Read CHAPTER X of Opportunities in Engineering , free online book, by Charles M. Horton, on


Just at present the future of the engineer is more richly promising than it might otherwise have been but for the war. Due to the period of reconstruction now confronting the world, a work almost wholly that of the engineering professions, engineers for a period of a decade at least are destined to be overburdened with projects. Nor will any one branch be occupied to the exclusion of any other branch or branches. Civil and structural engineers will, as a matter of course, have the first call; but with the work of these men well under way consisting of the reconstruction of towns and cities mechanical and electrical men will necessarily be called upon, with, no doubt, liberal demand for mining engineers. Each branch will have its place and serve its usefulness in the order as the reconstruction work itself will fall, with the result that all branches of the profession will be busily occupied.

Manufacturers have been ready or are getting ready for this unprecedented promised activity for some little time. Representatives are flocking abroad on every boat sailing from these shores with schemes and plans for the rapid upbuilding of devastated Europe. These men, for the most part, are engineers embracing all branches of the profession, and each is a man especially well qualified to serve in his branch. In a way he is a specialist. He may represent a giant structural organization, or a machine-tool manufacturer, or an electric-lighting and power concern any one of the many fields of industrial enterprises whose product is needed to place demoralized France and Belgium back upon a productive basis. For when the construction period is over with there will be need for machine-tools and equipment for operating these tools, such as engines and boilers and motors, all of which come properly under the head of engineering productive enterprises.

Engineers especially American engineers will be in great demand, as they are already. Nor will the close of the reconstruction period witness an abatement of this demand. Having once entered the foreign field on a large scale, they will of necessity continue to be in demand not only for the furtherance of industrial projects, but for purposes of maintaining that which has been installed at their hands. Machinery has a way of needing periodical overhauling even the best of machinery and this will entail the services of many engineers for long after the machinery itself has been set up. The services of erecting engines, operating engineers, supervising engineers known more properly as industrial engineers following, as the need will, close upon the heels of the constructing and selling men will keep the many branches alive and in foreign trade for much more than a decade or so it seems to the writer. Other nations may, of course, whip into the field and in time crowd out the more distant meaning American engineers and engineering products. But I don’t think so, because of the acknowledged supremacy of American engineers in many directions. The war itself taught the world that we possessed such a supremacy, and the world will be slow to forget especially the purchasing side of nations themselves so crippled of man-power as to be for a generation well-nigh helpless.

So the immediate future of the engineer is richly promising. It is so rich with promise that a young man could hardly do better than to enter upon engineering as a life-work, provided he has no particular choice of careers, and would enter upon an attractive and scopeful one. His work is already laid out for him. Taking up a course of study leading to the degree of M.E., or C.E., or E.E., in four years, upon graduating, he can retrace his way, or the way of his brother, over the battle-fields of Europe, a constructive rather than a destructive agent now, a torch-bearer, a pilgrim, a son of democracy once again advancing the standard in the interests of humanity. He may do this as a mechanical engineer, as a civil engineer, as an electrical engineer, as a mining engineer; it matters not. What does matter is that he will be carrying Old Glory, in spirit if not in the letter, to the distant outposts the especial province of the Anglo-Saxon race, anyway, from the beginnings of this race and so serving to maintain the respect and affection already established in these countries by our soldiery. To the writer the thing looks mighty attractive.

Yet the young engineer’s future need not lie in distant places necessarily. He may stay at home and still have his work cut out for him. The promised unparalleled activity in the field of engineering on the other side cannot but enlarge and accentuate the activity on this side of the water. Plants will be operating full blast to catch up with the demand imposed by this abnormal activity, and thus the engineer will perforce bear the burdens of production. He will bear them in all directions, since industrial activity means engineering activity, and the work of production cannot go on without him. In the mines, the mills, the quarries, the foundry, the machine-shop, the pattern-shop, the drafting-room, the engineering offices, the consulting divisions all these, necessitating as they do the employment of one or more engineers in at least a supervising capacity, will have urgent need for his services. Constructive work always, he will grow as his work grows, and because the growth of his work under these abnormal conditions will be of itself abnormal, his own growth under these conditions will be abnormal. He will find himself a full engineer before his rightful time.

Right here it would be well to point out to the young graduate the importance of getting under a capable engineer. For, much as the writer dislikes to admit it, there are engineers who are not capable and who yet occupy positions of great responsibility. The young engineer, fresh from college and a bit puzzled as to the game as a whole, if he accept a connection under an engineer, for instance, whose inventive ideas are impractical, will unwittingly absorb such a man’s viewpoint on construction, and so spoil himself as an engineer for all time to come. Cases like this are not rare. The writer personally knows of more than one young man who enlisted under an engineer whose ideas on administration probably accounted, being as they were good ideas, for his position of authority over matters not strictly of an administrative nature. The man wanted to exercise his authority over all things within his department not the least of which was machine design with the result that the young graduate’s normally practical viewpoint on matters of construction became warped into that of the man over him, and continued warped for so long as he remained under this man, and frequently longer, indeed, to the end of his engineering career. The young engineer must pick his boss as our young men are facetiously advised to pick their parents. The wrong selection will prove disastrous to him in after-life.

Which is but an aside though a very important one. To emulate a weakling in whatever walk of life, be it painting or writing or engineering, means to begin wrong. Everybody knows the importance of a right beginning. It is no less true of the young engineer than of others.

And what with the example set by Herbert Hoover and other dollar-a-year men, mostly engineers, in the nation’s administrative affairs during the war, the future of the engineer looks bright in these quarters as well as in quarters embracing engineering constructive work wholly. The engineer of the future undoubtedly will take active part in municipal and national affairs, more likely than not in time entering upon a political career as a side interest, as the lawyer enters upon it to-day, within time so it seems to the writer members of the engineering professions occupying positions of great trust, such as state governorships and who knows? the Presidency itself. Certainly the hand points this way. More and more engineers are coming into prominence in the public eye, and with every member of the profession so coming, the respect for men of his profession multiplies among laymen. It is not too much to say, therefore, that engineers are destined to fill places of great political power. It is to be hoped that they are. Whether they do or not, the future at this writing amply promises it, and so forcibly that it may well be included as existing for the engineer, as being a part of the future of the engineer.