Engineers of the FUTURE

The engineer of the future will need to possess skills not commonly taught in engineering schools today. However, we can see that the curricula for a majority of engineering schools are beginning to change. Many schools are starting to adopt alternative learning strategies to engage more and more bright students who may not have previously chosen engineering as a career path. The engineering schools have started to realize that technology is moving at such a rapid rate that they must prepare students differently than they have in the past. Engineers of the future must possess skills like innovation, entrepreneurial vision, and teamwork. These aren’t traits that have commonly been attributed to engineering, but the rate of technological change has been so rapid that most college courses become obsolete by the time students graduate. Key intangible traits will help these graduates thrive by enabling them to learn new skills long after the college experience is over.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the origin of the word “engineer” is derived as follows: “words engine and ingenious are derived from the same Latin root, ingenerare, which means ‘to create.’ The early English verb engine meant ‘to contrive.’” Thus the engines of war were devices such as catapults, floating bridges, and assault towers; their designer was the “engine-er,” or military engineer. The counterpart of the military engineer was the civil engineer, who applied essentially the same knowledge and skills to designing buildings, streets, water supplies, sewage systems, and other projects.” This initial derivation of the name engineer is most definitely outdated due in part to the massive amounts of technical change that have occurred from the industrial age to the information age. Engineers are being called upon to be more nimble and agile in the sense that the knowledge gained one day is often obsolete the next due to the rate of discovery.

As history commonly repeats itself, engineers will be shifting into more leadership roles within corporations, similar to engineers’ migration into business in the industrial age. Like the industrial age, the information age is a time of immense technological innovation. In the second industrial age, engineers like Henry Ford, Nikola Tesla, and Guglielmo Marconi were all known for their skills in engineering and business. Now we’re approaching our “fourth industrial revolution” as coined by Professor Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum. The fourth industrial revolution, according to Schwab, “is characterized by a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital, and biological worlds, impacting all disciplines, economies, and industries, and even challenging ideas about what it means to be human.” This is an exciting time not only to be alive, but to be an engineer. You can see the shift that has come with this revolution with engineers such as Mary Barra, Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos taking positions as business moguls with an ever-increasing emphasis on furthering the pursuit of technological advancement.

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ENGINEERING IN THE FOURTH INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION

As alluded to in previous posts, engineers are being called upon to be leaders in today’s increasingly high-tech world. Engineers looking to become leaders in this ever-changing technological frontier will need to be able to not only communicate with others in technical and non-technical settings, but also solve problems that others cannot.

The so-called “engineer of the future” was described in a paper published by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. Written in 2004, this paper summarized the attributes that will be most necessary for engineers in 2020. A lot has changed since 2004, but this text still seems relevant for the engineer of tomorrow. The paper states that these engineers must possess strong analytical skills, practical ingenuity, creativity, the ability to communicate effectively, dynamism, agility, resilience, and flexibility. None of these skills and traits have anything to do with technical abilities such as coding and programming, technical writing, or even thermodynamics. The NASEM paper describes the engineer of the future as follows: “He or she will aspire to have the ingenuity of Lillian Gilbreth, the problem-solving capabilities of Gordon Moore, the scientific insight of Albert Einstein, the creativity of Pablo Picasso, the determination of the Wright brothers, the leadership abilities of Bill Gates, the conscience of Eleanor Roosevelt, the vision of Martin Luther King [Jr.], and the curiosity and wonder of our grandchildren.”

In 2012, Google decided to unearth the reasons why certain managers were more successful than others. The company unearthed a very shocking discovery on what traits successful employees and managers possessed. Surprisingly, technical skills were last on the list of eight successful traits revealed by the multiyear study. The first seven traits of highly successful managers were:

  1. The ability to be a good coach
  2. The ability to empower a team without micromanaging
  3. Being able to expresses interest in and concern for team members’ success and personal well-being
  4. Productive and results oriented
  5. Able to be a good communicator who listens and shares information
  6. Willing to help with others career development
  7. Able to have a clear vision and strategy for the team and the key technical skills to help them advise the team

Seven of the eight skills are what most would consider soft skills. Even in a highly technical workplace such as Google, soft skills are extremely important for employees to be successful.

Life of an Engineer Wk. 1

As an engineering student going through college, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I had little exposure to the day-to-day activities of engineers and especially Civil Engineers. Most of the general public don’t even know what Civil Engineers do either which is why I’m going to write this ongoing series on top of my regular posts.

I think this would be a great opportunity for “outsiders” to get an inside peak at the life of an engineer to clear up any misconceptions that you or any others might have. I would love if more engineers of different backgrounds also chimed in on their day-to-day activity especially for the young highschool or college kids that are unsure of the path they would like to take. On this journey, I’m going to describe what engineering is and most importantly, what it is not.

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So without further adieu, my background is in site development. In other words, I layout private developments such as restaurants, office buildings, multi-family developments, and even the occasional residential subdivision. Basically I design the existing site to allow for the construction of the development. Such design includes, grading (adjusting elevations), utility extension, and storm runoff relief.

My day-to-day work is very diverse due to the large amount of different people needed to successfully complete a development including; contractors, architects, developers, city staff, mechanical engineers, structural engineers, property owners, citizens, stake holders, and the list goes on. Hopefully you enjoy this series, and please feel free to comment with any questions you may have along the way!

Tri-Attitude

I just did something I didn’t picture myself doing…ever. I competed in a triathlon. After making my way through the race, I can safely say that I have a new-found respect for those athletes that do the Ironmen or even half-Ironmen triathlons. The mental and athletic fortitude needed to complete those challenges is borderline superhuman. From my small intro into the mindset of a triathlete, I have gained some invaluable lessons.

First lesson learned was that completing any challenge that you face is most nearly 80% mindset and 20% skill set. You have to be somewhat athletically inclined to even sign up for a triathlon, but in all honesty, the mindset is what ultimately makes or brakes the completion of the challenge. My favorite quote on mindset and persistence is often attributed to Calvin Coolidge who said “nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” Give this a minute to sink in.

The second lesson I learned is that you don’t always know what your limits truly are. There were many times when I thought I was done for (especially during the swim…), but yet I still pushed myself even further. We all have our internal motivations that can push us past our limits both physically, mentally, and even emotionally.  Michael Jordan has a great quote about self-imposed limits saying that “limits, like fear, is often an illusion.” 

So when your facing a struggle that seems to push you past the point of no return, remember that you can complete the challenge if you have the right mindset and that the limits that you think are holding you back are really no more than an illusion!

Nuke Energy: A Way of the Past?

Commissioned after World War II, nuclear energy production for civilian use seemed to be at the cutting edge and the end of our nation’s dependence on foreign oil and coal. In 1946, the U.S. government assembled the AEC or Atomic Energy Commission. After seeing the immense energy generated by the atomic bombs created under the code name “Manhatten Project” during WWII, the government decided to dig a little deeper. By 1951, the AEC had created the first atomic energy turbine to create electricity. In the 60’s, the US demand and interest in atomic energy increased rapidly under the assumption that this was the clean energy we had so desperately been seeking. In 1979, the infamous 3 Mile Island disaster occurred in Pennsylvania. By the early 80’s, growing concerns of nuclear contamination started to disrupt the rosy future of nuclear power. Then in 1986, the famous Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the former Soviet Union explosion occurs and contaminates much of the surrounding environment. At it’s peak in the early 90’s, nuclear power accounted for 22% of the nations power production.

Now we are seeing the industry come to a complete halt. Many of the structures planned for production have been shelved. There are stories all over the news about these aging monoliths of our post World War II days being decommissioned. So many of the plants resemble the story of the Watts Bar II plant in the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority). THis plant has been “under construction” for 43 years according to the LA Times. Due to it’s extended time line, much of it’s equipment is now outdated. The “newest” plant, other than this one is at least 20 years old. According to the article by the LA Times: “Watts Bar, the so-called 21st century American nuclear plant, defines the crisis facing the U.S. nuclear industry. It’s stuck with outmoded technology and a management culture that exacerbates, rather than constrains, the technology’s safety issues. With every episode like this, the industry moves one step further away from making the case for its survival.”la-ed-diablo-canyon-closing-20160623-snap

Photo Cred. LA Times: http://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-diablo-canyon-closing-20160623-snap-story.html

Will this be the last nuclear power plant to be built? I can’t answer that personally, but after seeing the alternative options like solar and wind energy, I think it is safe to deduce that nuclear energy will pass away like the 8-track and cord-tethered telephone.

Is Solar Energy THE ANSWER?

Over the past decades, solar energy production has had its ups and its downs. Since the first photovoltaic cell was produced in 1954 by Bell Telephone Laboratories in the U.S., the technology has continued to advance. This first cell, produced in 1954, began with an efficiency of 4%. Hardly anything to write home to your mother about. It was a start though! In 1959, Hoffman Electronics creates the first commercially marketed panel. This panel was 10% efficient. According to the World Economic Forum in the past five years, “commercially available solar panel efficiency jumped from about 15% to 22%, after two decades of near stagnation. In fact, research cell efficiencies now reach up to 46%, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory”.

Not only has efficiency increased, but affordability of construction has decreased. Due to increased manufacturing capabilities, the price of manufacturing solar panels has been reduced by 22% according to some studies. What does all of this mean? According to the World Economic Forum, price per Mega Watt hour has decreased from $600 for solar energy production to roughly $100 per Mega watt hour. In some cases, dipping below this price point. Coal energy production is stuck around $100/MWh.

This is an exciting time we live in and I’m looking forward to the advances in science that will help facilitate a more sustainable future for not only ourselves, but also our future generations here on planet Earth!

Teamwork Building

About a year ago, the finishing touches of a ten-story office building were being made. This tower stood as an homage to the late J.B. Hunt, the founder of J.B. Hunt transportation services. This structure was the tallest of its kind in northwest Arkansas. It still stands as a beacon for development and prosperity to the people there. Most of the people in the area don’t realize the teamwork that took place to make this building a reality though.

A little over two-years ago, my previous firm got the civil engineering contract to handle the site work on this 9-acre campus. A local architecture firm would be handling the building interior and exterior. A local structural engineering firm would be handling the building support and foundation. A local mechanical engineering firm was brought on to design the utilities within this behemoth. After the team was assembled, collaboration too began. Each participant was using their unique skillsets to bring this structure to life. Each member had a stake in something that was much bigger than themselves.

After the design was completed and the construction company was selected, the discussions continued. The meetings were held at regular intervals. Each member of the team were called upon for their expertise. Often times, there were problems that came out of construction that affected multiple disciplines. In this case, the members would utilize their individual strengths to discuss the issues and how it would affect their designs. Then the team would discuss ways to remedy the problem without affecting another element of the design. Each team member respected the experience brought by each of the other members. Although each member brought a unique skillset, the common goal of building the structure, brought us together.

Oftentimes, there was disagreement between disciplines. This regularly happens when you have several people from different values and backgrounds adding input into a certain process or problem. Our group was very diverse, so disagreements happened all too often. It’s what we did with these disagreements that made our group, and thus, our project successful. Collectively, this was the first “high-rise” structure that this group had designed. With this designation came many unique requirements not normally seen with smaller projects. Most of the disagreements came from conflicts associated with different aspects of the mechanical systems with certain architectural and civil features. Each party involved in the conflict would discuss their need for the space or location and then all parties in the construction meeting would give input on alternatives as a whole. This gave each designer a different viewpoint to see the conflict through.

After about 18-months, the tower was completed. The structure was constructed on-time with very few complications. The design team exhibited collaboration, communication, accountability, and the team member’s individual strengths. Collaboration was necessary to ensure that each piece of the puzzle would fit into place. Communication was utilized at every step of the way. If effective communication was not in place, this story could’ve ended badly. Communication was necessary to transmit the ideas of each discipline to each other in a language we could all understand.

Accountability was paramount in this project. If a certain member or firm did not take accountability, the results could be disastrous or even deadly in the case of a ten-story office building. Each member maintained a sense of ownership on the project. The construction company even created apparel with the finished product for their tradesman to wear. It gave them a sense of possession on the project. They became proud of the work they were doing and would understand that it was much bigger than their individual tasks. Individual strengths were exploited often in between disciplines to make this project a success. Each team member brought their own individual knowledge to the table. This allowed the team to identify conflict that might have been overlooked.

That office building still stands as a testament to success for the individuals in that region, but for me, it stands for much more. It stands as evidence for the effectiveness of interdisciplinary teamwork.