The Coding Monkey

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

An Engineer Who Failed His First Test

I've been out of engineering school for five years now. I think that's given me sufficient time to look back on my education as it's related to my career thus far, and to see how my education prepared me for my job. All I can say is that I was damned lucky to go where I did. I'm reminded of this after reading Confessions of an Engineering Washout on Tech Central Station today:

I am an engineering washout. I left a chemical engineering major in shame and disgust to pursue the softer pleasures of a liberal arts education. No, do not pity me, gentle reader; do not assuage your horror and dismay at my degradation by flinging a filthy quarter into my shiny tin cup. Instead, hear my story, and learn why the United States lacks engineers.

Not long ago, I showed up for my first year at Smartypants U., fresh from a high school career full of awards and honors and gold stars. My accomplishments all pointed towards a more verbal course of study, but I was determined to spend my college days learning something useful. With my strong science grades and excellent standardized test scores, I felt certain that I could handle whatever engineering challenges Smartypants U. had to offer. Remember: Kern = real good at math and science. You will have cause to forget that fact very soon.

What follows is a very interesting article on his experience of living with the consequences of failing his first Engineering test. What is most interesting is that he never mentions the first test he failed. To be honest, I don't even know if he realizes he failed it, or even took it.

To what magical esteemed test am I referring? He picked the wrong school. Picking the right school is probably the most important test an aspiring engineer will ever take. From the sounds of it, our friend Doug went to the school with a stellar reputation for taking in brilliant people. What more and more people are realizing however is that these schools that take in brilliant people seem to think that accepting you into their little club is the most important part of college. What comes after the entrance exam is just gravy. What you learn in that college seems to be less important than then fact that you now own that coveted piece of paper with Smartypants U written on the top. Congratulations, you are now the proud owner of a piece of paper, instead of an education.

I say these things having had numerous conversations with several people who either have gone to, or know people who have gone to these types of institutions. I always laugh, because I never seemed to experience the same issues that they did. I've come to realize that it's simply because I picked the right school... and a damned unique one at that. I went to a school that:

  • Doesn't tenure professors
  • Rarely hires a professor that doesn't have significant experience in industry
  • Doesn't use teaching assistants
  • Has relatively small class sizes (on the order of 30 or less... seriously)
  • Actually devotes significant parts of classes to laboratory work
I wonder how much different his experience would have been had he just picked a better place to learn.


  • The class size is important. Where I went, it was not unheard to have lectures with 150-200 students sometimes. Labs might have maybe 45-50 students.

    Aside from the occasional inscrutable non-English-speaking professor, no real complaints about them. The TA's weren't all that bad, either.

    I do regret sometimes switching majors, but am not going to lay too much blame on the school itself for what I see now as my limitations at the time.

    By Blogger Be, at September 29, 2005 10:56 AM  

  • My best classes were taught by industry professionals. They had a much better grasp on what mattered in the "real world."

    Still, I never saw a purchase order, bill of materials, or RFQ in college. They don't teach you how to truly solve a real world problem in college, either. You know: the type of problem where you only have 60% of the information that you need, but you need a solution in two weeks.

    By Blogger Aaron, at October 02, 2005 9:25 PM  

  • That's because most of the professors have no clue about the real world. They would rather fill your head with political diatribe than what matters to your future.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at October 25, 2005 5:38 PM  

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