Sebastian Abbott is a British automotive engineer living and working in Germany. He regularly writes as the Canny Engineer. Baffled, amazed and in awe would also be appropriate terms to describe his outlook on this engineering life.

It is almost impossible to be an engineer much of the time. There are the days when you’re doing nothing but administration, getting tied up in repetitive or irrelevant meetings, when you’re yet again explaining the same thing to the same purchasing agent. There are the days when you’re being pulled in fifteen different directions at once, and you think, “Why am I doing this to myself?”
One answer is, of course, the money. A decent salary doesn’t hurt, but studies have shown that a higher salary often does not lead to better productivity. To achieve that, to really get you up with a smile in the morning, you need motivation.
I like the word, despite its overuse (and misuse). It is based on the terms for motion and movement. It implies a motive force, too – drive, as the sports psychologists would call it. It means not passively falling into something, but actively becoming. So, what was my motivation to get into engineering?
Put at its simplest, motion was my motivation. My “auto” motivation. Cars, planes, helicopters were always the things that I “pass-filtered” from the technical world around me. These things inspired me. They were the posters I stuck on my bedroom wall. And I not only asked “which is best?”, I also asked “could it be better?” I was also intrigued by air: I was always looking for the drag coefficients of cars in reports – was my assumption that one was more aerodynamic than the other correct?
Putting the two together took a while, but by the time I was 15 or 16, it was clear to me that I wanted to get into aeronautical engineering. That was the path I was going to take to make planes or cars go faster (that being the only valid criterion for a teenage boy in the 1990s).
The first time I stated in public that I wanted to become an engineer was at school: one boy in class laughed. “You, an engineer?” Basically, that boy challenged me to a defence. The challenge was merely one of definition, but it forced me to think about my future more clearly than I had before. And that was a reinforcing experience. After the initial emotions and mild panic, a good challenge can really clear the mind.
Now that we’re all in this part of the world called “engineering”, no matter at what stage we’re at we can consider the question: where better to find challenges than here? A friend of mine is currently designing gas pipelines to lie on the sea bed at a depth of around 2 km (1.25 miles). Another is designing the fairings for satellite launch rockets. As a hardware engineer, our electronic engineers cousins are mystical beings to me.
And me? I’m the one supposed to be answering the question here! Well, I’m still working with fluids, but inside cars rather than outside. My career (usually in the sense of careening than a clear progression) has brought me to automotive fuel delivery systems, via packaging engineering and climate control. And none of it was trivial, irrespective of how “sexy” or not the product was.
Another motivation for me staying in engineering and not following the siren call of project management is perhaps a little more esoteric. I feel that engineers, if they would only realise their full potential, could epitomise modern renaissance people. In the early 20th century, the idea of the Renaissance Man was one of artistic gentleman-philosophers who would engage in politics, knew far too much Greek, could rattle off all the rules of rhetoric, would perhaps dabble in chemistry and could jolly well ride a horse. They were to be the Leonardo da Vincis of the modern era.
Now, despite the worldliness tinged with cynicism that comes from growing up and working in industry, I still feel that engineers aren’t so far off from that ideal. Instead of letters, we engage in physics, chemistry, mathematics, materials science, purchasing and sales. We are involved in design and aesthetics, in communication, in providing energy, transport and in providing food for the world. This amazing connectedness of our jobs doesn’t just motivate me, it makes me feel proud.
Our jobs, as I mentioned at the start, involve lots of non-engineering. These are unavoidable in any career. We all need to ensure that the boredom that comes of filling out change request forms or obtaining signatures to buy parts does not overwhelm us – that is hard to do, but we need to remember: whatever we are working on, be it a brand new part or an optimised part or a small update for whatever reason – all of these actions lead to things that have never existed before. Our challenge and our motivation should be to create for the better, however “better” is defined.
Motion keeps me motivated, both in the product itself (fluids in cars, cars on the roads) and in my own career. New roles and new products have granted me new perspectives (the renowned “Fresh Eyes” concept is valid) and new perspectives are great opportunities to learn. My experiences in the auto industry have led me into project management, design for aesthetics, into costing, marketing, weight reduction strives, into corrosion science and more. But maybe I’m just that sort of person, a bit of an engineering gadfly, flitting from one thing to another, never really settling. Perhaps you prefer to focus on a specific area and make it yours, right down to the last detail. Tell us your thoughts and your perspectives in the comments below!
Thanks to mysza831 for the car picture

2 responses to “Automotivation”

  1. Jed Sutherland

    Hear, hear! Well said.

  2. gaurav kulkarni

    its good…….