Ken Boddie

3 months ago · 3 min. reading time · visibility ~100 ·

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In Praise of the Engineer


When you ask me my favourite all time engineer, 

There's none, on their own, top the list, let's be clear, 

So many achievers have brought such a lot, 

Da Vinci, then Stephenson, Ford, Bell and Watt, 

No Telford, MacAdam or IK Brunel, 

Would make our roads dull and 'less civil' as well, 

But times are a changing, the future's unclear, 

Let's ponder it over a glass of cold beer, 

If choosing we must, then there's no real contest, 

It's tomorrow's practitioner will prove to be best.

 -  Yours truly, in one of my infrequent reflective moods.

I wrote the above poem as an entry to an Engineers Australia competition to describe the ‘best engineer’. I assume that the judges were neither poetic in mood nor philosophical in nature, as my entry neither won nor got a mention in despatches or hatches. In reality, we engineers are a weird lot of seriously work focused solemn melancholics, as the following story will illustrate:

A male engineer phoned the police to report that his wife was missing.  When asked by a police officer what was the colour of her hair and eyes, her height, and what she was wearing, the engineer was quite vague and unsure in his response. When asked if she left the house in her car, however, the engineers replied, “Yes indeed. It's a black Audi A8 with a supercharged 3-litre V6 engine, generating 333 horsepower teamed with an eight-speed tiptronic automatic transmission with manual mode and it has full LED headlights, which use light-emitting diodes for all light functions and has a very thin scratch on the front left door.” 

So what is an engineer? Well I've heard tell that we're the technocrats who fix problems that you didn’t know you had, in a way that you don’t understand. Furthermore, we're paranoid about failure and always have a built in factor of safety. When asked what 1 + 1 equals, the engineer will inevitably advise you that it is likely to be 2, but that you would be well advised to assume at least 3, just in case.

Although homo sapiens has been ‘engineering’ things since way before the pyramids were constructed, these days engineering has become too complex for any one individual to master, and so we have a variety of engineering specialists, including the following:

  • Aerospace Engineers - design vehicles that fly or hover. Success can be difficult with this speciality and many companies just don't take off.
  • Biomedical Engineers - are the producers of all manor of medical equipment. You can rely on them being educated, dedicated, caffeinated, and vaccinated.
  • Chemical Engineers - use products like drugs and medicines or fertilisers for crops. They can be surprisingly negative. When asked for the chemical symbols for sodium, bromiun and oxygen, they're likely to respond with, “Na, BrO!”
  • Civil Engineers - work on roads, bridges, buildings and other public (traditionally non military) structures. Being one myself, I know how often we're accused by medics as having designed and built the human body on an ‘off day’. I mean, who builds a toxic sewage pipeline through a recreational area?
  • Computer Engineers - design and build computers and their inner parts. These engineers do not tolerate competition well. They've been responsible for a lot of cyber boolean.
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineers - work with all manner of shocking equipment.  They tend to happily over-charge and can become quite ex-static when doing so.
  • Environmental Engineers - design and implement solutions to remediate and restore the environment. They love renewable energy sources and, when it comes to wind generation, they can be big fans.
  • Manufacturing Engineers - improve the efficiency of machines and assembly or production lines. Such work can be mentally demanding and may require proper orientation. Take the ‘M&M’ production line as an example. They had to fire countless disoriented workers who were throwing away the ‘W’s.
  • Mechanical Engineers - design machines or things that move, like cars and trains. These engineers have found, with experience, that there is more money to be made in complexity than simplicity. They tend to live by the maxim, “If it ain't broke, consider adding more features.”
  • Nuclear Engineers - design and build nuclear plants. It's a little known ‘fact’ that these engineers often have aquariums at work. They need somewhere to store their nuclear fission.
  • Structural Engineers - deal with the analysis and design of buildings and structures. Quite recently, however, a research programme conducted in England found that a high proportion of the structures built in the 17th and early 18th centuries were seriously flawed, but they quickly concluded that, “If it ain't Baroque, don't fix it.”
  • Software Engineers - design and write programs for computers. As these engineers say, “Give a man a software program, frustrate him for a day. Teach a man to program, frustrate him for a lifetime.”

I'll leave you with a final thought. Not only are engineers often a serious and even melancholic lot, but we invariably tend to be rather introverted.  Every so often, however, the odd extroverted engineer will come along.  You can easily tell them at a party. They're the ones who stare at your shoes instead of their own.  



When not researching the weird or the wonderful, the comical or the cultured, the sinful or the serious, I chase my creative side, the results of which can be seen as selected photographs of my travels on my website at:"> 

The author of the above, Ken Boddie, besides being a sometime poet and occasional writer, is an enthusiastic photographer, rarely leisure-travelling without his Canon, and loves to interact with other like-minded people with diverse interests.

Ken's three day work week (part time commitment) as a consulting engineer allows him to follow his photography interests, and to plan trips to an ever increasing list of countries and places of scenic beauty and cultural diversity.

group_work in If you must talk work! and in 2 more groups

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Ken Boddie

1 month ago #50

Javier 🐝 CR

2 months ago #47

Ken Boddie

2 months ago #46

Javier 🐝 CR

3 months ago #44

Zacharias 🐝 Voulgaris

3 months ago #43

Ken Boddie

3 months ago #42

Ken Boddie

3 months ago #41

Zacharias 🐝 Voulgaris

3 months ago #40

Just published an article on this topic, inspired by this one (as well as the conversation that it brought up). Check it out when you have a moment…


“Bit hard working out exponential functions and geometric functions (sin, cos, tan, etc) on an abacus, mind you … and it has no memory, graphics display, pi or infinity. ”

Heh--makes me think of how "no calculators" would certainly cut out the chaf. We have imaginary fields where people only ‘imagine’ they know things--like computational/mathmatical biology.  The damage that field has done can't be measured.

Anyway--I donate nothing these days.  If they charged a fee to look at it, I'd want my cut.

Zacharias 🐝 Voulgaris

3 months ago #38

Ken Boddie

3 months ago #37

Ken Boddie

3 months ago #35

Thank you for your suggestions for your ‘best’ or ‘favourite’ engineer, @Lada 🏡 Prkic, @Zacharias 🐝 Voulgaris and @Joyce 🐝 Bowen   Brand Ambassador @ beBee .  Personally, I find it hard to compare engineers from different eras, as they had completely different levels of awareness of the concepts, theories or ultimately proven formulae, concepts and background, within the fields of mechanics, dynamics, mathematics, chemistry and physics, which modern day engineers now take completely for granted.  The tools that these ancient and subsequently even Baroque-age engineering giants had for measurement (prior to standardised imperial or metric units of measurement), and for analysis, also greatly varied across the historical eras of engineering.  Even within my own life (a mere dot on the evolution of engineering) I remember not being allowed to use ‘new fangled' electronic calculators in my final school year exams, and having had to wrestle with a ‘slide rule’ and log tables, even at uni. We students used to think that the most useful nerd tool, back then, was a slide rule with a bottle opener on one end. When trying to perform slope stability analysis at uni, I had to manually write out my Fortran program and data entry on reams of coded cards (everything was fixed format back then) prior to passing them in a bunch, wrapped in an elastic band, to the department secretaries for punching and then entry into the room-sized department computer. I then had to wait a day or so for the results of each run.  This process often had to be repeated several times, due to errors in my formatting of the data entry cards, until a ’run' was eventually successfully achieved.  It could then take several weeks before a confident solution to the stability problem could be achieved, without the two dimensional (never mind three dimensional) graphics displays we all now take for granted. And we thought that this ‘speed’ was magnificent. How about the ancient mathematicians and engineers who only had one of these doowackies to perform their analysis? 

Have to agree with Lada.  Nikola Tesla was amazing.  I hope he knows what a mark he made wherever he is now.

Zacharias 🐝 Voulgaris

3 months ago #33

Lada 🏡 Prkic

3 months ago #32

Let's go back to the topic! If I have to choose my favourite engineers, I would say Archimedes and Tesla. :) I would also say Buckminster Fuller, although he was not an engineer by education. He was one of the greatest minds of our times. He didn't limit himself to one field but worked across multiple fields, including engineering and architecture. 

So I was looking further into this name and found this.  Now you made me curious, Zach.  At the time I was a bit itchy because my profile was being viewed by Max Planck Institute and cell-line people.  I tended to block them right away.

Zacharias 🐝 Voulgaris

3 months ago #30

Man, I love beBee! Not only do you get to block people whose command of English grammar is as bad as their communication style, but you get to talk about it to everyone else. Cheers!

Zacharias 🐝 Voulgaris

3 months ago #28

Zacharias 🐝 Voulgaris

3 months ago #26

Correction: I wasn't born in the Netherlands.  I seriously would not worry about LinkedIn.  It was purchased by Microsoft in 2016 and it's now mostly Bot accounts.


I think it was in November of 2016 because I remember delightfully romping through the nuances of LinkedIn's platform, then in came Microsoft and watered it all down.  I was profoundly pissed.  


I had really avoided much about internet interactions up until October of 2016.  When it came to LinkedIn, that platform was my virgin adventure.  I loved that platform until Microsoft came in and mucked it up.

Zacharias 🐝 Voulgaris

3 months ago #24

Zacharias 🐝 Voulgaris

3 months ago #22

Lada 🏡 Prkic

3 months ago #21

Zacharias 🐝 Voulgaris

3 months ago #20

Lada 🏡 Prkic

3 months ago #19

Ken Boddie

3 months ago #18

I worked on the microscopic level in the beginning days of high tech.  The first picture is a device for which I was responsible, the second a basic op amp configuration, and the third an illustration of slew rate.  My product line was slew rate amplification. The Polaroid was of a device with blown inputs.  It was a common problem in that product line.


I had an idea as to what may fix it, but never had the chance to try it.  I dropped work to care for my oldest boy.


The problem irks me to this day even though the part must be completely obsolete.

Zacharias 🐝 Voulgaris

3 months ago #16

Ken Boddie

3 months ago #15

Sorry, @Lada 🏡 Prkic and @Zacharias 🐝 Voulgaris that I didn’t respond to your #13 and #14 below. It appears that I have stopped receiving notifications. You may wish to check your posts in case the ‘no notifications’ problem is more widespread. Javier is looking into it. 

Zacharias 🐝 Voulgaris

3 months ago #14

Literally LOLed on this one! If I may, I'd like to add a novel type of engineer who appears quite prevalent in my line of work: the data engineer. No one is certain what exactly he does. Some believe his head is in the cloud (often the Amazon one but other clouds too). He may speak many languages, often fluently, but you probably don't know any of them. But if you really need to communicate with him, you need to talk data to him. As for his data tastes, he likes it dirty since he's adept at cleaning it and preparing it for the other data professionals (data scientists and such softies). Cheers 

Lada 🏡 Prkic

3 months ago #13

Ken Boddie

3 months ago #12

Neil Smith

3 months ago #11

Ken Boddie

3 months ago #10

Lada 🏡 Prkic

3 months ago #9

Ken, I always thought I was an introverted engineer. Now I know I was wrong because I always stare at other people's shoes instead of my own. 😉 Thank you for laughing. BTW, you have chosen a magnificent structure for the title image. The Millau Viaduct is one of the most amazing engineering feats. 

Ken Boddie

3 months ago #8

Ken Boddie

3 months ago #6

Ken Boddie

3 months ago #5

Ken Boddie

3 months ago #4

Neil Smith

3 months ago #3

👋👋 I for one would have been far more impressed with your poem as opposed to yet another report on who gets to be the top of the engineering pops this week. Thanks for the entertaining story. 

Well, I think your poem is great! And, I love the story about the engineer with the missing wife. 


I feel engineers are detail-oriented people that work hard in their profession, and thanks for the list of engineering specialists. Back in the day, when I was an insurance underwriter, engineers were one of the professions we would provide coverage for. 

Javier 🐝 CR

3 months ago #1

i am a computer engineer and i did a master's degree in software engineering at the university of deusto in bilbao. i believe that everyone should have a basic knowledge of programming, it helps to have a very simple logic and to structure ideas. programming has a creative side that people don't know and assume that programming is like putting bricks on top of each other. i haven't been programming for a long time and i don't think my talent is there, but i recognise that having a deep knowledge of software engineering has helped me to implement good business ideas on the internet. In the end the internet is a tremendously technological medium and if you don't have basic knowledge it's like not knowing how to read and write.

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