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Things You Might Notice If You Are An Engineer

Updated on November 9, 2016

Once an engineer, always an engineer, I've heard. And being trained as an engineer, I think that we tend to see life a little differently. Call us geeks, or nerds, or whatever. There are things around us in our environments that pop out to some of us more than others, and engineers have a unique perspective. We see things you might not see (and I'm not talking about ghosts)!

Movie Faux Pas

While the point of watching a movie is to enter into a temporary suspension of disbelief (allowing yourself to believe the story unfolding on the screen), sometimes engineers have a hard time avoiding the glaringly obvious (to them) impossibilities in some of those stories.

  • There's no way that bolt would sheer like THAT!
  • You can NOT shut the power to a whole city block that way!
  • That car has to have been severely modified to even carry that load, much less race around with that kind of load.
  • Oh sure, if that cable is light enough to be packed around like that, it definitely isn't strong enough for those guys to zipline across the Grand Canyon on it.
  • (an old favorite) Cars will not blow up on impact like that - it's just not probable.

We can't help it - we've been trained and trained and trained on how the universe really works, on how to manipulate materials to make them work the way we want them to, and most definitely on how and why said materials would fail to work the way we want them to, or fail to work at all! The movie makers are great illusionists, but we can see right through lots of those stunts!

Alberta WIN Card
Alberta WIN Card


Especially in the western world, we are all pretty good at abbreviating as many things as possible in order to communicate more efficiently. That's the theory anyway. Sometimes as engineers, we have our own vocabulary of acronyms that make sense only to us. Not only that, we see acronyms, and the possibility of acronyms, everywhere!

For instance, in Alberta, our Wildlife Identification Number (WIN) cards are printed by IBM. IBM is the abbreviation for International Business Machines, a leading US computer manufacturer. I noticed both acronyms aright away when I received my WIN card.

water bottle label from India
water bottle label from India

We even notice acronyms when we are traveling abroad. Recently my husband was in India for 3 weeks, and while running into many new and unfamiliar things, he said that many signs were written in English. He even found familiar engineering acronyms, like ISO 9001, on his bottled water, of all places.

Purolator Truck with ISO 9001
Purolator Truck with ISO 9001

And speaking of ISO 9001, as obscure as you might think that acronym to be, I have seen it in my every day life, too. I had a package delivered by Purolator a few weeks back, and I stopped the driver before he left so I could take a picture of his truck, proudly displaying that Purolator is an ISO 9001 certified business! He said he drives the truck all the time, but had never paid attention to that before. As an engineer, I saw that acronym, and understood it's meaning, right away!

Bridges, Buildings and Berms, oh my!

I can say that even though I'm not currently working in the field of engineering, I am a civil engineer and I do still see many civil engineering type things around me every day.

I marvel at beautiful (to me) multi-layered highway interchanges, while others on the road are just trying to navigate the traffic.

I love seeing a new building being built, especially while the frame is still exposed, to see all the joints and girders and stuff going on INSIDE the building. Most people probably don't see much past the construction mess.

I will go out of my way to visit a water dam or reservoir, just to see what kind of berm was used, or how they are protecting the spillway from debris collection with log booms and other methods. (I know, I lost you at debris collection...)

I'm thrilled to go on a tour of a powerhouse (especially if its at a dam) - to have the hum of the whirring turbines fill my ears and chest, and to see the enormous amounts of power produced! We make these kinds of places vacation stops while we're traveling! And most of the world just drives right by, never even noticing these amazing engineering accomplishments.

WAC Bennet Dam, British Columbia
WAC Bennet Dam, British Columbia | Source

My estimation is that everyone who is trained in a certain field will go through life seeing certain types of things because of their familiarity with those things. Engineers seem to have quite a bit of fun with finding evidence of their field of expertise wherever they go. I know, personally, they seem to pop out at me a lot!

If you're an engineer, what kinds of engineering things do you notice around you? Do you see them all the time, or just when you're really looking for them?


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