It’s no secret that technology has not only changed life as we know it, but has also changed the face of most every career field known to man. Nowhere is this evolution more evident than in the field of engineering. In order to better review the impact that advancements in technology have had on the field of engineering, exploration of past versus present comparison is necessary. Upon reviewing the variations between engineering of the past and engineering of present, the dramatic involvement of technology in the field becomes inherently evident.
Over the course of the last two decades, the field of engineering has come into its own. One major component of the ‘new and improved’ field of engineering is the utilization of modern technology. In fact, engineering itself is considered a frontier of development in modern technology itself. “Scientific discovery and advancement affect our lives in two different ways—through new policies and regulations that provide broad national direction and through new products and processes that enhance our lives and communities. Technology and engineering translate scientific knowledge into action.” (USDA 2007)
Engineering, in the 1980s, was a field wherein the predominant research and development process surrounded countless instances of trial and error. Due in part to the fact that all experimentation and designed was based solely on human ability and human ideas, engineering was primarily considered a ‘thinking man’s’ career choice. For example, in the early 1980s, when mechanical engineers designed motor vehicles, much of their design was dependant on tangible models and hand drawn blueprints. Today, on the other hand, computer technology allows for the use of computerized 3D models and AutoCAD architecture. This same fact holds true for not only the vehicle industry, but the building industry, property development, and many more.
Upon close examination of the implications of technology on engineering, it is revealed that this phenomenon began far earlier than many believe. In fact, students at Virginia Tech have been required to own a personal computer since the year 1984. However, improvements in computer technology have dramatically improved engineering accuracy and performance, have increased efficiency, and have made it possible for a wider variant of individuals to enter the engineering field. “In terms of the difficulty level of problems, the computer has helped tremendously. In the pre-computer era, we’d spend a couple of weeks on a serious problem. Now it can be done overnight. In terms of the actual mode of teaching, we present less hand-calculation procedures than in previous times. It’s just not needed.” (EE/CPE VanLandingham 97)
A variety of modern technologies have added to the dynamics of the engineering field. However, it is arguable that computer advancements have affected the field more than any other. Because much of engineering is design, the use of computers as a design tool is prevalent. Thanks to the precision and speed offered by the use of certain computer programs during the engineering design process, problems that once seemed impossible are now considered trivial. “Students can do design and some calculations that were real tough to do before. “We use computers a lot in the lab to take data and analyze data off the equipment. Most research projects take data using computers, and our folks have to know how to write programs and microprocessor code.” (EE/CPE Claus 97)
Experts also agree that the integration of computers into the field of engineering have made the job more ‘fun’. Computers allow engineers to heighten levels of creativity in their work while allowing for less stress in problem solving. In short, engineers can now focus more heartily on the creative aspects of their project because they spend less time in problem solving.
Interestingly though, the speculation surrounding technological and computer advancements in the field of engineering is not all positive. There are many people who believe that the overt use of computers in the field of engineering provides engineers with a crutch that allows for less thorough problem examination. It is also argued that engineers become ‘lax’ in analysis because they trust computers to be accurate. The problem with this fact is that computers are not infallible. If one data set is entered incorrectly, the entire analysis will be incorrect. Basically, computers should moreover be used to verify analysis as opposed to actually perform the analysis itself.
Many engineering professors and argue that the overuse of computers will promote carelessness in the field. “I see students relying too much on computers, computation programs and symbolic manipulators – which is leading them away from self-discipline. “They are using tools and have no way to check them. They come up with an answer on the computer and don’t know enough to challenge their answer. They are using tools and have no way to check them. They come up with an answer on the computer and don’t know enough to challenge their answer. They figure if the computer came up with the answer, it’s got to be right.” (EE/CPE Brown 97)
There is also evidence the integration of computer technology in engineering will ‘kill’ programming in the field. Because of the incredible technology and dynamic computer programs available to engineers as a whole, there is a decreased need for new programming. Certain computer programs offer engineers ‘ready to use’ packages for problem solving, which eliminates the need for writing code in problem solving. The question as to whether or not this is a ‘good thing’ is perhaps most prominent in engineering education. ‘”Technology as the magic bullet for education is being vastly oversold,” cautioned Professor Jim Armstrong. “We can use the computers for computation and communication, but we must maintain the interpersonal aspect of teaching,”’ (EE/CPE 97)
The integration of modern technology and the integration of computers in particular, into the field of engineering has changed the face of all engineering disciplines as we know it. It is largely agreed that these advancements have improved the field of engineering in ways never before thought possible. However, it is pertinent to note that not every implementation or change is considered beneficial. While, for the most part, computers and technology have only improved engineer problem solving and efficiency, it is also argued that these integrations have given birth to the ‘lazy’ engineer. In fact, there are those who believe that today’s engineer is already considered lax because they now have the computer to do the work for them. “Engineers are lazy. Engineers don’t like to work hard and like to come up with ways to make their lives easier” (iPaw 2009) This view creates a paradox for many, because the very definition of innovation is the search for ways to make life more simple.
In summation, modern technology and computer advancement has made the field of engineering more exciting for those engaged. It has also allowed for more a more variant professional base within the field. However, perhaps the most notable change in the field that comes as a direct reflection of computer advancement is the increase in the speed and efficiency with which engineers solve an assortment of problems. This increased efficiency allows for a more rapid development of a product or and outcome and also allows for a heightened opportunity to concentrate on creativity and design. Basically, computers and modern technology make the field of engineering more fun.
While it must be acknowledged that not all views surrounding computer advancement and engineering are possible, it is widely accepted that computers have drastically improved every discipline of engineering while also acting as a catalyst behind creative engineering and innovation.
From a personal perspective, we have entered the dawn of a new engineering age. The field of engineering is rapidly becoming as much an art as it is an analytical career field. This advancement and innovation is solely credited to the integration of modern technology into the engineering disciplines. In the last five years, computer technology has taken not only engineering, but every career to new and exciting levels. From the farmer to the fighter pilot, computer technology has changed the dynamic of ‘work’ as we know it, and nowhere is this truth more evident than in the field of engineering.
“Catspaw’s Guide to the Inevitably Insane.” Catspaw’s Guide to the Inevitably Insane. 29 Apr. 2009 <http://www.insanecats.com/cgi-bin/single.py?month=feb09&msg=18>.
“Computers and Engineering: Instructional Boon or Crutch?.” Virginia Tech | Electrical and Computer Engineering. 29 Apr. 2009 <http://www.ece.vt.edu/ecenews/ar97/boon.html>.
Govil, Rekha. Recent Advancements in Computer Science and Technology. new york: Allied Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 1999.
“Technology & Engineering.” Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES). 29 Apr. 2009 <http://www.csrees.usda.gov/nea/technology/technology.cfm>.
Fundamental Concepts in Computer Science (Advances in Computer Science and Engineering: Texts). London: Imperial College Press, 2009.