Engineering as a Creative Outlet

Take a moment to picture a software engineer. What is the image that comes to mind? A pasty guy sitting in the glow of a monitor, endlessly hacking away at his keyboard? Someone who is the lone wolf type, probably lacking in social skills? Strictly logical, and a little Spock like? A bit of an overinflated ego? Afterall, that’s the stereotype that we’re given in movies and TV. It’s the kind of stereotype that I feel makes STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) fields unattractive to most girls. I say girls because we start getting this image when we’re young. When we’re being asked what we want to be when we grow up.

But that stereotype isn’t engineering. Well, maybe the ego part. I did say last week “I’m over here making miracles happen” which is probably a bit of an overstatement for getting something done within a  crazy short deadline. Engineering isn’t a dry, strictly logical field. Engineering is creative, you are literally creating something from nothing. You start with a blank screen and create something that (hopefully) makes people’s lives easier. After reading an article about how to keep your software engineers happy, I’ve realized we (as a society) don’t focus on the creative side of engineering nearly enough.  I feel if we did, girls may be more interested in STEM.

When I was in school, engineering equaled math. I did not like math. I did not do well in math. Why would I want to go into engineering when all I’d be doing is solving equations all day? I seriously thought that’s what engineers did when I was in Middle School and the beginning of high school. I didn’t think about engineers building and designing things, I thought that’s what designers did. Designers have the important job of coming up with look, feel, and usability of the end product. Engineers design what makes that design work. Ideally, the designer and engineer (and several others, but lets keep it simple) work together to make something amazing. You can’t be a lone wolf and be an engineer. It doesn’t work.

It’s time we start focusing on the collaborative, creative process that is engineering. We don’t need to do this “for girls” either. Don’t sequester  girls away and give them a different message than the boys. While engineering still may be male dominated, as a country we’re not very interested in it. When talking about engineering don’t focus on the math part (like seemed to be the trend when I was in school) focus on the building. Focus on the creating. Talk about the awesome user interface of the iPhone, and then talk about the creative problem solving that went into making it work.

Teachers, plan a field trip to your local Maker Faire. Talk to the makers. These are people who are passionate about their projects, that kind of passion is contagious. Take that excitement and hold a Maker Faire for your students. Create them a Maker Space. Parents, if ask your school to so this. And if they won’t, take them yourself. Help them make things.

Most importantly: Make it fun.

2 Responses to “Engineering as a Creative Outlet”
  1. cara says:
    • Nicole says:

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