Friday, July 5, 2013

Should You Specialize in Engineering?

I was able to find this interesting story from the internet, the source of which is the text Think and Grow Rich by Napolean Hill. With this anecdote, a person in my age group with similar aspirations may be able to understand what line to pursue for career enhancement - a masters in Engineering or an MBA. When does training in a general, perhaps more rounded discipline trump training in a very specialized area or vice versa?

During the first world war, a Chicago newspaper published certain editorials in which, among other statements, Henry Ford was called "an ignorant pacifist." Mr Ford objected to the statements, and brought suit against the paper for libeling him. When the suit was tried in the courts, the attorneys for the paper pleaded justification, and placed Mr. Ford, himself, on the witness stand, for the purpose of proving to the jury that that he was ignorant. The attorneys asked Mr. Ford a great variety of questions, all of them intended to prove, by his own evidence that, while he might posses considerable specialized knowledge pertaining to the manufacture of automobiles, he was, in the main, ignorant.

Mr Ford was plied with such questions as the following: "Who was Benedict Arnold?" and "How many soldiers did the British send over to America to put down the rebellion of 1776?" In answer to the last question, Mr Ford replied, "I do not know the exact number of soldiers the British sent over, but I have heard that it was a considerably large number than ever went back." 

Finally, Mr. Ford became tired of this line of questioning, and in reply to a particularly offensive question, he leaned over, pointed his finger at the lawyer who had asked the question and said, "If I should really want to answer the foolish question you have just asked, or any of the other questions you have been asking me, let me remind you that I have a row of electric push-buttons on my desk, and by pushing the right button, I can summon to my aid men who can answer any question I desire to ask concerning the business to which I am devoting most of my efforts. Now, will you kindly tell me, why I should clutter up my mind with general knowledge, for the purpose of being able to answer questions, when I have men around me who can supply any knowledge I require?

The text goes on to say that Mr. Ford's answer floored the lawyer. Every person in the courtroom realized it was the answer, not of an ignorant man, but of a man of EDUCATION. Any man is educated who knows where to get knowledge when he needs it, and how to organize that knowledge into definite plans of action.

So the answer to the question is most primarily one of purpose. If you know that you can organize the accumulated knowledge in future, then it doesn't really matter what you pursue. For most of us in the age we live in, an advancement in education, i.e accumulated knowledge, could also be stepping stones to new career opportunities, a higher salary band or in general, a better perception of credentials in a professional community.

For me personally, I do not feel that learning, and the accumulation of knowledge, must stop at a certain age. As an engineer in a highly evolving world, you'd be somewhat of a fool to dig yourself a proverbial grave and think that whatever you need to know has been known. Sometimes, the act of "doing" will only come after the act of "learning". I'm pretty sure I haven't seen enough possibilities in engineering as of yet to carefully decide where I can be of best service.

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