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This is Jack's
occasional outlet for thoughts about designing and programming embedded systems. It's a complement to my bi-weekly newsletter The Embedded Muse. Contact me at I'm an old-timer engineer who still finds the field endlessly fascinating (bio).

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Engineer or Scientist?

November 28, 2018         

Are you an engineer? Scientist? How many people know the difference?

We in the field understand that the two professions are pretty much orthogonal. Scientists learn how the world works. Engineers use that learning to make things that work. Scientists couldn't do their jobs without engineers who create the instrumentation that enables their efforts, and engineers would be at sea without understanding science's results, like Maxwell's Laws.

But I think the average Joe conflates the two. "Scientist, engineer, whatever," seems to be the refrain.

I have huge respect for scientists. Heck, my son is one. But I went into engineering, not science, because I like to make things. It's fun to master technology, to harness transistors and other components in a design of my own creation... that works. For me, the making of things extends even further, and inspires my woodworking and other passions.

We use the acronym STEM today, which I think further confuses the non-techie public. STEM is a funny set as it is the set that includes itself. E includes M and S. M is a subset of S and E. And I have no idea what T means. Isn't technology an outcome of E and or S? Is there a degree program in T?

Then there are the TED talks. Technology, entertainment, and design? What a strange mishmash of ideas!

And yet, in recent years I find myself succumbing to the public's confusion about science and engineering. My dad spent his career as a mechanical engineer working in the space program. He invented the LM, did Saturn studies, and designed many spacecraft. By about four words into that description people's eyes start to glaze over. So today I say, "he was a rocket scientist." "Ah," my interlocutors sigh, sagely nodding their heads as if they know what that means.

And you know what? He has a T-shirt that reads "actually, I AM a rocket scientist."

Feel free to email me with comments.

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