A post to all the parents of Engineers out there, you know who you are because you’re the ones holding your head in your hands looking at what used to be your toaster/television/wardrobe and moaning. Your time and investment may never pay off directly but so many people will appreciate the skills that you are helping develop, it’s a long hard road but without you the world would be a different place. For those that don’t have budding Engineers in the house allow me to explain what I mean, the Engineer’s mind is different from an early age, the inquisitive nature develops ahead of the motor skills required but impatience is another mark of an Engineering mind. When other children accidentally break a wind up toy they cry, discard it and move on but not your Engineer oh no for him the complex world of cogs and gears in a wind up toy holds far more interest than the actual toy.
Those early broken toys teach us that everything comes apart and we proceed through life dismantling everything, unfortunately we have to mature significantly before we move on to the rebuilding stages and then, that holy grail of Engineering the improving stage. Many parents scold their children for taking apart the vacuum cleaner, the washing machine or the cat* but this is how we learn and we should be encouraged. I think part of the difficulty is that mothers tend to be the dominant carer and, in the majority, they don’t want to know whats inside nor do they care they just want all the bits to stay inside where they work, they don’t care if its black magic just as long as it works. Engineers are a resilient bunch though despite the emotional turmoil of childhood, while other children are getting praise for pictures that don’t look like anything we sit patiently ready to show the wonderous internals of the microwave, do we get praise? Hell no, all that hard work and we get scolded.
My own mother, bless her, actually appreciated the need to encourage me but the financial and emotional expense was far more than she thought it would be when she first brought me a real set of screwdrivers. I will never forget, in part because of the amount of times the story has been retold to me, my introduction to electricity which occurred at around 6 years of age. I obviously understood that electricity came through plugs and sockets, in a similar logic to toy cars I concluded that the interesting stuff was happening inside and set about investigating. It was a well structured and sensible investigation because my Engineering skills were developing by this age, firstly I turned off the socket on the wall and removed the plug for the kettle. In later questioning I would patiently explain that I chose the kettle because it lights up so I would know if the power was flowing, I carefully removed the plug top and found nothing particularly active in there but of course it wasn’t powered up yet was it? I carefully put the plug back in the socket minus its lid, turned the socket on, switched the kettle on and……. Nothing, the kettle lit up but it seems that electricity is kinda boring in its raw form and certainly not a spectator sport. At this stage the Engineer’s impatience kicked in and I pulled the plug out, well I tried to, did you spot the missing line? Yes thats right I grabbed it live and it turns out it’s not as boring as it looks!
I was sitting on the kitchen side to conduct my investigation and my mother ran in to find me sitting on the floor, the opposite side of the kitchen looking at my hand in utter amazement. I can only imagine the terror that my mother experienced as I sat there rubbing my head (where it had hit the wall) and contemplating how such an inanimate object had transported me at such speed. This is the true cost of developing Engineers, the hidden stress and panic of parent’s and the cost of replacing so many dismantled appliances so we should really salute those that are bringing up the next generation of Engineers.
Why did this thought occur to me today? Well I spent half an hour at 2 am dismantling the laptop under repair, while I was waiting for some dialogue with work over an issue in London, and this morning I rebuilt it. The laptop is no more, it is deceased and of no use but I am frustrated that I cannot diagnose any further than a motherboard fault, I want to fix it even though it is miles from being cost-effective but I am older now and I concede that repair is not economically viable. So it is that this morning I have spent one and a half hours rebuilding the laptop for it to be scrapped, every time I got a screw wrong I stripped back and started again, I rebuilt once to have a plug come adrift and so had to start again to get that plug right, you see I am older now and I know how to rebuild how could I not rebuild it correctly I grew out of that when I left home.
*In this case perhaps they are a vet in the making?