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


As to the personal side of engineering as a career, if it would be a source of gratification to you to know that you were helping to build up the civilized world, then you should enter the engineering profession. Because men differ in their ideas as to what constitutes a full life some placing ideal homes above all things, some seeking continuously diversified sources of pleasure, some wanting nothing better than a fine library or freedom to cultivate taste in pictures, some wishing only to surround themselves with interesting people, some wanting nothing but an accumulation of dollars, some wishing but for power of control over others all men would not find the full life in engineering. Yet the majority of men would, because the profession holds that which would appeal to a great many different ideas as to what a complete life consists of. Engineering as a profession is scientific, idealistic, constructive, profitable. It is combative in the sense that it shapes nature’s forces and it calls for a sense of artistry in its practitioners. Added to these, it embraces a certain kind of profound knowledge the possession of which is always a source of pride to the owner.

Let me explain this last. The engineer, being as he is a man who views things objectively, notes details in everything that comes under his eye, be it dwelling or automobile, or bookbinding or highway. The layman does not. The layman, outside his work, sees only the thing itself, when looking at it the general outline. But the engineer, trained to note details in construction, observes detail at a glance, and does it almost subconsciously, if not immediately after leaving school, then assuredly later, after he has been practicing his profession for a time. His outlook is objectively critical. Entering a house for the first time, and trained as a mechanical engineer, he will note the character of the woodwork, the decorations, the atmosphere, the arrangement of the furnishings, all with the same facility that he will note details upon entering for the first time a power-station or a manufacturing plant things within his own province.

Nor is this faculty confined to the concrete. Engineers are of that deeply instinctive race of folk who perceive cause in effect with the lightning swiftness of a wild animal. If they are not this when entering upon the profession, assuredly they become so after a period spent in the work. Something about the practice of engineering breeds it breeds this objective seeing and abstract reasoning and to be possessed of it is to get more out of life than otherwise is possible. Which possibly accounts for the fact that engineers as a group seem to have a common-sense viewpoint of things, one that is frankly acknowledged and drawn upon when needed by men in other walks of life. Engineers are extremely practical-minded, and this makes for a certain outlook that will not permit of visionary scaring away from the common sense and the practical on the part of its possessor. Engineers know why things occur without having witnessed even the occurrence itself. Their powers of reasoning are developed to degrees beyond the average or they seem to be and out of this comes one of the sources of gratification on the personal side to the man who pursues engineering as a profession.

The thing spreads out as I contemplate it. I would make so bold as to say that the man of engineering training will see more at a glance when first viewing the Grand Canyon, say, than will any other professionally trained man. Should the Canyon collapse, he would know instantly why it collapsed. He could give an opinion on the wonderful color effects that would interest the artist, and he would know without hesitation how best to descend to the bottom and wherein to seek the easiest trail. All this, without his being a civil or a mining engineer, understand; merely a man trained in constructive mechanics. On the other hand, the mining or the civil man would view the wreckage of a locomotive accident and see in the debris, select from the snarl of tangled wheels and driving-arms and axles a ready picture of the nature of the accident and how much of the wreckage offered possibilities for repair. Again, the engineer sees in a tree, with its tapering trunk, the symbol of all tower construction, just as he sees in the shape of a man’s arm the pattern to follow when devising a cast-iron lever for an automatic machine. He sees things, does the engineer; sees objectively; follows nature throughout.

All this being true, the engineer has a rather interesting life of it. For not only does he see a little more clearly than otherwise would be possible to him without his education and training, but also he does things with his hands that come easy to him without previously having undertaken them. The engineer can do much around his own home, if he so choose, that of itself is a source of great satisfaction. Engineers can swing doors, build fireplaces, landscape, erect fences, make garden, and can perform these tasks with a degree of neatness and skill that brings favorable comment from journeymen whose vocations this work is, and do the work without training whatsoever in the work. Wall-papering, painting, carpentering, laying up of brick, or the placing of a dry wall plastering, glazing the list is endless that as side-plays are possible to the man with an engineering training. He need not do these things, ever; but if he wants ever to do them, he finds that he can do them and do a creditable job of each, and this without his ever having turned his hand to the work before.

Which sums up in a measure the personal side. The engineer is not a superior being. Merely he is a man possessed of a highly specialized education and training which peculiarly fits him for any practical work, and out of this work, for practical thinking of the kind known as constructive. Being constructive with his hands, he cannot but in time become constructive with his brain. Being constructive as a thinker first, he cannot but become constructive as a doer later. The one hinges closely on the other, and having both, as the engineer must who would be a successful engineer, he has as much of the world under his control as comes to any man, and, in a great degree, more than is the favorable lot of most men. For the engineer is both a thinker and a doer. Ponder that you. Men are either one or the other most men and rarely are they both. Either side of their brain has been developed at the expense of the other side. Not so with the engineer. The successful engineer is both thinker and doer must be in his profession. It seems to me that engineering has many beautiful attractions as a profession.