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I Can Always Go Into Business

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Hubris in engineering.

Top Ten Reasons To Go Into Engineering
10. If I flunk out, I can always go to business school

I saw this printed on the back of a T-shirt worn by someone in the College of Engineering at THE Ohio State University some years back. At the time, I was amused, but in the years that have passed, I have taken rather a different view of the proclamation.

In fact, I am quite sure that I would still be amused if it were not for the fact that I've met so many engineering types who actually believe that they're that much smarter than the business folks.

Granted, there are some amazing feats of engineering that can be seen. An obvious example that has been able to make headlines of late is the NASA Mars Exploration Rover Mission, and I am still struck by a certain sense of amazement when I look at all that we've been able to do with the Internet. Of course, what people actually do with the power is another matter, and the subject for another discussion.

Those successes took a lot of Smart People, doing creative and ground-breaking work, and it would be foolish for anyone to suggest that they're the result of people "simply" doing it. The fact is, it takes not only the vision to dream it up, but an awful lot more to follow up the vision with something that can be turned into realization of that vision.

Back to the issue of what an Engineering major would do if flunking out of school, I'm inclined to think that Business isn't the right place to go. Contrary to what the wearers of T-shirts like the one quoted at the beginning will argue, business isn't something that people can do because engineering is Too Hard. Going a step further (and addressing another complaint that I have heard far too often), being focused in business has nothing to do with greed.

It takes a lot of dedication, hard work, and patience to build a company like IBM, GE, or 3M. One need not look so high to see a lot of hard work.

Software people like to point out how many software projects fail as a way of showing how hard it is to get software right. It is worth observing that the majority of new businesses continue operations for less than three years.

As it turns out, building a business is a highly multidimensional problem. It isn't just enough to understand whatever it is that you do or have built. (A lot of engineers start companies at this stage, and never make it beyond thid, blaming "the economy," "stupid buyers," or one of any number of other things for their failure to turn their Great Idea into a sustainable business.)

Success in business doesn't come about from taking things from other people and hoarding lots of loot.

Success in business comes from creating real value by one's participation in an economic system. That requires understanding marketing, sales, service delivery, quality control, cash flow management, labor relations, and a whole lot of other things.

Success in a software development project will require a lot of things like skills with tools, understanding things like revision control, text editors, programming languages, algorithms, and the like. The difference is that the things that make a software development project a success are all much more closely related than the things that make a business successful.

More succinctly stated, successful business is a much more multidimensional problem than engineering. In fact, all of the engineering that an organization will do will fit under the umbrella of good business.

Thus, it might be said that if someone can't make it in business, perhaps he should give engineering a try. At least then, he can deal with a much more narrowly scoped set of problems at once.

Created by cmcurtin
This article originally appeared on Sunshine Poultry
Last modified 2004-08-23 01:41 PM

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