Engineering is regarded as an exact and straightforward activity, where numbers and exact formulae explain everything, with no space for creation. I know a lot of people who think this, it bothers me. Engineering is not seen as a sexy career, programming to most people, that don’t know how to do it, looks like just typing boring instructions for boring computers. I find this view entirely wrong. Sure, it can be frustrating to spend hours searching for a bug fix, but then so is spending hours connecting audio equipment in the right way so that a rock concert sounds awesome, it’s just some little boring things we have to do to actually get to do the things we love, whether it be typing away a new code idea we have or playing a guitar solo on stage. But rock is regarded as cool and engineering isn’t. Why is this? Intel has done a very nice attempt at making engineers look cool: Sponsors of Tomorrow. My geek pride leads me to enjoy that ad (probably too much).
Rock stars, painters, writers are seen as creative people, this is one of the traits that makes their work seem sexy and interesting. Engineers are seen as geeks (strangely enough, the products we make can be seen as sexy). Creativity is sexy because it is mysterious, creating is the act of making something appear out of nothing, words, notes, images. Creativity is fun, programming is not (I feel the need to clarify: the last phrase was sarcasm). But the funny thing about it is that creativity is an essential part of our job. I can’t imagine coming up with solutions just with straightforward formulas. What is the formula for inventing a new motor control algorithm, I agree, there is a formula for the control in itself, but what is the formula for making it up? What is the formula for programming it efficiently? There isn’t, there’s creativity.
I’ve met a couple of ways creativity works in engineers:
– Some engineers are just creative in other fields more traditionally related to creativity (I play guitar and record my own music for fun).
– Engineers that are creative in their field of work, they come up with the best/most innovative solutions, they are usually committed (obsessed) with their work.
Many times these two qualities meet, many other times there are people who only have one of those forms of creativity. I find any of the two great, although experience also tells me that those engineers who are creative in other stuff but not in engineering usually don’t actually love engineering, I also know that these guys are usually not into embedded systems and are rather in other less interesting areas (clearly I like embedded systems more than, say, manufacturing, but I bet there are people who can find pasion in that as well).
To close, here is a link to an article in one of my favorite blogs, Gaping Void, by Hugh MacLeod: How to be creative.
What do you think? Is creativity as important to engineering as it is to arts? More? Less? Leave your comments.