The following is the first post by guest blogger Jean Thilmany, associate editor at Mechanical Engineering magazine. Look for her posts weekly.
We’ve received an announcement here at Mechanical Engineering magazine that the casting crew for a new Discovery Channel reality show tentatively titled Top Engineer is looking for designers who can build, machinists who can design, and the like.
To my way of thinking, it’s about time engineers got a chance at the prime time (not that a cable TV show is exactly prime time. I get that.). Decades ago, the Indiana Jones movies portrayed a dorky professor who spent his not-so-off hours cracking whips in distant locales and racing through mines while outsmarting evil villains, all in a bid to recover important artifacts.
A slew of recent cable television shows, including MythBusters and even shows like Curiosity (which purports to answer pressing scientific questions like why is sex fun) presents engineering pursuits as interesting and valid, worthy of investigation by a crew from Hollywood. Far cry from the Dilbert cartoons of years past.
But I admit my thinking along these lines can diverge. When Mike Rowe, host of Dirty Jobs (also on Discovery Channel) spoke at the SolidWorks users conference last month in San Diego, I felt he stood out from the crowd, mostly due to his gym-toned body, his California tan, and his confessed-to long time interest in getting into show business. Rowe isn’t an engineer, but he can come into contact with them on his show.
Most engineers, like almost everyone, toil in obscurity, many at jobs they find challenging and fun. And many put their working hours and free time to use by calling upon their engineering skills to help others. See the Engineering for Change website for proof of that.
While Engineering for Change and programs like the FIRST Robotics Competition are good ways to reach out to kids who may be interested in engineering, television programs like Top Engineer may help get the job done too. After all, I majored in journalism at a time when programs were stuffed to the gills because of the popularity of the movie and book All the President’s Men. I believe L.A. Law had a similar effect on law schools for a while.
And while I know engineers without traditionally keen good looks or a controversial personality are unlikely to make the Top Engineer cut, at least popular culture is starting to reflect back the truth: engineers are smart, sociable characters who do challenging and interesting work.