Being an Engineer – The Hard Way

October 21, 2011 at 8:12 pm (Uncategorized) ()

Let me start with a simple question, What is it that comes first, when you hear the word Engineer? A guy with a bright yellow cap standing on or around a construction site? Or someone who is drawing some mechanical sketches of an IC engine or may be a crank shaft? Or may be even a guy sitting in front of a laptop scratching his head. While referring Wikipedia, word “Engineer” comes from “engine”, which itself is of even older origin, ultimately deriving from the Latin ingenium (c.1250), meaning “innate quality, especially mental power, hence a clever invention.”

The idea of writing this article is to introduce three basic concepts for engineers, professional, personal and about life.

Steve Jobs – You can get the whole story from Internet, also about Larry Page, Sequoia Capital, Y-Combinator, Angel Investors and a whole number of stories about start-ups, ideas and too many fancy stories. I am not here to blabber some gibberish what you can possible google out. There where times in history when obscure things happen to humanity, and none perceived it well. I am here to share some thoughts about ourself.

There are three types of engineers, born engineers, bred engineers and forced engineers.

I’m picking out an Experiment conducted in Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the late 80’s. A monkey was put in a particular cage for a month. A banana was hanging on the ceiling of the cage which when the monkey touched delivered a short, low power shock. After a few months, one more monkey was introduced, after some time again one. And the process continued. Now, the shock was removed from the banana. When 10th monkey was introduced to the cage, he was not at all interested on the banana, as nobody seemed to be interested on it. He might have thought, ‘It seems to be fishy, better follow the flock’.

The first monkey is a born Engineer, who tried things out, but didn’t quite work out. Second, through ninth monkeys falls into the category of bred Engineers and the most popular class is with the tenth monkey who never tried to see the bleeding edge of technology or the ones who never know what they are doing. They are trying to solve a question which they never quite well understood. We can expect what would be the consequences of that fiasco.

Moral of the story is simple, ‘Don’t be the 10th monkey’. As humans evolved from monkeys, there is quite a reasonable point in arguing that, humans do follow a similar pattern. Most of us, just ignore many of the options in life, just simply thinking that ‘it might be risky’. Monkeys other than the first monkey are losers without even trying. We should think in a wider perspective. Think of the possible options and hidden potential within yourself.

So, what is the point? World was changing, and will keep on changing. But the basics of being a human, will keep on going.

Three Ideas about Life

This article is more about being able to perceive the world in a different perspective than about being an Engineer. Still, being an Engineer, the creator of some awesome stuff, we need to have a good outlook on the human life and the cosmos, for a better understanding of what is my role to fulfill in the jigsaw puzzle of the universe.
I’m jotting down three prominent points about life, I felt to share with.

1. Knowing
2. Aiming
3. Achieving
(Some what cliché points of personality development programs, but I tried to see things in a different angle.)

Knowing

To start with, the world as we know it, may doesn’t even exist. That would be a controversial point to start on, Still, there are a hand full of reasons to believe the claim. When compared with the vastness of the universe and the perception capabilities of human beings, it’s quite a good point that we are missing most of the universe as of now. Different theories like parallel universes, simulated universe, brane theories and so on and so forth. Latest theories suggest that, only conscious beings sense the world due to quantum interference and for the rest, universe appears to be an empty space.

Whatever be the idea, one thing to be notices is the fact that, humans are just a phenomena in the universe, like quasars or black holes, or more accustomed terms like rainbows or auroras. With right things at the right place at the right time, shows up something magnificent.

The problem with we guys is that we take everything too serious. How can something matter so much? The universe is growing, so should be our mindsets and thought process, wider and deeper in every instance.

Aiming

You are the only one being, who can/who wish to/who will fulfill your dream. Nobody knows it, and nobody will try for that. It is hard to think in this way, but frankly telling that would be the truth.

So, if you ever want to fulfill your dreams, its you who have to act, and it’s just you. If you have an idea to change the world, you should at least try. It might be next Facebook! Something within your mind (the idea) will be dead with you, if you didn’t get it out. You can make use of the best tools of all time, for mind mapping and get things out of your head and heart, an A4 notebook, a pencil and an eraser ( in-case, you got a better idea.)

Follow your dreams. There is only one known life for each of us, better live it in our own way. We might be guided by parents when we were kids, by teachers when you are growing up. Now, its time to find out, as a human, what each of us like.

If I started pointing out examples of heart following entrepreneurs, that would be a long list and mostly unusual and odd. First thing, earlier they drop out of colleges, more popular they became. It doesn’t mean you have to be a drop out to become popular, like Larry Ellison (Oracle) and Steve Jobs (Apple).

You define your limits. It’s not that, you just aim, together you should be willing to push yourself hard to the limits. ‘No Pain, No Gain’.

A thought about science and technology is worth sharing I feel. In 1928, IBM celebrated an event with great fuzz. It was the launch of their new punch card, with 80 bytes storage, which was as much size of a half notebook. Today, we can hold upto 4.4 billion times of the same in a micro SD card, that accounts about 32 GB. Why I pointed out this incident was to indicate the paradoxical connection between time and matter. World changes so fast and even more, it’s getting imperceptibly complex. Eg: there is not even one electronic device or a piece of software which a human can understand without considerable effort. But we are able to manage it with levels of abstraction. So, science grows linearly when technology follows an exponential curve.

Another misconception is about money. Money is a necessary evil. To uproot the fact we are looking for, we should dig up the basics of Economics. Demand increases, value increases and Demand decreases, value decreases. What does that mean? More than a particular amount of money is often useless (unless, if you want to boast and bask on it). In recent news, ex-Microsoft Chair, Bill Gates donated half of his fortune, somewhere around $50 billion, just like that. On the other hand, the father of INTERNET, Vint Cerf has net worth less than $10 million, according to himself. It sounds paradoxical, but, whole point is, being what you are. Anyone knows John D. RockFeller ($330 billion) or Marcus Licinus Crassus (Ancient Rome)? They are the richest human beings thrived on earth, and as far as I know, they are not pretty popular these days. My point is, did their richest made any difference?

We should also consider the time span of fame or honor. Try to remember 10 popular figures in the past decade. Now try the same for the past century. What about 10 figures in last millennia? That’d surely be a tough call. The problem is that, “change is the only thing which persists”. So it’s not being valuable for the world, it’s about being valuable for yourself.

It’s you, who set your life’s goals.

Achieving

If you got the foundation right you can build the building as big as you planned. Planning never means that you have to chart everything for every hour of a day, most often it never works. Planning means, the scaffolding should be in the proper place, shape and size. I should emphasize that, the time you take to concrete a concept or an idea will pay back not too far in future.

Here the discussion is getting onto another level. Engineers build stuff. They use products less, and produce more. Eg., google + and Facebook have their own API for login, it’s very unlikely to use the other ones login. It’s tough to get followed. When I showed this manuscript to a friend of mine, the only correction I received was in this part. So, I’d try to be detailed. In simple words, heroes are followed, they never follow. You define standards. Best example is Rajanikanth. He doesn’t do any style. Whatever he does is the style. You need the courage to stand against the tide.

Achieving is the most important and of course, the toughest part. To achieve something, just be consistent and be prepared to be at limits for long. Power of human mind is so awesome that, the goals.

A tiny secret I wanted to share is that, always have the final outcome in mind, not the hardships on the way. As you can’t achieve something in a single stretch, split it apart as achievable, modular, yet self-containing processes. And each time you do something, offer yourself something, like, I’ll finish this and then have tea. So, to have tea, you have to finish it, so, while having tea, you’ll be feeling some sort of satisfaction for completing the task. Compel and push yourself to the utter limits.

The whole point of essay is to make the readers aware of self, just to take some time to think within. Knowing where you are, what you are, what are you doing. Aiming at the real goals of your life, your destination. What should be the purpose of your life. What is the whole point of the society for making you an Engineer? There is no point in reading the entire essay, and not doing anything, the last part, Achieving. If you know what to do and how to get it/ get there, and not doing it now, better stop reading and start doing it now.

As a closing remark, quoting one of my favorite quotes about programming, the Zen of Python.

“Beautiful is better than ugly.
Explicit is better than implicit.
Simple is better than complex.
Complex is better than complicated.
Flat is better than nested.
Sparse is better than dense.
Readability counts.
Special cases aren’t special enough to break the rules.
Although practicality beats purity.
Errors should never pass silently.
Unless explicitly silenced.
In the face of ambiguity, refuse the temptation to guess.
There should be one– and preferably only one –obvious way to do it.
Although that way may not be obvious at first unless you’re Dutch.
Now is better than never.
Although never is often better than *right* now.
If the implementation is hard to explain, it’s a bad idea.
If the implementation is easy to explain, it may be a good idea.
Namespaces are one honking great idea — let’s do more of those! ”

Anoop Thomas Mathew
atmb4u@gmail.com

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