Engineering -- an endless frontier
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Engineers are often stereotyped as nerds and geeks, narrow minded, socially awkward, proficient with things but deficient in people skill.  The stereotype, promulgated in popular journalism and academic technology studies alike, generates misperceptions.  This is revealed in the responses to a Yahoo online quiz posted in the week of November 7, 2005.  The multiple-choice quiz question was:

"What is the most common undergraduate degree among chief executive officers at the Standard & Poor 500 companies: -- accounting, business administration, economics, engineering, or liberal arts?"

The popular votes favored liberal arts to engineering majors almost two to one.  The reverse is true.  The 2004 CEO survey by an executive search firm found engineering winning by a comfortable margin.  About 21% of S&P 500 CEOs majored in engineering, compared to 15% in business and 10% in liberal arts.

Chiefs executives of large corporations must have strategic visions, and those without social skill can hardly climb the corporate ladder to the top.  The success of engineers rebukes their nerd stereotype.

Technology involves both people and things.  Besides creating physical technology, engineers also engage in organization, where they function as mangers and entrepreneurs.  James Watt commercialized his steam engine in 1776.  Engineers have a long tradition in entrepreneurship.  They also pioneered modern business administration that facilitated the emergence of giant corporations in the nineteenth century.  Already by the 1950s, engineers occupied twenty percent of top executive offices in large American corporation, and for every one who reached the top, many made senior and middle management.  The trend continues and is not limited to the United States.

Degree combination

% in senior management

engineering only

16

engineering & science

17

engineering & business

36

engineering & all others

29

The likelihood of being in senior management of master’s level engineering graduates in the private sector, by degree combination.  (Burton, L. and Parker, P. 1998.  Degrees and occupations in engineering: how much do they diverge?  NSF99-318. www.nsf.gov).  

References

Augustine, N. R. 1994.  Socioengineering.  The Bridge, 24(3): 3-14.

Chandler, A. D. Jr. 1965.  The railroads: pioneers in modern corporate management.  Business History Review 39: 16-40.

Chandler, A. D. Jr. 1977.  The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business.  Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Chandler, A. D. Jr. ed., 1964.  Giant Enterprise: Ford, General Motors, and the Automobile Industry.  Neew York: Harcourt, Brace & World.

Condit, P. M. 1994.  Focusing on the customer: How Boeing Does it.  Research Technology Management,  37(1): 33-7.

Landau, R. 1994.  Uncaging Animal Spirits: Essays in Engineering, Entrepreneurship, and Economics.  Cambridge: MIT Press.

Lee, G. L. and Smith, C., eds. 1992.  Engineers and Management: International Comparisons.  London: Routledge.

Locke, R. 1985.  The relationship between educational and managerial cultures in Britain and West Germany.  In Managing in Different Cultures, eds. P. Joynt and M. Warner.  Oslo, Norway: Universitetsforlaget AS, pp. 166-216.

Murman, E. M., et al. 2002.  Lean Enterprise Value: Insights from MIT's Lean Aerospace Initiative.  Palgrave.

Newcomer, M. 1955.  The Big Business Executive.  New York: Columbia University Press.

Scientific American. 1964.  The Big Business Executive/1964.

Stewart, T. A., Taylor, A., Petre, P., and Schlender, D.  1999.  The businessman of the century.  Fortune, 140(10):108-28.

Thomas, S. G. 2000.  Schools are building a new breed of engineer – one with management savvy.  U.S. News and World Report, April 10, pp. 86-7.

Womack, J. P., Jones, D. T., and Roos, D. 1990.  The Machine that Changed the World: The Story of Lean production.  New York: Harper.