why you need thinkers, not tradesmen.

It takes both kinds (5, Insightful)

emor8t (1033068) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674008)

It takes both. Producing "thinkers" gives us people who understand what is going on, and can analyze situations.

Problem is, they tend to over complicate somethings.

For example. Who would you hire to do the wiring in your house, and electrician or an electrical engineer?

Granted this is an extreme situation, but in theory, shouldn't both be able to do the task? Yes. However, an electrician has done it many times before and has the benefit of experience.

Now, who do you wanted designing a NASA space vehicle?

Re:It takes both kinds (2, Funny)

smallfries (601545) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674288)

The other problem is that while someone can learn how to think, it is very difficult to teach someone to think. A good engineer is one who understand why not to over-complicate the problem. People can be shown various sets of problems with a common theme, but it takes something from them to understand the connections.

As far as the NASA spacecraft goes ... someone who understands the principles and applications of duct tape. Lots of duct tape...

Duct tape is only half the solution (2, Funny)

benhocking (724439) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674486)

You need WD-40, too. If it moves and it shouldn't, use the duct tape. If it doesn't move and it should, use the WD-40. (I've forgotten where I lifted that from.)

Trade schools (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17674012)

College should be about creating thinkers. It's just like CS majors vs programmers at a tech school.
Sure both can program but who develops the sophisticated software that run super computer simulations?
The CS major. The other programming just write the supporting code usually. There are exceptions just
like everything else though.

Re:Trade schools (4, Insightful)

Average_Joe_Sixpack (534373) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674186)

Sure both can program but who develops the sophisticated software that run super computer simulations? The CS major. The other programming just write the supporting code usually.

Most likely the math or physics major. CS has become a joke, and most curriculum's resemble job training in Visual Studio.

Re:Trade schools (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17674308)

When I was studying computer science we focused on the science aspect with the programming aspect revolving around the development of algorithms and systems, not "point-and-click programming" or even vendor-specific products. But then again it was an honours degree.

Re:Trade schools (1, Insightful)

badboy_tw2002 (524611) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674338)

A good CS program will have theoretical courses on CS topics: OS, compilers, concurrency, graphics, etc etc. Once one of the text books has a specific tech of the day or "Programming in" in the title, you might as well pack it in and get an associates IT degree. Learning how to program has very little place in a CS program. Its like construction skills in an architecture school - you have to know about it, maybe even how to do some of it to truly master your area of expertise, but that's not what your at school for.

Re:Trade schools (3, Informative)

Dan Farina (711066) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674500)

Oh, I don't know...

I think most of the top ten, twenty, or even thirty universities in the nation probably still teach academic computer science...

Example: []

The CS9[A-Z] courses you see there are only worth one unit, not part of any required curricula, are self-paced, and are pass/no pass -- in other words, entirely optional and for the benefit of curious students.

The requirements for a degree in EECS at this university are CS61[ABC] and EE(CS)?(20|40). If you look at the upper division courses, you will see things like:

            CS150 Components and Design Techniques for Digital System... [archives]
            CS152 Computer Architecture and Engineering [archives]
            CS160 User Interface Design and Development [archives]
            CS161 Computer Security [archives]
            CS162 Operating Systems and System Programming [archives]
            CS164 Programming Languages and Compilers [archives]
            CS169 Software Engineering [archives]
            CS170 Efficient Algorithms and Intractable Problems [archives]
            CS172 Computability and Complexity [archives]
            CS174 Combinatorics and Discrete Probability [archives]
            CS182 The Neural Basis of Thought and Language [archives]
            CS184 Foundations of Computer Graphics [archives]
            CS186 Introduction to Database Systems [archives]
            CS188 Introduction to Artificial Intelligence [archives]
            CS191 Quantum Information Science and Technology [archives]

They don't seem like industry shills to me.

Re:Trade schools (1)

Dan Farina (711066) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674812)

For completeness: And five upper division courses, with one being a "design course," that is to say a course with a substantial programming project.

Re:Trade schools (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17674600)

CS has become a joke, and most curriculum's resemble job training in Visual Studio.

Can you give a specific example? You sound like gramps complaining "back in my day we only had 1s and 0s to code in, and sometimes not even 1s"

What does the market need? (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674440)

but who develops the sophisticated software that run super computer simulations?
The CS major.
Does it need lots of people who develop super computer simulations?

How's about a modular approach? Let students choose what they think they need.


Why yes, yes it does (1)

benhocking (724439) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674534)

Does [the market] need lots of people who develop super computer simulations?
You wouldn't have guessed it 5-10 years ago, but these skills will shortly be in high demand. Once 4+ core CPUs (with 80-core already in development) become the norm, what used to be called "super computers" will be called "desktop computers" in the near future.

Re:Why yes, yes it does (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17674906)

You wouldn't have guessed it 5-10 years ago, but these skills will shortly be in high demand. Once 4+ core CPUs (with 80-core already in development) become the norm, what used to be called "super computers" will be called "desktop computers" in the near future.

That is until compiler technology catches up. Of course you'll have those that wish to hand optimize their code, but for the real world the tradeoff won't be worth it in most situations. It's just like the folks that used to embed assembler in their C program: once it was common, now.. maybe if you're doing embedded systems work.


Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17674018)

That is what Princeton does.... along with the top Ivies.

We trump state schoolers, though. =)

C+ average at Princeton = A average at state school/cc


doktor-hladnjak (650513) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674258)

I think some [] public [] schools [] might disagree.


Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17674522)

that's a joke. senator's sons and daughters don't go there

Re:DEFINITELY AGREE (5, Interesting)

krotkruton (967718) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674610)

C+ average at Princeton = daddy was an alum and donated a lot of money while his son/daughter partied/sat around all through college.

Top engineering schools in the US [] (in '05 cuz it was the first I found): #5 University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (public state school), #18 Princeton. If an A average at UIUC is worth a C+ average at Princeton, why is the ranking higher? Actually, don't answer that because I know about all the complications with school rankings.

I went to Pomona College and took computer science classes at Harvey Mudd, which is consistently ranked as one of the top non-graduate engineering programs. I didn't like the atmosphere out there and transferred to UIUC which is near my home. I have gotten good grades at both schools and can honestly say that it is more difficult to get an A at UIUC compared to the smaller private Harvey Mudd. The main reason for this is that the teachers are much more available and willing to help at smaller schools, while you generally have to figure everything out on your own at large schools. Larger schools are also much more likely to have classes that are intended to kill off the weaker students, usually by making the class very difficult, which again makes it hard to get an A.

That really doesn't matter that much though. The point is that you sounded like a jack ass. Troll me if you want, I just have a problem with people who think they are better because they go to a private school.


Seraphim1982 (813899) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674796)

The main reason for this is that the teachers are much more available and willing to help at smaller schools, while you generally have to figure everything out on your own at large schools.

At Cornell I found this was a function of the size of the department. The small departments tended to have professors who went out of their way to make themselves avaible, while the larger departments tended to make you work for it.


Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17674900)

That's almost hilarious. What universe are you from?

In the universe I am from, public universities have no problem failing one's sorry ass unlike the more frequently soft private universities.

Training happens on the job (3, Insightful)

scourfish (573542) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674034)

The college part of educating engineers boils down to quickly teaching basics and cram assloads of math, both which are needed. The training and specialization happens on the job in usually an apprentice like manner. In many cases, co-ops or internships are very similar to apprenticeships, and in my case, I had 2 years experience working on electronics under an engineer before I got serious and started college. My boss taught me many practical things, however to learn everything that college could have taught me under my boss would've taken a million bajillion years. If the education part of it does need to be changed slightly, then I'd require engineers to take a course or work alongside the construction workers or assembly line workers or machinists for a short period of time.

Practical vs. Theoretical (1)

Lotharjade (750874) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674618)

Well, there is also the difference between Practical vs. Theoretical in class room training. I kept having to take math classes that were taught "Theoretical" for all the math majors in the class. I talked to people who took the same math class from a University specializing the math classes for engineers, thus stressing the "Practical". The theoretical is good for teaching engineering professors and researchers at University, whereas the practical is typically a much better application if you enter the normal engineering job force.

Derivatives and Integrals are good for all engineers, but proofs are the food for the theoretical engineer.
"A proof? Why would I want to go backwards again?"

Re:Training happens on the job (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17674650)

I work for a structural engineer, and have for 6 years. I can count on one hand the number of times I have needed to know Calculus, or really anything past basic Trigonometry.

And in that one instance, there was a (slower) method of doing it via Algebra (important, since I was doing the calculation in Excel).

So Engineers don't *need* assloads of math. That said, I'm more of a tradesman than a thinker at my office.

Trade school then engineering degree (1)

travisco_nabisco (817002) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674056)

I agree that most engineering grads aren't sufficiently equiped. My solution was to go to a local college first and get a diploma in Computer Engineering Technology, which was almost all hands on. Then through a transfer program I went into 3rd year Engineering and will finish that in a year or so. Not to mention that school I'm at requires at least four 4 month coop work terms in order to graduate.

Re:Trade school then engineering degree (2, Insightful)

CastrTroy (595695) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674146)

I think coop is a great thing. You can't learn everything you need to know at school, and you can't learn everything you need to know on the job either. A certain mix is definitely a good thing, in almost all professions, not just engineering. Had I just gone to university, and not had any co-op experience, or pursue related studies outside the classroom, I wouldn't know the first thing about how to do my job right.

only the trade is teachable (2, Insightful)

r00t (33219) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674058)

Without the trade education, you'll never get that first job.

Beyond that, there isn't much the school can do. Either you're a thinker, or you're not a thinker. This isn't something for a school to teach.

The best you can ask is that high-reputation schools simply discard all the non-thinkers, so that a degree from one of those schools indicates that you are a thinker.

Engineers are not usually thinkers (1, Insightful)

2.7182 (819680) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674060)

I went to physics grad school and work in an engineering school. The engineers are not thinkers compared with physicists and mathematicians.

Re:Engineers are not usually thinkers (4, Insightful)

trentblase (717954) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674210)

This is true. Everyone has to figure out where on the doing-thinking continuum they fit best. I'm an engineer because I like theory AND application. Physicists are mostly theory, and electricians are mostly application.

Re:Engineers are not usually thinkers (1)

Goldsmith (561202) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674244)


They describe my physics grad school experience: small groups, collaborative, with a problem solving point of view.

Re:Engineers are not usually thinkers (1, Insightful)

warrior_s (881715) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674284)

went to physics grad school and work in an engineering school. The engineers are not thinkers compared with physicists and mathematicians.

For an example.. you know those things called microprocessor-chips inside your computers.... yeah.. Engineers design those.. not physicists or mathematicians. And I think you can not design those without having the ability to think.

Re:Engineers are not usually thinkers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17674544)

I'm confused. Is your comment an intentional troll, or just the product of some sort of inter-disciplinary superiority complex?

Re:Engineers are not usually thinkers (1)

dangitman (862676) | more than 7 years ago | (#17675004)

Only if you think that abstract thinking is inherently superior to applied knowledge. There's nothing clear-cut that makes one better than the other, they are both a part of the continuum of humanity.

Re:Engineers are not usually thinkers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17675026)

Pure scientists have by and large been dim-witted about engineers and applied science. They couldn't get interested. They wouldn't recognise that many of the problems were as intellectually exacting as pure problems, and that many of the solutions were as satisfying and beautiful. Their instinct - perhaps sharpened in this country by the passion to find a new snobbism wherever possible, and to invent one if it doesn't exist - was to take it for granted that applied science was an occupation for second rate minds. I say this more sharply because thirty years ago I took precisely that line myself.
- CP Snow
The Two Cultures and A Second Look

Link [] to above quote, read the cookie recipe there.

Engineers are not created by education, but the more educated they are the less research they have to do for each job and the easier it is for them to do the research and not be as likely to miss something. Experience is the world's greatest teacher but formal education is learning from the experience of others in a guided fashion. Engineering is, in part, applied science and the better one knows science and mathematics the better one can apply it. Engineers were at least at one time made or broken by their reputations, there in an early failure could send them looking for other lines of work and was again useful to have a well rounded education.

As a grad student at USC (5, Insightful)

tempestdata (457317) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674074)

As a grad student at USC and someone who has studied under Mr. Brown, I'll say that I have to agree. Atleast as far I am concerned, I wouldn't want my professors to be teaching me a specific technology or system. I want them to teach me to think at a higher level. I mean if you really want to learn a technology well, do you really need a classroom and a professor? Can't you just pick up a few books, download some tools/compilers/etc. and learn it yourself?

On the other hand, what professor's teach you isn't so much how to code in Java or write PHP. What a professor teaches you (atleast the ones I've studied under here at USC) is how they (or other experts) tackled/approached engineering problems in the past, which IMO is more valuable.. in other words.. they impart more wisdom than knowledge. I think most good engineering schools would follow a similar pattern of teaching.

GIGO (1)

currivan (654314) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674078)

What makes you think universities can change people that much? People who are going to be thinkers aren't going to be ruined by learning specific technologies. People who can't think creatively will find ways to learn by rote no matter what you test them on.

The program I graduated from ... (1)

nels_tomlinson (106413) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674086)

The program [] I graduated from definitely aimed to put out thinkers. They told us that technology would change many times during our careers, and we could only remain valuable if we understood underlying principles, and could apply them in novel ways. That was 25 years ago, but it sounds a lot like the contents of the TFA.

So, we were doing it 25 years ago, we still need to do it today, what have the schools been doing in the time in between?

Markets (1)

overshoot (39700) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674392)

So, we were doing it 25 years ago, we still need to do it today, what have the schools been doing in the time in between?
They've been responding to the demands of the companies that provide them with grant money: crank out people we can hire today with minimal post-hire training. Ideally, ones who will work cheaply so that we can keep a lid on salaries for the senior staff who we can accuse of being "behind the times."

Re:The program I graduated from ... (1)

Lotharjade (750874) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674394)

I find the program at the school mentioned produces thinkers, but give less hands on experience to applying it. At least compared to some of the schools down south. The thinking part is good, but it would be nice if they tied in more projects letting the students get to bite into a problem in more detail.

Hands-On (4, Insightful)

billdar (595311) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674088)

Learning is a constant process and required in engineering. The Tradesmen vs. Theory is one I debate all the time with my colleagues. What it comes down to is who comes out ready to produce.

I graduated from an engineering university that focused on real-world hands on engineering. It has been my general observation that when it comes to taking a project from design to field implementation, engineers from theoretical schools tend to:

1. Not know where to start
2. Over design the project
3. Have a general disconnect between paper engineering and field engineering.

It may be a bit of envy, I still have to go back to my text book for the requisite math, but the hands-on guys seem to have an advantage.

Re:Hands-On (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17674726)

God I'd love to be able to hire people with an ability to finish projects. That's why I refuse to hire CS grads. They're useless. The best programmers I hired had degrees in things like Russian Literature and Psychology (no shit). Theory isn't useless, but theory for the sake of theory is fucking useless. Same thing with the engineers. I've never gone wrong hiring an engineer who's a ham radio nut. However, most new engineers are useless. They're absoblutely incapable of building something. They're incapapble of picking standard designs and putting them together into something that will work without a ton of lab equpiment. Ham's however, have that part of engineering down.


Re:Hands-On (3, Interesting)

debrain (29228) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674780)

I agree. I work with some engineering firms, and these are businesses. They hire graduates of an engineering school with a view to employing them as engineers within the known scope of engineering. Adam Smith's theory of specialization is enhanced by efficiently producing effective specialized workers, not by producing generalist thinkers who need subsequent training to become effective engineers. (Ultimately mind you, there may be an argument that a generalist thinker will eventually produce more output than a worker; I don't know, personally) Thus, a vocational school has a definite advantage, and the working world requires more effective engineers.

Those who want to have a generalist "thinker" engineering career can take a masters or Ph.D. in engineering. I think it's at that level that it makes sense to start broadening the theoretical view.

Tradesmen! (1)

Prysorra (1040518) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674110)

If every man were a f*****g Jack of All Trades, then I'd lose my job as a handyman!

Myself, I go for tradesman (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17674134)

In my 20's I was largely a waste of time. Only perused the things I had an interest in. Partied a lot. Campus was as much social as intellectual pursuit. This is not what I would call my "thinkers" phase. Now that I am in my 40's I have more perspective and more maturity and more self-control and self-direction. Campus might actually be of more use to me now than ever before.

In any case, now I realize that big-picture knowledge growth is a constant and can come from self-study, so better start with tradesmen approach to pay enough bills early to get to the maturity of the 'thinkers' phase.

Problem (4, Informative)

mikers (137971) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674144)

As a university (Engineering school) graduate, I can say that employers today (with the exception of a handful of big utility companies) want employees trained on: the exact technology they will be working on, the latest and up to date tools and projects using specific technology. The whole thinking aspect or training employees on something specific -- hiring proven generalists such as those produced by engineering schools (someone trained for a career) is something from a time past.

From the employer side, competition these days is as bad as it ever was, particularly from overseas, and justifies the need to think short term (someone who can fill a particular position NOW, rather than someone who can fill it a little later but arguably might be a better long term investment for the company).

This is not putting down trade-type training, and to those thinking of being critical of my stance... Consider this: Would you want a high school graduate fresh out of school installing the electrical wiring in your house? Wouldn't you want a trade with some education doing it? Wouldn't you want a well educated doctor operating on you that has had an additional two years of specialty training in some obscure area rather than a GP? Would you rather have someone who is trained to think in terms of more basic principles and math rather than someone educated only on the latest technology and gizmos?

The answer is that it ultimately depends on need: if a tradesperson will do, don't hire an engineer! And if you need to look beyond the current technology but need some serious thinking, don't hire a tradeperson!


one of many problems (1)

asadodetira (664509) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674154)

The question is hardly new but it's just one of the many unsolved problems in education. How to test? How to teach effectively? How to motivate students? How to train teachers properly? Have any of these been properly addressed yet?

Wide Variety Wins! (1)

mpapet (761907) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674160)

people who can cope with a wide variety of problem inside and outside their area of expertise

They much more likely to find innovative solutions (though not "pretty" ones) and be innovators.

Employers? (4, Insightful)

metlin (258108) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674168)


Leave them alone for a moment, think of the people themselves.

Most do not want to think for themselves and would rather do something mundane that pays the bills.

The percentage of people that actually want to think for their living is quite dismal in the grand scheme of things.

Secondly, look at who is more respected/has more resources in the society -- a "pop" star or a mathematician?

While the mathematician may be content with what s/he may have, society for the most part does not care about its "thinkers".

If we did, there would be far more folks out there doing things like pure mathematics, theoretical physics and other abstract areas that genuinely require thinking (not to discount the thinking in engineering and applied sciences, but pure sciences generally require more of a deidication than applied sciences and engineering).

So while engineering schools may be geared towards thinking, the question boils down to how many jobs out there require you to think as opposed to obey? How many people out there like people that think rather than do as they are told (while doing as you are told is certainly an important part of your learning experience, how many folks here have felt that they could find a better solution than the ones they have been asked to implement?).

No, if you want thinkers you need a society that encourages thinking.

Re:Employers? (0)

GigsVT (208848) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674256)

Who cares what you want, or what society wants? Education is not some socialist wet dream. The market forces of supply and demand will control which universities succeed and which fail.

The ones that keep teaching useless crap, will fail.

The ones that teach in a modern way will succeed. An english major that required you to learn how to make paper and pencils would be laughed at. Those were important skills in the beginning of the written word though. Why do we still teach CS and engineering majors tons of higher math? It's a vestigial remnant of what computers and engineering used to be about. Today we have computers to do the math for us.

Universities will adapt or die. The ones that insist on teaching CS or engineering like it's just some subset of a math major will go away.

Re:Employers? (5, Insightful)

metlin (258108) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674396)

The market forces of supply and demand will control which universities succeed and which fail.

The ones that keep teaching useless crap, will fail.

That's a very short-sighted perspective.

The Fourier series was discovered in the 1700s, and calculus before that, by people who thought they were doing pure sciences. Any applied value then? Nope, none whatsoever.

Ditto for boolean algebra, which came about long before we had computers.

The ones that teach in a modern way will succeed.

Care to define what "modern" is?

Why do we still teach CS and engineering majors tons of higher math? It's a vestigial remnant of what computers and engineering used to be about.

Oh, I do not know, maybe because most of _actual_ engineering is applied math? You should probably read up some papers on graphics, AI, game theory or theoretical CS -- it's almost entirely all math.

Today we have computers to do the math for us.

No, today we have computers to repeat and apply existing solutions to problems we have already solved. New problems? The human mind still kicks ass at pattern recognition and problem solving.

Universities will adapt or die. The ones that insist on teaching CS or engineering like it's just some subset of a math major will go away.

Most areas of CS and engineering are subsets of math and physics. Computer Science is more than writing some code, it's about mathematics, formal logic and other applied areas.

In fact, in the days to come, I'd imagine that CS itself is likely to breakup into smaller areas of focus.

Goodluck, though. Methinks you flunked math in school?

Doesn't matter. (2, Insightful)

Bluesman (104513) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674202)

I really like the ideas presented in the article. I'd love to go to a school where independent projects were the norm and lectures weren't. But even if all schools were like this, nothing would change. Colleges, professors, schools, and most institutions don't have as much influence on people as they like to believe.

For a "thinker" that's motivated to become an engineer, the vast amount of learning will be outside of the classroom, and would probably take place whether that classroom was there or not. True, the right program will facilitate the development of such a person, but in the end, these people are naturally curious self-starters, and would probably succeed without a formal education anyway.

Then you have the people who go to school to put a check in a box, and who hope that getting the right qualifications on paper will land them a job. These people will do whatever is necessary to get the qualification, whether it be going to lectures, doing projects, what have you. In the end, they'll also likely succeed in getting a job, but they'll likely never be the creative types with new ideas, no matter how they were taught.

The difference is one of personality and attitude. It doesn't matter how you teach. Changing the curriculum won't change the people.

Re:Doesn't matter. (1)

Lotharjade (750874) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674742)

I wish when I set out for college they had a group/website that analyzed all the college engineering programs, and rated how much was practical and how much was theoretical. Also, how much was hands on vs. book learning. How each engineering department taught, and what they stressed for a teaching program.

Of course, I wish there was a site like that now.

Re:Doesn't matter. (2, Insightful)

TheVoice900 (467327) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674888)

Exactly! All the most successful and brightest (real-world smarts, not just good at getting high grades in their courses) people I've met throughout my university career are those that have a genuine passion for what they are doing, and a strong desire to learn. They do many projects outside the scope of their studies, and spend a great deal of time outside of their courses learning additional skills. I have no doubt that these people would be successful regardless of the structure of their program (Which, incidentally, in our case is a a decent mix of both hands-on work and theory).

It's a balance (1)

Derkec (463377) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674224)

You need a balance. An engineering program should still be rich in Math, Literature, Science and other things that require the brain to think in different ways.

But at the end of the program, it would be nice if you weren't completely useless to potential employeers. Part of that is going to be something approaching vocational training - learning a commonly used programming language in a computer science program. But to have both good thinkers produced and be vocationally useful, you need those programming classes to address hard problems.

Now, at the time I was getting my degree I thought the study of state machines and other theory was useless and wanted more vocational stuff. In retrospec, that kind of class taught me more ways to think about problems and was quite valuable.

Maybe some of both? (1)

cowscows (103644) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674254)

My chosen career path is architecture, not engineering, but there's a lot in common. My education was very theoretical, much more concerned with spatial theory, aesthetic concerns, useability isues, etc. We very lightly brushed on the physical realities of architecture (structures classes were a joke, materials and methods stuff was very simple). I enjoyed it, and learned a lot, but when I got a job in the profession, I was very unprepared for the day to day stuff that I have to handle. Basically in school I really only learned how to design buildings at a more schematic level, while the majority of real architecture work is much more technical, detailed, and client oriented.

I found it very frustrating while in school, and it's definitely been annoying to have to learn so much just to be useful in my job. Hopefully one day I'll get to design a museum or something, and more of my education will be useful. Basically, it felt like they were teaching us like we'd all end up being superstar designers, the ones who just sketch out crazy shapes and have their underlings turn it into a building. In the real world, that's not how most architects work, and I wish I had been a little more prepared for what I do all day now.

It would also put new graduates in a better position than being basically worthless to a firm at the beginning, and maybe let them demand a more reasonable salary.

Architecture school analysis (1)

Lotharjade (750874) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674912)

It would be nice if there was a site/group that analyzed the teaching pricnicples and strategies that each architecture school used. So that you would have a better idea what sort of degree you were ending up with.

For example, I find that Archictural Engineer can mean five or more things. An engineer with building design (looks) experience, and architecht with some structure training, an usability expert, a lighting designer, or an (commonly) interior decorator. Something I think would be good if they clarified and set standards for each with a proper title.

Funny you should ask (1)

overshoot (39700) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674266)

Since I'm currently recruiting for an NCG.

My vote is for someone who understands the fundamentals and how to extend them -- thinkers, in other words. Education, not training. The well-trained monkeys start out with a few months head start in knowing tools (if they're lucky) and after that fall behind for the rest of their careers. Before you know it their only options are Marketing and Management.

I'll second the unanimous opinion of the professors we spoke with at quite a few Universities when the boys were deciding where to go: "You can never get too much math or physics." It didn't matter whether they were professors in engineering, CS, physics, ...

here's 2 examples (3, Interesting)

dweebzilla (871704) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674286)

I know Tufts is addressing it by asking engineering students to take classes outside their chosen area - to broaden them a little, but mostly offering courses that might help future grads benefit and or profit from their innovations instead of letting their employer take all credit and profit. (Things like learning a little about IP laws, how patents work, and how to apply.. ) All stuff designed to help the little guy.

Daniel Pink also addresses this issue from another angle in his book "A whole new mind" he asserts we will only move forward by combining both left-brain and right-brain skills. While I'm not 100% on board with all the things he talks about, I think his direction is right on point.

Sounds good until the bridge collapses (1)

finarfinjge (612748) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674292)

The short article talks a lot about 'social interactions' and such. It makes reference to things like the linux development model. All good ways to apply science. Learning applied science, (which is what my degree in engineering is technically called) comes first. You can't design a bridge without understanding shear stress, bending moments etc. And speaking from experience, you don't learn that stuff unless you are in the class, listening to the lectures and then doing a lot of problems.

I suspect the guy quoted is one of these people that learns easily and can't see that for most people his method is MUCH harder.



In Australia... (5, Interesting)

alchemy101 (961551) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674306)

I think in Australia traditionally you had technical colleges (such as TAFE) and Universities providing a clear difference in the direction of things being taught. Technical colleges producing "tradesmen" and Universities producing "thinkers".
The problem has been that increasingly universities have been seen by consumers as a way of getting a job rather than as a pathway to higher learning as academia and thus there is expection by them, to be taught "practical" skills. I think a reason for this is there is a small stigma attached to technical and trade colleges as being "dumber" than their uni counterparts. I think in this way, the problem is that consumers do not really understand what the function of universities are.

Re:In Australia... (0)

cibyr (898667) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674774)

Knowing a few people at university and TAFE... the stigma is fair. With a few notable exceptions (eg chefs), people at TAFE are either dumber or significantly less motivated than their university counterparts. TAFE is a cop-out for a lot of people who don't want to do anything with their lives and want to mooch off their parents/community for a while yet (though university is too, it's a little harder to stay in uni without doing some work and learning something).

How about choice (1)

rRaminrodt (250095) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674322)

How about letting some schools do it one way and other schools can do it the other way. There could even be schools that exist somewhere in between on the same spectrum. Then, individuals can choose whatever they think is the most appropriate for them when deciding where to study.

Nah. Lets just force everybody to do it the same way. ;-)

This article is spot on (1)

MCTFB (863774) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674344)

and hopefully our education system in the future will reflect some of these truisms. Whether it be private industry or public education that adopts to these changes does not matter. What does matter is that the idea of going to college and getting a degree and then intellectually vegetating at some cushy job the rest of your life is sooooooooooooo 20th century. In the new millenium people will have to take the personal initiative to keep learning and keep themselves educated whether they are in their 20's or their 80's. In addition, the idea of "retirement" will become an outmoded concept as competition for limited resources among a growing world population will not allow many people to live a "life of leisure" for a third of their lives (assuming people retire in their 60's and die in their 90's).

I personally never graduated from college due to financial problems I had with financial aid, coupled with the fact that I thought at the time (and still do) that college is mostly a high-priced scam that exploits the amazingly inelastic demand for an inconsequential piece of paper which I did not want to spend my entire life paying off in the form of student loans. Some people would be bitter about not finishing school, but I am happy that I did not because it taught me that education should be a non-stop process throughout life and that an expensive piece of paper you have framed on your office wall would of been better spent on a framed piece of tasteful art since fine art generally appreciates in value over time, while diplomas quickly devalue at about the rate of a new car.

It is also amazing how people I know who have graduated from college a decade or more ago and who didn't keep their minds occupied with learning seem like dinosaurs today. I also sometimes wonder how they will fit into the new global economy in the near future when people in other nations where people are hungrier for success will be competing against these college grads who feel entitled to a well paid job, just because they successfully navigated some high-price rat race in their early 20's.

That doesn't mean that there is no place for formal education in this world anymore as some professions absolutely demand it (practicing medicine comes to mind), however, for the vast majority of jobs out there I think college education has become obsolete. The sooner our education systems adapt to this new reality, the better prepared people will be for a world economy that will be even more dynamic and exciting than it is today.

Already are (1)

wall0159 (881759) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674384)

From my experience they are already doing both. I studied biomedical engineering, and to a fair degree the kind of education one received depended on what one sought. There were those that rote learned the material (and did too damn well, in my opinion), and those that tried to understand it.

Then there were those that did neither. A year or two ago, I had one graduate ask me to "clarify" the difference between AC and DC... There should be a mechanism to revoke degrees...

Happy Medium (1)

Bryansix (761547) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674390)

The problem is theoretical educations leaves out the implementation stage of the equation entirely. This is the more important stage and involves rational thinking, business understanding, and experience.

The problem with teaching only a trade is that everything cannot be covered and even if it could be covered it would be obsolete before the student graduated.

What is needed is a happy medium where students get lots of theory but then are shown how to implement something real and tangible so these students have experience to draw from when they get into the real world.

Re:Happy Medium (1)

z-kungfu (255628) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674632)

Exactly... I work at a University and boy oh boy are they falling down on the job for the thinking part....

Can't it be both? (1)

theraptor05 (908452) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674404)

Should engineering schools be producing tradesmen (like an apprenticeship program) or should they be producing 'thinkers' (people who can cope with a wide variety of problem inside and outside their area of expertise)?

How about combination of the two. Like so many things, it's not so clear cut. Engineers need hands on experience, such as an "apprenticeship" (aka co-op) could provide, but that's not sufficient. There is a strong need for diversified thinkers. For example, MechE's don't just deal with gears and engines and such; they need to understand the electroncs that control those things, and be able to cope with the way they'll be controlled in the future. Diversity of knowledge is required, and a tradesmen approach can't provide that future coping ability; however the hands on part is needed for the present.

A nation at risk? (1)

wiggen (189285) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674432)

This is the same question that been asked for many years. Back in the 1980s, the Department of Education released a study called "A Nation at Risk" which made recommendations for education. Many of those recommendations were put into the Bush "No Child Left Behind" act. Basically, it was a call to return to the good old days of teaching the basics and all that. Let's get our test scores up!

What's notable about the the Department of Education's "A Nation At Risk" report isn't so much the conclusions. We've seen those conclusions over and over again each election cycle. No, the notable thing was another report that didn't get much publicity. This was done by the Department of Labor (I believe) which asked HR professionals and corporate CEOs what they wanted out of the education system. The answers were the opposite of the "A Nation at Risk" report. Business wanted individuals who knew how to learn, not individuals who already had learned. They wanted individuals who could solve problems, not individuals who had been taught the answers. They wanted thinking skills, not memory skills.

So, basically it comes down to what we want our schools to be doing. Do we want them to teach skills (such as thinking and problem solving) that will prepare students for the needs of the workforce, or do we want schools to be teaching students to do well on tests?

Depends. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17674442)

Do you want to live in a world full of tradesmen or a world full of thinkers?

Re:Depends. (1)

eskayp (597995) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674702)

Tradespeople, because when something breaks or needs to be built,
all the theories in the universe won't get the job done.
Theoreticians may (or may not) create new, more effective methods
to address life's challenges, but someone has to implement the
technology that is based on theory.

Tradeschools and Universities (4, Insightful)

istartedi (132515) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674444)

The easy part: Trade schools graduate technicians, universities graduate engineers.

The hard part: Getting people to respect a good technician more than a bad engineer. Getting people to pay technicians what they're worth.

The likely outcome: Universities will continue to slouch towards vocational teaching that could have been done at the trades or in highschool. People will spend 4 years at mediocre state Us to avoid the stigma of not having a BS, which is the new highschool diploma. The masters will become the new BS.

My father had a GED. I've got a BS. If I ever have a kid, he'll probably need a masters to match his old man's career.

At least one college does this (1)

Athena1101 (582706) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674478)

Olin College of Engineering [] was built to address this issue. Other schools like WPI have followed suit. The word is out there, especially to the ASEE, and it's being implemented. However, even as a graduate of Olin, I've gotten crap from people at more traditional engineering schools telling me I'll never be worth anything because I haven't been "trained" enough. There's some social change that needs to happen, not just at the university level, before this will really take off.

Re:At least one college does this (1)

LotsOfPhil (982823) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674948)

Olin College is a nontradtional college of maybe 75 kids per incoming class.

I was camping at Mt. Washington once and a bunch of punks from Olin College were at the campsite next to me. There were a lot of them, about 20, and they seemed to have a singular mind. They all had a zeal for playing stupid campfire games that strongly implied "We are borderline in a cult. We will follow our leader to death. Our leader knows all. Our leader is divine." Lucky for us the leader wasn't there but the signs of brainwash seemed all to clear. They played frisbee with reckless abandon. All of them. There were no dissenters. This was a large group of 18-20 year old guys and girls and no one seemed interested in anything interesting. There was no drinking, no flirting, no cursing, no dirty jokes. It was too wholesome for me to come to grips with. Something had to be up.
Anyways, they were annoying but were busy for a while and they quieted down around dinner time. After dinner the fire was going and we didn't have much to do. Our neighbors fired the brainwashing equipment back up though. Now things were bad. I had already decided that I hated these kids and was saying things like "I want to kill those kids with the blunt end of the hatchet." and "Let's go piss on their fire." That was when they didn't have my full attention. Now they had my full attention and decided to play some chanting game. "A chanting game?" you ask, "I'm not familiar..." As far as I could tell some one would add a phrase that started with the number one and then everyone would repeat it. Then the same for number two and everyone would repeat the phrases for number one and two. Then a phrase for three and then say them for one, two and three. I don't remember them but it would go like this, to use a well known example.
"One partridge in a pear tree."
"One partridge in a pear tree, two turtle doves."
"One partridge in a pear tree, ... , twelve drummers drumming."
The phrases were longer than that, too. The one I remember was something like "Seven thousand Macedonian warriors preparing for battle." If you don't know what a Macedonian warrior is, it is code for those kids are gay.

"There's some social change that needs to happen, not just at the university level" how dare you speak, Olin graduate!

Why not both? (1)

definate (876684) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674498)

If the education of engineers was not regulated the market would make this decision for you. It's a balance of both. If the course isn't directed at providing the training needed to perform a job, then the money they are paying for this education will not provide the benefits required and you should see a decline in people undertaking it.

I believe this is part of a large common problem in the United States, where people pay too much money for something which is not going to pay off, and isn't economical for them. In this case people are paying to undertake more theoretical study which they most likely wont experience in real life, and not on what the job would entail. Which isn't to say that you need to have 1000 courses tailored to 1000 jobs.

Why I left ... (1)

notpaul (181662) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674514)

I left engineering school because I was more interested in the conceptual underpinnings than in the number-crunching. I very quickly realized that no one was interested in "thinkers". At least not where I went to school. When I further realized that at many schools (of which my major state research-oriented institution was one) the primary purpose of undergraduate engineering programs is to manufacture more grad students to support the research ... I left.

IMNSHO, most of the academic & work worlds are FAR too oriented around "technical specialists" as opposed to "thinkers". (This is true in many fields, not just those traditionally thought of as "technical".) I agree with the above poster who said "it takes both" ... but I believe the pendulum these days has swung too far in the "number-cruncher" direction.

Hacker vs. Engineer (2, Insightful)

madirish2600 (149913) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674532)

I have to say I've witnessed this problem/challenge from multiple standpoints - as someone looking to hire a programmer, and as a self taught programmer looking at going to get a formal degree. As someone responsible for hiring programmers to assist me with my work I was somewhat surprised that the vast majority of CS graduates (engineers) knew the technicalities of the programming languages, but with no real world experience still had to be spoon fed exactly how to use those skills to solve a problem. As a self taught programmer looking to go back to school to get a degree in engineering I quickly realized that the advantage of such a degree would be the mathematics and theory I would learn. At some point programmers run into systems that are too large or complex to be hacked. And that's where I see the self taught programmers glass ceiling - the hack. Self taught programmers learn to make languages work for them, but they rarely understand the vast complexities behind the language (down to the binary). Getting a formal education may not make you the best suited person to actually write a specific application, but it will make you the kind of developer that can see beyond the immediate challenges of an application. Also, in terms of larger applications, without the theory and mathematics it simply isn't feasible. There's no way to hack a distributed program operating over multiple machines, networks and clients. While a self trained programmer might be able to pull it off, without the mathematical and theoretical background the product just won't be very efficient. This is where the formal training comes in, where it separates the trained engineers from the self taught hackers. Schools should realize that the hackers may be able to out pace their grads in simple or fairly straightforward programming tasks, but when it comes to something like systems design, their grads should stand well above the hackers.

Is "thinking" innate though? (1)

nboscia (91058) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674550)

I see engineering people in two ways: those who can "think" and those who can "follow". Both types of people can either have engineering degrees, or simply have experience in the field. Honestly? It doesn't seem to matter. Some people are born thinkers. University can perhaps tell the non-thinkers how to logically work through a problem; however, I believe it's superficial and they cannot operate outside of the scope of their book training. This is evident in the IT field especially. The "go-to" people who can fix any problem or come up with the best designs are often non-degree holders these days.

universities should do both (1)

Sir_Sri (199544) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674566)

I take the attidude that universities should teach students both. In CS we should be teaching students real world job skills, from basic cable monkeying and system setup/maintenance to programming, while at the same time teaching them to use those skills to solve novel problems.

It isn't that the situation is either or. Universities have to teach students real job skills, as the minimum standards of education go up, and employee training time goes down universities have to give their students something they can demonstratably do that is useful before they graduate. But that's first and second year, there are still 2 more years. The university students should be going through the same material faster than their college/tradeschool counterparts and secondly they are at school longer, and that extra time is where you differentiate your programme by giving them more novel problem solving problems.

As another poster said, who do you want doing your wiring an electrician or an electrical engineer. Comming straight out of school they ought to both know HOW to do it, the electrical engineer should also know why the house wiring code is the way it is, and be able to apply that to making a space shuttle, rail gun or lighting in a bridge, whereas the electrician is focused soley on the skill of house wiring (or whichever type of wiring they care about).

This is not a new question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17674582)

They were asking something like the same question when I was in school back in the seventies. I think we came up with the right answer and prospered thereby. When we compared our students with those in Japanese and German schools, ours were seriously underskilled. Of course, the Germans and the Japanese had the creativity educated right out of them. Given that the only thing that is going to save our economy is innovation, it seems obvious that we should be educating thinkers.

Having said the above, however, learning skills and content are absolutely necessary. You might compare skills to a gun and creativity to bullets. If you lack either, you're doomed.

Re:This is not a new question (2, Funny)

nate nice (672391) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674788)

"Having said the above, however, learning skills and content are absolutely necessary. You might compare skills to a gun and creativity to bullets. If you lack either, you're doomed."

That's a good analogy. Thanks.

Next time in an interview, after the prospect passes all skill things we need to verify, I'm going to look him dead in the eye and say (in my best Eastwood voice):

"Listen, we can see you've got the gun. But do you got the bullets?"

Should they teach one, or the other... (1)

nickheart (557603) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674596)

For $100,000+ for an education, I should think the need to do both!

bad summary of article (of course) (1)

harshaw (3140) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674664)

The article stresses that schools should focus more on life time learning rather than specific skills. This is great in theory but IMO an interest in life long learning comes down to your own motivation and enthusiasm. There are lots of people who just don't want to spend time learning after school.

On the subject of "thinker" vs "tradesman", this is a somewhat silly argument. Any good engineering school will help you learn how to use your basic skills to attack problems while also giving you the tools to learn about the real life engineering projects.

I prefer training for their career of choice (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17674784)

If someone is training an engineer shouldnt they train someone how not to kill vast swaths of people with their building/product?

Teach real problem solving...... (1)

zymurgy_cat (627260) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674816)

In my job, I spend a large amount of time at many different companies. I've worked with dozens of engineers over the years, and my experience is that the majority of them are not good problem solvers.

They've been taught the basics of engineering (general and the details for their fields), but most couldn't handle anything beyond a simple troubleshooting problem. What's really frustrating are those who have supposedly been trained in things like six sigma yet can't even throw together the simplest experiment to learn something new.

The best engineers I've worked with are problem solvers. It doesn't matter the field. If it's outside his/her area of expertise or training, he/she will research the information, ask intelligent questions, pose experiments or tests, and properly analyze and document the results.

I had an engineering professor who once stated that he could solve any problem. All he needed to do was apply the same basic principles and then take the time to look up and learn the specifics. That is what they should be teaching. Interdisciplinary work helps, but it should be mostly open ended. Throw a problem at a group of engineers like one would get at work, mainly opened ended with lofty goals assigned by someone who doesn't know voltage from resistance, alkalinity from acidity.

Side note: Part of this problem is due to the fact that companies usually don't let engineers be engineers. They make them act as "supplier managers." Got a problem? Call your supplier. Need to cut costs? Ask the supplier to reduce his/her price. Need to improve quality? Ask your supplier to do everything for you. Automotive companies are notorious for this. As a result, many of their engineers are no better than uneducated purchasing managers.

If everybody is "participating," where's progress? (1)

CatOne (655161) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674824)

Given that education works on quarters or semesters, it's tough to really make all that much progress in a 10 or 15 week course, if it's all about collaboration. Plus, with college scheduling, it's awfully tough with the given time blocks.

I will say, I had a fairly "theoretical" based education -- BS in Physics and MS in Electrical Engineering from Stanford. Now the EE program at Stanford was *very* hands-off... I spent a day or two calculating (on paper) what an optimal caching strategy was for L1, L2, and L3 caches... just math. And at the end of things... I don't know that I really understood computers all that well, despite getting a degree in EE with a computer hardware focus.

This compares to people I knew that got undergrad degrees in EE from MIT, who basically as a senior project were told to go build something much like an Apple II. Grab processors, logic, wire it all together, funge some microcode, get it to boot and write a program. Those folks with a BS could absoutely run circles around me when it came to practical experience. And I think it was a good education for them, because 5 years on I'm *sure* they could adapt it towards building something more complicated. Me... I could be a "consultant" and wave a nice high-powered degree in front of people, but build something myself? Er, no.

Anyway, the article is too light on specifics to really say *how* education should be changed. My opinion though is that college as it is (in the US at least) is pretty darned good -- it is markedly different to primary education in that pounding the books and doing the work isn't sufficient to do well -- to an extent you have to be able to "get it." At least, in math, science, and engineering for the most part you do. History may be a different kettle of fish.

uni doesn't produce "thinkers" (1)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674830)

university training these days doesn't produce thinkers. period. the engineers i've dealt with have trouble working out how to open a cardboard box let alone build a bridge.

More process than product (2, Funny)

Statecraftsman (718862) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674862)

Education is not about filling a role. It's also not about setting a trajectory whatever that means.

Education is about inspiring each student to do their best. Point out the flaws in their work and challenge them to go beyond what they and others have done before.

Would be nice... (5, Insightful)

lelitsch (31136) | more than 7 years ago | (#17674940)

But thinkers is not what most employers want in the freshly graduated engineers they hire. They want someone they can put onto project x using software y or tool z on day one, no matter how much their CEOs might talk about how they want "thinker" and "pioneers". There are some exceptions, but "I can layout amplifier circuits in ORCAD, program in Matlab and have never looked at anything except radar" will get you into the door at, say, Raytheon much faster than "I learned that I am good at problem solving". Now, it's a different story for engineering masters or PhD grads, but still most HR people prefer the skills match, be it Matlab or AutoCad, over the intangible qualities. This is at least partly due to the fact that you can't easily judge them in a resume and a short interview, but also because the engineering manager tells them "I need someone who can fill the place of the AutoCAD monkey who quit last week.

Creativity and "thinking" probably makes you advance faster once you have a job, or when you apply for your second job, but out of college, it's not the most looked for quality.

Disclaimer: I got a software job immediately after graduating in nuclear physics.

Tradesmen! (1)

monopole (44023) | more than 7 years ago | (#17675032)

With a proper respect for their betters (Physicists). Best to beat all that curiosity out of them, and geld them. Once their skills become obsolete, it's off to the Soylent Green plant for them.

What the good engineering schools do... (5, Insightful)

Erich (151) | more than 7 years ago | (#17675042)

Is introductory classes that fuse ideas (Algorithms, Data Structures, Memory Allocation, Signal Processing) with specific languages (say -- lisp, Java, C, and Matlab).

Then, once you get into upper level classes, you use those tools that you've acquired -- from classes or from elsewhere -- to accomplish tasks.

At least, from what I've seen. Who's taken a design class and been told what language they must write in? Unless you're forced to use an existing tool (ie, you MUST do your Computer Architecture work by extending simplescalar) or limited by the architecture (you can only choose between C and Assembly on most microcontrollers).

When I took my computer architecture class, we did trace-driven pipeline and cache models. I did mine in python; I was familiar with it from friends and I enjoyed using it. (I still do.) Other people used languages like Perl and Java, because that is what they were familiar with.

When I took video game design & programming, my group used Java for the client and C for the server. Other groups used tools like Visual Somethingorother or the Unreal engine (which was state of the art at the time). They chose tools that got them the product they wanted in the time they had. The team that wanted to do a "FPS Ultimate Frisbee" had great success with the Unreal engine. We had great success doing a multiplayer 2D board game using Java for the clients and C for the server. Partly because we were familiar with the tools and didn't have to fight them. Similarly, the person using Visual Studio wanted to make a DirectX game... and that was the right tool for the job. Writing a FPS from scratch in Java was clearly not the right option, nor was writing a 2D board game in the unreal engine. But the point was classical engineering of the kind that is most useful: given a set of resources (10 weeks in the quarter, a few University students with other classes, and only so many tools in the bucket), come up with a feasible idea and implement it.

Other schools have "computer science" programs where you learn linked lists and C++ pretty far along in your schooling (Junior year?), and you rarely (if ever) get free enough to design projects from the start. The difference is one of philosophy: using whatever tools available to accomplish the task you want to do, versus knowing tools to make things that someone else has mostly planned out.

It takes some of both kinds of people to make the world go around.

Most skilled trades (law, medicine) have secondary post-college programs entirely on top of arbitrary undergraduate degrees. It's a shame in a way that engineering gets crammed in with everything else; I think the secondary programs confer more respect on the people that go through them -- and a higher salary. If you had to get a Degree of Engineering on top of your undergraduate degree of choice, maybe engineers would have the respect they (IMNSHO) deserve.

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