Prestige of the engineering work
Engineers were not very highly regarded in the former Soviet Union. In terms of salary, blue color workers were always paid more. In fact, if 2 people did the same job, but one had a title of engineer and another was technician, the technician would get higher salary. So, when Gorbachev came to power, he recognized that the Soviet Union was technologically lagging behind the West. So, the Soviet Government announced that they would promote the engineering work in order to raise its prestige. Mikhail Zhvanetsky, a famous Russian-Jewish satirist and a native of Odessa, joked that engineers got increased prestige, but not increased salary.
It turns out that in this country, while engineering pay is pretty good, the prestige of the engineering work is not very high. There is simply no glamour in it. Planet Analog, one of the professional publications whose newsletter I get at work, posted an article on this subject:
Commentary: Engineers need an image makeover
May 02, 2008 (1:43 PM)
At the recent ACE Awards dinner, our industry honored leading innovators, companies and products. It was good to see an appreciative audience for this well-deserved recognition. But then I realized we were preaching to the converted. The broader world still dismisses engineers and scientists as quirky outsiders.
This became clear when I was trapped and had to watch an episode of the dreadful "Beauty and the Geek." The show’s premise is that there is something wrong with the geeks, but with some help they can be made to be cool, if not actually hot. If I suggested that perhaps the beauties could benefit from a knowledge makeover, I’d be dismissed as, well, a geek.
It wasn’t always this way. Until about the 1960s, engineers were not only honored, they were respected. They were guests on popular TV shows for their accomplishments, not as oddballs to be mocked. Earlier in the 20th century, engineers were accorded more respect and stature than any other professionals.
We’ve come a long way from that world.
The Associated Press has announced it will hire 20 more reporters solely to cover celebrities, and they don’t mean scientists or engineers. And I’ll bet if eight-year-old Carson Page—the Editor’s Choice ACE Award winner for his impressive work with FPGAs—ever appears on the Leno or Letterman show, he’ll be there as an oddity, not a role model.
How did this transformation happen?
I think we are victims of our own success. In the past few decades, we’ve made such incredible progress in so many areas, at an ever-increasing rate, that we’ve made it all look so very easy. The public is no longer impressed by feats of engineering: They think all this amazing gadgetry just happens by itself, because we’ve made it seem that way.
What can we do? It wouldn’t be practical, or advisable, to squelch scientific and technological progress. But perhaps professional societies, universities and high-tech companies could team to launch an image campaign. One message might be: "If it weren’t for the nerd next door, you wouldn’t have (fill in the blank)." Here’s another: "Celebrity fades. Knowledge lasts."
As with so many engineering problems, there is no simple solution. Perhaps it is not even viewed as a problem. Our culture has moved to a new perception of what it values, and it’s not us.
If that’s the case, we have only ourselves to blame. But we owe it to ourselves, and certainly to the next generation of innovators like Carson Page, to do something about it.
The article is pretty short, so I just posted the whole thing here. It really is sad. My daughter recently had a "career day" at school. None of the kids said that they wanted to be an engineer. And I live in the area heavily populated by engineers. In addition to that, the whole society is technically illiterate. A friend of mine told me that in the 1980s, when VCRs first became available, people could not set the clock on the front display of the VCR. So the clock display kept blinking, and people were getting annoyed. Apparently some company like RadioShack came up with a kit to stop the blinking. It was simply a piece of black electrical tape that you would stick onto the clock display and cover it. The fact that someone was able to sell this thing has to be embarrassing. Part of the problem that kids nowadays don’t have to make anything themselves. You can buy everything. You can even buy a slingshot or a rubber band gun. What is that? Things like that kids should be building with their own hands, coming up with their own designs. Of course, it would be nice if there was some sort of a TV show about engineers. But, unlike doctors or lawyers, engineers don’t have drama associated with their work. So, a TV show would not be very exciting. Something like MacGyver would be pretty exciting, but most of the stuff MacGyver does is not necessarily realistic and definitely not something that you could try at home.
Oh, well. My older daughter still says once in a while that she wants "to be an engineer, like daddy". So, not everything is lost. Although, if my daughter becomes a nurse like mommy, I would be pretty happy too.
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