What Engineering Degree Should I Study if "I Want to be an Industry Expert"?

Updated: Mar 15, 2018

This blog post is based on my personal experiences within the engineering industry. I went straight into work hoping to gain as much information from the "experts", to eventually become one myself.

However, the issue with becoming an expert in an industry like engineering is that the technology never remains the same, it is constantly changing and if an engineering company is not dynamic enough to allow for continuous improvement, they will be wiped out and their market share will soon be taken over by somebody else.

So why put all your time and energy into one discipline of engineering? Why focus all your attention so early on in your career into one area? The best engineers that I have come across have been dynamic with expansive amounts of knowledge in many different areas and have a very good understanding of the physics and maths behind the application. At the end of the day engineering is the application of fundamental mathematics and science to conceptualise, design, maintain, research and advance machines, structures, components, systems, tools, materials and processes. Once you begin to go into detailed research applied to one endeavor, your wider range of knowledge is limited and once a technology becomes outdated, this expertise that you have gained is also outdated leaving you in a position where you have to retrain or relearn the fundamental principles that are applied to create high quality engineering.

For this reason, my personal advice to young engineers entering the industry or applying for degrees, is to stick to generic subjects such as mechanical engineering, structural engineering, electronic engineering, civil engineering, physics and other courses where you will learn the first principles of science and mathematics which constitute engineering to allow for easy application to any engineering problem.

This can be explained using the equation outlined below:

The equations states that as relevance (industry) approaches 0, your knowledge within that industry is also approaching 0 until you reach a point where that knowledge is irrelevant.

Let me give an example ...

The automotive industry has been very volatile over recent years with various emissions scandals and the well known fact that fuel, in particular, diesel is harming people around the world and affecting the environment we live in. Many "industry experts" predicted Tesla Motors demise yet a physics graduate, by the name of Elon Musk, has built a company that became more valuable than two of the oldest Automotive companies in GM and Ford. How did this happen? Mr Musk came into the industry with no automotive expertise to think of but hired dynamic individuals who were willing to take technology back to its first principles and re-engineer automotive technologies for it to be more cost effective and innovative than what those who had spent their lives dedicated to improving vehicles that utilise the internal combustion engine. Now the industry is rapidly changing with many companies releasing electric and hybrid-electric vehicles. They are the ones now playing catch-up with this technology.

Many other examples can be found, but the key point of this blog post is that gaining a very detailed overview of the philosophies that have made engineering what it is today, can make you a more effective engineer than specialising to the extent that you become an industry expert in a particular field.

Please don't hesitate to leave your comments below with your opinions and experiences. Like I said this has just been my opinion throughout my short time in the industry and when people ask me what degree they should do and what experience they should get, this is what I explain to them.

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