December 27, 2010

Change the World

Filed under: Articles + Blogs — smeyer @ 8:53 am

As we approach the end of the year and contemplate the coming year, it is a natural point in time to reflect on our accomplishments and consider our goals for the future.  So forgive me if I wax philosophical.  But I would like to offer the opinion that engineering is about changing the world. If it isn’t, it should be.  Change the world, make things better than you found them.

Engineers Without Borders has completed a project in Lashaine Village Tanzania that will increase their ability to harvest rainwater, treat and store local water supply up to 120,000 liters, and add 1080 Watts of solar panels that will power an upcoming computer lab.  This project literally impacts hundreds of families by creating improved water quality and availability.  It also creates an electrical infrastructure that will enable the Middle School students to run computers and radically improve their educational opportunities.  This is a part time, volunteer organization that raises funds for projects and sends out teams all over the world to provide improved conditions in the lives of people who have a need and couldn’t get it done without outside help.

At a fundamental level all engineering should be about leaving things better than we found them.  Every project I have been involved in represented incremental improvements that provided more benefit to the business than the investment cost.  And we should consider context carefully.  For the employer who delivers a product or service, being competitive and producing quality are what keep the company in business.  So as engineers we are frequently engaged in the development of technology that enables our employers to be more successful, by way of improved product quality, increased throughput, decreased part costs, or any of a number of parameters by which the company you work for may measure success.

And that may not always “feel” like we are getting something done that Changes the World.  But it can make the difference between being open for business and having to close.  It can make the difference between having steady employment, and adding new jobs because of expanding sales. It’s not always as direct as going to a remote part of the world and helping people to have water to drink, wash and grow crops with.

The creative drive to develop something new and useful shows up in all new products.  Certainly the new “tablet” computers and hand help “Pad” computers are marvels of technology.  Does this product feed a starving person in a foreign land?  No.  But it creates real value that people are willing to pay for, to the tune of an estimated $5 Billion in new product revenue for Apple with much more to come.   And this will enable Apple to employ more people, some of whom will either give from their income, or be able to participate directly in their spare time, in projects like those of Engineers Without Borders.

My encouragement to each person out there is to think about your role in the context of what interests you, what skill and training you have been given, and where you can apply those skills to leave things better than you found them.  For yourself and for others.