Help! Is there an Engineer in the house?

I love those old Victorian movies, especially those with a romantic bent. Invariably, the movie plot involves a scene where a young lady swoons, and faints, usually during a ball. Someone tries to revive her, but with no apparent success. Suddenly a dashing young man comes over and takes charge. The young man is a medical doctor, and soon the young lady is well again. And everyone is forever grateful to the young medical doctor. Even today, such scenes happen in real life. For instance during the recent Rugby World Cup held in England, a rugby fan had a heart attack, and this would have been fatal had it not been for a ‘hero’ doctor who miraculously appeared and gave him the breath of life (BBC News, 23 September, 2015).

But who has ever cried out for an engineer in a moment of need? Certainly not my wife, or my sister, or my  brother, or my two daughters.  Certainly I can’t think of any ordinary person ever expressing a sudden and dire need for an engineer in their life. And who has ever seen an engineer, anyway? Of course there must be engineers around in the community. I, for certain, am one of this elusive breed of professionals, but people see us and look through us without ever knowing that we exist, or worse still, without ever giving a second thought on our role in society. We engineers are there, but we remain invisible. Faceless, unknown, unacknowledged, we go through our lives. Just like spies, someone would say. But even spies are known in Hollywood.  Who has never heard of James Bond? And we do not normally call them spies, anyway. They are intelligence officers, and most of us are quite certain we know what they do in their day to day work, and they are certainly an intelligent lot.

But what about engineers? Certainly there are many films which showcase a lot of exotic technology, including the James Bond movies, but it’s almost impossible to get a film where an engineer is a hero, or where the word  engineer is explicitly mentioned. One post on the Internet can only think of the movie Apollo 13, and notes: “it is the very rare film where the engineers are heroes.”  So, we can safely conclude that even Hollywood is unaware of the existence of this profession called engineering.

But surprisingly the handiwork and brainwork of engineers abounds everywhere. Just take a look at the skyscrapers in our cities, and the cars, buses and trains that brought us to work today, and even the computer systems that are now indispensable for any modern-day work activity. Yet even these artefacts bear no reference at all to their creator – that elusive engineer, quietly, and mysteriously working away in the background. Even when a brand new car is launched there is scarcely any mention of the engineers who carried out the important work. Even when Land Rover launched its Range Rover Evoque series, the only person specifically named was the creative designer, former Spice Girl band member, Victoria Beckham. Where are the engineers who developed the vehicle’s superb transmission system, or worked night and day developing its unique aerodynamic features? Just silence, just a blanket silence.  Even when it comes to buildings, we hardly ever hear of the structural engineers, and the building services engineers who together design the infrastructure that make the building a reality. All we hear of is the building’s architect.  For instance, just across town is London’s answer to the seven wonders of the ancient world. This is the Shard, London’s highest building. And only one name springs to mind – that of Renzo Piano, the building’s architect.  Where are the engineers?

But once every year we try to remember the engineers in our midst. For example, in case you didn’t know, this week, 2 Nov to 6 Nov 2015, is Tomorrow’s Engineer Week. This is a week set aside to raise public awareness of engineering, especially amongst the youth and children. During this one week individual engineers, engineering organisations and educational institutions will compete to tell our children all the good things about engineers. Universities will organise sessions for school children where they show them how to do intricate things with maths and science. Newspapers will outdo each other telling us that engineers are found everywhere, even in professional tennis, Formula One, and in all the other things that we have come to take for granted. Then, after one week, we go back to our deafening silence. The elusive engineer goes into hibernation, waiting to be wheeled out once more into the public domain this time next year. Like a religious ritual which everyone seriously participates in, but which no one believes in. Thus goes the engineer, always necessary, ever voiceless, ever elusive, a figment that resides in the dark recesses of the public mind, except for that one week called Tomorrow’s Engineer Week.

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