9 responses to “But They’re Just So…DIFFERENT!”

  1. Chris Shepherd

    Twenty five years ago I remember listening to my colleagues discussing projects and thinking ‘I wasn’t even born then’. Now my time has come :-)

    One thing you failed to mention about older engineers is they know how to make real measurements. In their day instruments didn’t do all the corrections for you or perform fancy DSP tricks.

    I remember it like it was yesterday. Now, if only I could remember what ACTUALLY happened yesterday…

    1. Chris Gammell

      As someone who works at a measurement company with a couple other 20 somethings, I’d probably debate this point. But I understand what you’re saying and I realize I’m the exception.

    2. Andrew Neil

      It’s not just real measurements: “old” engineers know how to do lots of real stuff from the ground up.

      This means that they have to understand the *principles* on which things are built. Too often, youngsters don’t have this understanding – because the principles have always been hidden in some “framework” or “IDE” or whatever…

      A classic example is software build errors: understanding the difference between compiler errors, linker errors, etc, is a major help in knowing where to look to fix the problem. Older engineers know about these things from the days when they had to manually run the compiler first, then the linker, then…
      Younger engineers don’t see this – because it’s all hidden by the “IDE”.

  2. Paul Clarke

    Great post Chris. There are some OLD engineers hiding in much younger bodies however!

    There are engineers like myself that did not find engineering when at college or Uni but when they were very little. For me when I was about 8. That means that have now clocked up 30+ years of electronics and I’m only 39 – so that means I started out in 1979! OK it was a hobby but you gain and learn a lot at that age. By comparison a Fresh Uni student would have to reach the age of 55 to clock up the same amount of years in engineering.

    So look out for the 30’somthing engineers too! and less of the OLD you young whippier snapper! :o)

  3. FrauTech

    Great post. Though in my experience older engineers tend to be less educated than younger. The older ones are not always degreed engineers having gotten to the position based on experience (which of course means they are even more naturally smart than us traditionally educated folks) and many others while having perhaps more stringent education in some areas, would not have had the same programming and CAD I had to go through, and generally they did not work internships and their first “real” job was not that difficult to get. Just my experience though, it could be a regional. Or note also when I think older engineer I’m definitely assuming a 45 or 50+ cutoff for this generation gap.

  4. Cherish The Scientist

    Not to be a naysayer, but I have noticed other things about working with older engineers – they don’t know how to treat women like professional colleagues, they prefer to use traditional methods when what you’re SUPPOSED to be doing is cutting edge, they’re not comfortable dealing with new things, they don’t always have good reasons for doing things they way they’ve done them (but I’ve always done it this way!).

    That is not ALL older engineers – there are always exceptions, of course. However, I can’t get behind the ‘older is wiser’ standpoint because sometimes the lessons learned from the past make people too afraid to work on something new now. However, this is coming from someone in research, which is different than working in industry.

  5. GEARS

    I’ve added the bulk of my 2cents over on my blog but I do think Cherish has an extremely valid consideration regarding sexism and professionalism towards women in the workplace. That’s not something I thought of immediately but should be brought up in the discussion.

  6. Jon

    I’ve never seen any unprofessionalism or sexism openly directed at a women engineer but older engineers do have a lower tolerance for bullshit and emotional pandering. The way I see it, if you have to work with someone, you have to work with them. I will add this though. In my experiences, women MEs are very intelligent book-wise but lack the hands-on experience that men have in that they did not grow up taking machines apart and building things. You can’t learn design by getting a 4-year degree. It’s an ongoing learning process that hopefully started when you were a kid. All the theory and mathematics in the world can’t help you if you don’t know when to apply them. There are a lot of male “textbook” engineers too and aside from research, I’m not too enthusiastic about working with them either.

    ME basically started with millwrights who had to physically build things after coming up with an idea. IMO, a good ME with a BS needs to be well rounded. Analysis, design, prototyping and testing are all things an ME should be able to do if needed. Ideally, MEs should have some electronics experience too. Anytime I’ve worked with a woman engineer in a long project, I ended up carrying her weight. I’m sure not all woman engineers are like this but I can only write about my experiences. If that offends you, hey what can I tell you. I have never been rude to anyone in the workplace though.

    1. Chris Gammell

      While I can’t speak to your past experiences, I believe things are changing. I highly recommend you read some of Miss Outliers posts (http://engineerblogs.org/author/miss-outlier/). She has been in a machine shop since childhood. And as in your examples, one data point does not make a trend, so I am not saying all engineers are as awesome as her. But she gives great perspective on hands on engineering and she’s someone to watch who is doing great things!