What is an Engineer?

What is an Engineer?

As I mentioned in the introduction, the general public are poorly informed about what an engineer is and what he or she does. ‘Engineer’ is not the correct word for the man (or woman) who comes round to repair your ailing tumble drier or offi ce photocopier – nor does it have much to do with engines! In fact, the word ‘engineer’ comes from the French word ingénieur, which refers to someone who uses his ingenuity to solve problems. An engineer, therefore, is a problem-solver.

When we buy a product – for example, a bottle-opener, a bicycle or a loaf of bread – we are really buying a solution to a problem. For instance, you would buy a car not because you wish to have a tonne of metal parked outside your house but rather because of the service it can offer you: a car solves a transportation problem. You could probably think of numerous other examples, such as:

  • A can of baked beans solves a hunger problem.
  • Scaffolding solves an access problem.
  • Furniture polish solves a cleaning problem.
  • A house or fl at solves an accommodation problem.
  • A university course solves an education problem.

A structural engineer solves the problem of ensuring that a building – or other structure – is adequate (in terms of strength, stability, cost, etc.) for its intended use. We shall expand on this later in the chapter. A structural engineer does not usually work alone: he is part of a team of professionals, as we shall see.

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