10 responses to “Ask the Readers: What Were Your Childhood Inspirations?”

  1. gasstationwithoutpumps

    I couldn’t answer the survey, because you have a forced choice of engineer that does not include either computer engineer or bioinformatician. None of the listed engineering disciplines fit me.

    Incidentally, I think that the NY Times article is badly wrong, at least for my university. I blogged about that at

  2. Tobias F

    Your childhood toys are missing a computer.
    My first try to make something useful, was helping my father getting some game to run on his PC.
    And while I fell out of love with software in the meantime, my start into engineering was defiantly software. My decision against CS and for EE was less then a year before starting college.

    A computer is probably the only thing (except Legos) that a tinkering child would have, unless his parents are tinkerers themselfs.

    1. Chris Gammell

      Good points. I added options for pre and post Win 3.1, as I think this is the point where kids were “building” vs “using” computers (though some of the post kids still did software stuff). I added a CE/CS option too. I know they’re different fields, but I figured it’s close enough 😉

  3. JohnS_AZ

    You seem to have a thing against Manufacturing Engineers. If it were not for us, the rest of you guys wouldn’t have anything to play with. 😎

  4. EricJuve

    You need to make your second set of selections check boxes instead of radio selection. In most of my career I have had to do software, electrical, and mechanical engineering.

  5. Loves the Sun

    I’m not exactly sure whether my parents pushed me into engineering or whether they merely encouraged my interests, but I always had science toys around growing up. So, I had Erector sets, blocks, Tinker Toys, and chemistry sets (back when chemistry sets actually contained chemicals!).

    The survey list was undoubtedly created by someone much younger than me, since it left out several staples of my youth: Heathkits; model cars, planes, and ships; and “Things of Science” (Google it). Of course, some are no longer even available, and others are sadly out of favor with kids today.

    But by far my coolest “toy” was … manila folders. My dad picked them out of the trash at work brought stacks and stacks of these home for me. I then colored, cut, and glued these into spaceships, ships, and Star Trek phaser and communicator models (among other things). The kids of things I could build was practically unlimited (although objects curved in two dimensions were impossible). Based on this experience, I should have been something other than an electrical engineer (mechanical? civil? architect?), but the experience taught me much that I’ve used since: the value of having a plan before you start out, there are limitations to what is physically possible, and things can be use for tasks other than for what they’re designed, for example.

    Of course, this hobby has been a source of endless mirth for my children, who have gently mocked me for years about building paper spaceships instead of having a social life (something which, of course, was not entirely true). I reply by reminding them that it helped me learn skills that put food on the table, a roof over their head, and that sent them to college.

    It’s been a long time since I turned a manila folder into a model of the Star Trek shuttle craft, but I still can’t pick one up without thinking, “Hmm … I could make a model of an X-wing fighter out of this …”

    1. Jacob

      That is, I have to say, just awesome.

  6. John Kurtzman Waffenberg

    Aspriations are not things that should be crushed without a good reason
    —Dr. Bauer-Reich

  7. Scott Wohler

    Prior to ever getting a Windows PC, my father used to bring home Tandy computers. Although I would consider him the biggest reason I became an engineer, I still remember learning Extended Color BASIC on the CoCo II/III, complete with the TRS-80 tape deck. At the time I was only about 5-6 years old, but I can remember vividly having to queue up programs on tape by listening to the data-modulated audio from the speaker. Cognitively, I became wired to gravitate towards all things challenging and technologically advanced.

  8. Follow Up On Childhood Inspiration | Engineer Blogs

    […] readers! cool!). And others informed me that I left out certain critical toys to their childhood. One commenter astutely mentioned that I must be younger than them; too right! I based this on my own experiences, […]