Do Engineers Do Engineering Anymore?

I have two personally designed, qualitative indicators that I use to judge the health of the economy: the fast food service quality indicator (FFSQI) and the recruiter inapplicability indicator (RII).

The FFSQI is basically my experience getting fast food. When the economy is good or improving, the quality indicator drops. One wonders how some of the people providing the service manage to get, much less keep, their jobs. The worse the general experience at fast food places, the better the economy is because they’re scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of available labor.

The RII comes from calls/emails that I get from recruiters. It’s not just the number but also the nature of the jobs. If a recruiter calls me with a position for which I am in no way qualified (or only minimally qualified), the indicator goes up. The higher this indicator, the better the economy because recruiters are having a hard time finding candidates.

This indicator, however, has recently made me wonder if engineers actually do any engineering anymore. By “engineering”, I mean applying mathematics and physical laws to solve problems or generate new products or processes. Note that under this definition, software engineering is not quite engineering. My apologies to any such engineers, but I’m focusing on “traditional” engineering.

Take, for instance, the following text from a recruiter email I received:

“The Differentiation Project Engineer will actively design, gain sponsorship, and lead technical projects for the Additives Engine Oils business segments. This person will also provide overall project tracking for the Mechanical Testing Department for differentiation testing projects and coordinate technical training.

• Design and lead differentiation tests to meet business needs.
• Collaborate with Engine Additives Segment colleagues to present project proposals for approval through the stage gate process. These projects may be lead by the Project Manager or others in Mechanical testing.
• Negotiate for resources from the Mechanical Testing Engineering and Operations teams as needed to ensure projects have the necessary technical resources available.
• Ensure that projects are well defined, aligned with business goals and there are agreed upon milestones, dates, and accountability.
• Actively manage the differentiation project portfolio to include all differentiation projects for Engine Additives and report progress and/or roadblocks at the bi-weekly Tech Managers meeting. “

Now, what does this engineering position do? Obviously, it has something to do with engine additives and testing, but I can’t seem to figure out much more. It sounds like a lot of paperwork (stage gate, bi-weekly meetings, “negotiating resources” [probably means you don’t have what you need to do your job], presenting project proposals, etc.) Granted all those things may be needed, but it sounds like very little engineering going on.

Consider this position that I pulled off of

“Project engineering responsibilities requiring technical cognizance of nuclear plant components (pressure vessels, valves, pumps, heat exchangers).​ Functions encompass the following: Review and approval of supplier designs, specification preparation, technical negotiations and purchase order placement, establish testing requirements; engineer follow through manufacturing phase and in-service problem resolution.​ Extensive communications with customer and supplier personnel.​”

Read: Paperwork.

Or this one:

“In this position, the Principal Engineer will:
– Implement/develop and monitor procedures and processes to provide headquarters management of large scale NSSS projects in accordance with applicable contracts and agreements.
– Ensure that proper documentation is generated, approved and issued.
– Develop working relationships and interface with team members across multi-organizational boundaries.
-Communicate and coordinate activities to ensure on time delivery of project deliverables such as engineering design packages and equipment.”

Not sure what this has to do with engineering.

Perhaps my experience is tainted. I deal with a lot of engineers whose jobs seem to be filling out paperwork. Check this box. Fill in the form. Does the supplied equipment conform to the 3rd revision of the specifications?

Now, specifications and paperwork are needed. You’ve got to somehow keep track of what’s going on, particularly with large and/or complicated projects. But it just seems to me that a good deal of engineering is not engineering but paperwork.

Of course, there’s one possible explanation for this: these job descriptions are being written by HR people who have no idea what the engineers are doing. Hmm……