Hands vs. Heads

Hands vs. Heads

We’ve had a few posts recently about jobs recently. Chris’s Weekend Journal said that degrees shouldn’t be necessary to obtain jobs (though they can help) and Sam followed up with a question about ways to establish your pedigree outside of a university degree.

I agree with the opinion that it is harder for a non-degreed engineer to get a job as an engineer.

The way I have often seen this structured is that the non-degreed engineer gets the job called “technician” where s/he builds for the engineer with the degree.

There is a general perception around technical positions, validated by lower salaries and position, that working with one’s hands is less valuable than working with one’s head.

People who build the prototypes are valued less than those that design the prototypes/ first articles. Never mind that the technician often needs to re-engineer around the engineer who may be great theoretically, but less practiced at designing something to work.

Is the technician really less valuable?

This attitude is disturbing since it creates class boundary lines in first article product design and manufacturing. Many manufacturing environments are structured with the office design staff physically separated from the factory build staff. Technicians work “on the floor” while engineers work “in the office”. Certainly one of the dividing lines is the degree or lack of one. One of the dividing lines that isn’t used (and should be) is knowledge/experience and lack of it.

Being capable of building something in real life is really valuable to the engineer possessing that skill. Now the engineer doesn’t have to jump through hoops to get a prototype built or ask permission to make something happen.

She can just do it.



Thanks to Dunechaser for the firetruck


Engineers and technicians are both valuable, with both values fluctuating depending upon what is being done. They have complementary skills, and the most valued engineers I’ve known were able to function as very capable technicians. Think about Thomas Edison or Leonardo da Vinci, for example.

What do I mean about “values fluctuating”? It depends upon what stage of the project you’re in. Generally engineers are superior in design while technicians are superior in building. Technicians are crucial to recognizing and working with product problems in the field, while engineers are crucial for failure analysis and lessons learned for future designs. Duties between the two inter-lap, and they need to interact with each other. The worst thing that can happen is when one or the other decides he is always superior and refuses to cooperate.

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