When I was a kid, I used to take things apart to see if I could figure out how they worked. I realize I’m probably like every other engineer in that regard, but I was also one of those who failed to put things back together many times. I suspect I may have been more successful with time, but my parents put the kabosh on that particular behavior pretty quickly. Thus, I was doomed from the get-go as an experimentalist.
I learned to program when I was 9, and it turned out I was actually pretty good at it. Ironically, I never considered a career involving programming until college. I had wanted to go into physics after having a great time in high school physics classes. I love figuring things out, and that’s what physics was: non-stop problems that you had to figure out.
It wasn’t until I enrolled in grad school in engineering that I found out I really liked it. My primary goal in getting an EE degree was to get more experience with electromagnetism. I ended up, not surprisingly, becoming proficient in electromagnetic modeling (although I picked up a few other skills here and there, as well).
What I love about modeling is that I can take something that’s the size of a planet or tiny enough to see under a microscope and the computer treats it the same way. The equations work the same way. Once you get the hang of it, you can apply that knowledge to just about anything. You can look at different parts of your model and get the information you need.
And I seem to have a lot better luck with not destroying things in the process.
Still, my motivation in all of this has been pretty much the same: I like to figure out how things work. It turns out that in science and engineering, I can do a lot of that using computers and making things virtually. Usually I can do this faster and with less errors than dealing with real-world counterparts. In some cases, the reason I model things is because there is simply no other way to do it. Either way, the end result is the same: I get to make models on computers using physics, and I use those to learn something new about whatever it is I’m modeling. It’s really thrilling to understand how physics works in all these different scenarios and applications.
Thanks to XKCD for the awesome comic.