If I could freeze time, slice a moment out of my day, and take stock of the objects around me, I’d find that most everything has not escaped the touch of an engineer.
Freeze 11:22 AM. Docking station, monitor stand, phone, magnetic clips, headphone, 2 desks, filing cabinet, the wall, the floor, a pen. Freeze 7:49 PM. Curtains, dish soap, stove, Tupperware, plates. The electronics are obviously complex, but even the pens –the manufacturing of pens—were also engineered. The physics and geometry of a table may be straightforward, but what about its mass production, packaging, and distribution?
What fascinates me about the pervasiveness of engineering work is that it often is invisible. Most of the time, we don’t go around thinking about who designed the parking meter, how the city purifies water, or what system puts money to our bank account when we deposit checks using our smartphones? We simply expect that things just work.
Perhaps this is why engineers are not commonly perceived as humanitarian heroes. Except for Engineers Without Borders, few cases exist where engineers are heralded as life-saving champions like the doctors, the soldiers, the missionaries, the lawyers, the pilots, or the teachers. Instead, they’re more like supporting characters in a plot where these other professions act as heroes. Heroes help people, especially in moments of crises. The engineers? They just have to make sure that everything works.
The nature of engineering work, to me at least, is not so much to respond to crises, although this certainly is part of the job. The main role, however, is to make sure the daily operations work well. Engineers may get more spotlight when things fail, with some blame involved perhaps, but they’re not necessarily heroes for the thousand other times when things are actually working.
For a lot of engineers, this suits them just fine. After all, many would rather buckle down and solve problems rather than talking about them. But at the same time, I think engineers could take some credits in this ‘helping people’ business.
I work in the gas and oil refining industry. I’m in the business of making fuels. I don’t rescue or help people–in the humanitarian sense of the word–as a day job, but it sure ‘helps’ when my car moves when I press the pedal. I’m sure glad that putting gasoline means something to the car, and that heroes everywhere have means of transporting themselves to where they need to be. No matter how rough a day is, when I get into my car to drive home and see all the other cars on the road, I feel affirmed that my work contributes something, though small, to society.
To me, engineering is an enabler; it enables everyone to do their work, to live, and function efficiently every day, every moment. Our toilets work, our bridges stand, our buildings sound. Somebody thought these through. Engineers are in the business of mundane, everyday things that many take for granted (even flying planes are taken for granted). And I actually love this about my profession.
I get a kick out of working on something that people don’t realize may help them. I get a certain satisfaction from working behind the curtain, designing a system that works so well and intuitive no one thinks twice about how it works.
Being an engineer makes me appreciate things that simply work, because I know it’s not simple to make something work. Designers have to think about the thousand ways it could fail and build measures to avoid them.
Being an engineer makes me appreciate how things came to be. Everything that was made went through a process, and someone thought through that process.
Being an engineer teaches me that I’m part of a system, and that my work can impact everything and everyone down the line. It makes me want to work safely and with integrity, because mistakes can cost someone’s life.
Being an engineer gives me the joy of celebrating success as a team, since no single hero can emerge without a team.
So, to all the engineers out there, I appreciate you. Keep up the good work!
If you asked me during my early college years what I wanted to do when I grew up, I’d tell you: to be an ordinary, good person. You know, do good things in life, graduate, work, get married, have a family, et cetera. I once asked my dad, who worked so hard to send me to MIT, whether he would be OK if after I graduated from college I did absolutely nothing with my degree. Actually, he said he would be fine with that, since there was more to life than a degree.
While there was profound truth in that statement, my mindset wasn’t as deep then. Since the pressure was off, I felt essentially excused from having high ambitions. I wanted to go through life as inconsequentially as possible, as quietly as possible, not causing any stir, whether good or bad. Besides, I thought Christians were not supposed to be ambitious.
Which was why when I heard that GYC 2003 theme and read the originating quote, “Higher than the highest human thought can reach is God’s ideal for His children” (Education, p. 18), my life philosophy was turned upside down.
You’re telling me that no human ambitions can equate God’s ambitions for His children?
I had to re-think a lot about how I approached life. I thought I had reached some decent heights in life, but God said, “You ain’t seen nothing yet. Come up higher.” New heights started opening up to me, things I had never imagined before.
With others involved in the Boston area campus ministries, I started doing things (of consequence). First as a participant, then slowly, I learned to get excited: “What about this?” or “Oh we can do that!” The most mind-blowing thing about all of this was the realization that I could actually do something for God and His cause! I was not inconsequential, and campus ministry gave my life so much meaning. I could be ambitious not for ambitions’ sake or the world’ applause, but for God, which was the only thing that mattered! I canvassed for two summers and the thought of an ordinary life grew dimmer by the day…
After undergraduate years, I spent a year as a missionary intern at C.A.M.P.U.S. to minister to public university students. There, my paradigm was further shaped. One of the resounding themes during the C.A.M.P.U.S. missionary training program (MTP) was the assertion, “You can change the world.”
The first time I heard it, I was like, “Yeah, right.” No one had ever said that to me before. “Me? Change the world? Pff.” But then they kept saying it, until slowly I started to believe them.
The thing that made it believable was because it was said in the context of Jesus Christ. The phrase “You can change the world” is energizing by itself, but without substance, it really is just a self-help, self-motivating type of mantra that will eventually fade away. No, the full phrase that was repeated at MTP and that stuck with me was, “Change the world by being changed.”
What does that mean? It means that you don’t change the world by your energy, loud voice, charisma, leadership skills, campaigning, or efforts. The key to making an impact in the world, a true impact that will last for eternity, is to be changed in the inside.
Think about Jesus. He did not start any organization, He did not have any degree, and at the end of His life everyone forsook Him. His life was simple, devoid of pomp and glory. But He changed and still is impacting the world, thousands of years after His life on earth. It was the force and nobility of His character that rippled through the ages.
The impact that will matter in heaven’s accounting comes only when Jesus changes and transforms a person in the inside, to be like Him in character. This is the prerequisite that will only give meaning to the eloquence, charisma, and these other accessory skills. Once that happens, with God by your side, nothing is impossible.
Fewer things can resonate with a youthful soul than dreaming the impossible. “You’re too young to know that certain things are impossible, so you do them anyway,” says the character William Pitt in the movie Amazing Grace.
Now, one of my favorite things to do is get together with like-minded friends, and with some Häagen-Dazs mango sorbet to fuel the brain, start a “dreaming session,” thinking and brainstorming about things to do to address what’s lacking. Many a project has come out as a brainchild. Some fell through, some took off, but in all of them there were fun, excitement, and passion. I mean, the joy of finding things that excite your very being, that you don’t want to go to sleep and you can’t wait to wake up, is indescribable. Life is so much more meaningful this way.
The last thing I want is an ordinary life. I can’t go back to a dreamless life. I have no straight plans or visions of how my life should be, because I want to be surprised. I want to always say yes when God calls me to a higher ground, and I want to see impossible things happen.
In the pursuit of higher education, I have been very fortunate to enroll in two amazing institutions. And I wasn’t even one who dreamed ambitiously about getting a piece of these prestigious names.
But the highest education available to mankind is not contained within the perimeters of the Ivy League schools or any other institutions, inaccessible to most. The highest education is in the communion with the Greatest Teacher incomparable to any being in the universe, and is available everywhere, every moment, and for everyone.
The mind of man is brought into communion with the mind of God, the finite with the Infinite. The effect of such communion on body and mind and soul is beyond estimate. Education, p. 14.
That quote is taken from my favorite book of all time, Education by Ellen Gould White. It’s not about education as in classroom/teaching situation; it’s about the philosophy of life and learning. Such an absolutely amazing book. This first paragraph of the book blows my mind every single time I read it.
Our ideas of education take too narrow and too low a range. There is need of a broader scope, a higher aim. True education means more than the pursual of a certain course of study. It means more than a preparation for the life that now is. It has to do with the whole being, and with the whole period of existence possible to man. It is the harmonious development of the physical, the mental, and the spiritual powers. It prepares the student for the joy of service in this world and for the higher joy of wider service in the world to come. p. 13
It’s saying that the relevance of true education expands wide in space and time. It will be good and useful for this life and the life to come, and for this world and the world to come. It doesn’t focus on the intellectual development in expense of mental, physical, and spiritual developments. It concerns the whole being, the character of a person.
And I totally buy this idea.
In the school of Christ, every experience is a teacher, every personal encounter a lesson book, and all the world’s a classroom. Every knowledge and skill gained is placed in the context of who God wants me to be. To serve is to find joy. There is no vacation, nor would you want vacation from this school. And the most awesome part is that there is no graduation as well.
Heaven is a school; its field of study, the universe; its teacher, the Infinite One… There every power will be developed, every capability increased. The grandest enterprises will be carried forward, the loftiest aspirations will be reached, the highest ambitions realized. And still there will arise new heights to surmount, new wonders to admire, new truths to comprehend, fresh objects to call forth the power of body and mind and soul. p. 301, 307
Need I say more.
When I gained Christ, I enrolled in the grandest school of all time and I gained the One who has all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, as my personal Teacher. Crazy.