Engineering as a Profession

This course deals not only with the impact of technology on society but also with where technology comes from and how it is shaped by society.  This first unit focuses on the development of the field of engineering.

mechanical computer (differential analyzer)
 Mechanical Differential Analyzer, UCLA

How is it different being an engineer today than 50 years ago?  150 years ago?
what kinds of things have changed?
How will the profession of engineering be different 20 years from now?

How is what an engineer does different from what a craftsperson does?

see  Discussion of Definitions for definitions of:

Be careful to note that I am defining science narrowly as scientific laws, not as any kind of knowledge about the world.

What is a profession?

Definition: A profession (as opposed to other kinds of jobs) has three characteristics:
  1. its members have specialized knowledge
  2. they are certified in some way (usually by other members of the profession--this kind of self-selection is called      gatekeeping).  Usually this is by licensing but in engineering it is often just by graduating from an accredited engineering school
  3. they have a responsibility to serve the public good.  This means that they put the safety and welfare of the public before their own selfinterest or profits for their employer.   Should engineers be licensed?
Is engineering a profession?
How would Florman answer that question?
researchers looking at sky
 early smog research at UCLA

This unit will focus on how engineering has changed in the United States from the late 1700s to the present.  In general, before the civil war: Quick survey of where we are going in the next week or two:

1. Compared to Europe, colonial and early national America lacked specialized engineering knowledge.  In colonial times what we would call engineering projects were the product not of any specialized knowledge but of local ingenuity.

covered bridge
 Schofield Ford Bridge , Pennsylvania, 1836

2.  In the period from about 1800-1865 engineers had specialized knowledge but they learned it by apprenticeship, not by going to school.  It was more hands-on knowledge, not so much theory or mathematical laws.

3. Starting about 1860 engineering schools were built in large numbers and engineers started to be trained in school and learn more theory.  Engineering became more science-based.

this page written and copyright  Pamela E. Mack
last updated 8/24/2005