What exactly is an engineer?

A non-engineer gives her perspective

67% of Stevens’ student body consists of engineers.
There are chemical engineers, mechanical engineers, biomedical engineers, and many more. However, not all students who attend Stevens are studying engineering. I, for one, am a chemical biology major with a minor in history.
A friend of mine is a double major in math and philosophy, and yet another is majoring in physics.
For the past couple of days, I have been wondering, what defines an engineer? How are they different from scientists, historians, and philosophers?
An engineer is not just a person who is good at math and science, as physics and chemistry majors are competent in those areas as well.
An engineer does not solely desire to build things, since many engineering disciplines, such as chemical engineering, do not require physical constructions.
When I googled the definition for an engineer, it stated, “a person who designs, builds, or maintains engines, machines, or public works.” Although an adequate definition, it did not explain what sets an engineer apart and what makes him/her unique.
When I asked a friend, who is a civil engineering major at Stevens, she responded that, “science majors have to know causes, which engineers don’t really have to know.”
Confused, I asked her what she meant. She continued, “Well, you guys have to know why things are the way they are. In our careers, we just need to know how to apply what we know. We focus more on application.”
Her response got me thinking about my Science and Metaphysics class last spring. I remember the class questioning why we were reading certain passages and Professor Morgan asking the class “Don’t you guys want to know whether the theories and laws you’re learning in your science courses are true or not?”
A girl from the back of the class responded. “Not really. I mean as long as the formulas work and we can use them to make what we need to make, it’s fine.”
We don’t necessarily need to know whether the theories behind the formulas are accurate.” She further explained how sometimes engineers use the method of guess and check to see what works, what gets them where they want to go, and what doesn’t.
They don’t need to dwell on the cause behind why some things are working and why others are not.
I then remembered an occurrence from last year that exemplified these two different ways of thinking. My roommate, Diana Ryerson, a mechanical engineering major, and I ran out of utensils in our room.
I was frustrated trying to figure out why we ran out, since I had just bought a new pack of utensils.
In the five minutes I spent trying to figure out why there were no utensils, Diana took a plastic cup, cut a piece of it out with a scissor, duck-taped two ends of the plastic together, and constructed a temporary spoon so she could eat her macaroni and cheese.
In the meantime, I figured out that the utensils all fell out of the open box and landed behind our microwave.
I guess that’s what sets an engineer apart from a scientist, a historian, and a philosopher. While scientists try to focus on why things are the way they are, like the roots and the causes of certain events or problems, engineers focus on how to get to the solutions.
Scientists observe and study why the world works the way it does, as well as what concepts, formulas, and theories dictate the world around us. Historians dig into the past, trying to find out what had happened, and why it happened.
Philosophers question our very existence, searching for what morals, emotions, and laws determine humanity.
And lastly, engineers apply the patterns, observations, and concepts that we know to create machines, programs, and systems; in short, engineers create SOLUTIONS.
An engineer’s job is very impressive and I commend all the engineering majors in our school. The curriculum for some engineering disciplines is daunting just to look at; I can’t imagine actually taking all of those courses.
However, engineers, as amazing as they are, cannot do their jobs alone. You see, there are many symbiotic relationships in the world of engineering. Scientists come up with formulas, engineers apply them.
Mathematicians figure out methods to find Eigenvalues; engineers use those methods.
My friend Julia Tsaoussis once told me that “without engineers, nothing would be built; without scientists there would be nothing to build.”
Thus, the answer to my original question is that engineers are unique because they focus more on the “how” than on the “why”. And that, to me, is an engineer from a scientist’s perspective.