Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Mechanical Facility/Dexterity and Tinkering

  1. Jan 29, 2005 #1

    What do you guys think about tinkering as a sign that one would be good at engineering.I mean do you need to have great mechanical facility and dexterity to be an engineer or is it more just creativity and skill with math and science .like is quantitave analysis and creativity more important. also just as a side note do you think that verbal and writing skills are important too.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 29, 2005 #2


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I think it is very difficult to say what makes a good engineer. First of all there are so many different types of engineers and so many different tasks accomplished by those engineers that it is impossible to generalize.The factors you list are a pretty good starting point. But there is a lot more to it. You can get straight As in your engineering course work and still be a sh@t engineer. Many engineers in the field have few practical mechanical skills so it certainly is not a requirement. Much of what makes a good engineer is not taught, and perhaps cannot be learned. It is more of a state of mind then level of education. While you can be taught the formulas to use, how and when to apply them is a completely different thing.

    BTW: I am currently working as a maintenance tech in a wafer fab clean room environment, I just happen to have a engineering level education. (I can't afford the pay cut I would have to take to become an engineer!) I work with a variety of different engineers. All of them are very bright and well educated, some of them also happen to be good engineers.
  4. Jan 29, 2005 #3


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    A solid grap of mathematics at an advanced level is certainly necessary, if not sufficient, to become an engineer. One of the biggest class of people inclined to become engineers who never make it (call it the "Popular Mechanics crowd") are people who are mechanically inclined, but simply can't make it through vector calculus and differential equations.

    Dexterity is probably less important than it was half a century ago, now that CAD has become ubiquitous, we use computers instead of slide rules to do calculations, and even modeling can be done with "3-D printers". Consider technical drawing, e.g., which is one of the most dexterity intensive things engineers do (much of the actual assembly is done by technicians). If you can trace a drawing, you have the manual dexterity to draw it, the rest is conceptual. Certainly, dexterity can be useful, but it isn't make or break, within reason.

    Creativity is another ability which can be a plus, but isn't necessary for everyone. Sure, there are glamour jobs in engineering designing new inventions or remarkable structures. But, there are also no shortages of jobs that call for straightforward application of proven engineering principles to routine situations in an unimaginative way. Somebody has to design highway overpasses in Kansas, supervise the design of neighborhood transformer stations in growing suburbs, rework the hydraulics on a cargo lift for a new model delivery truck which rides six more inches off the ground than the last model, and figure out the optimal amount of artificial food coloring required to make the new purple version of Mountain Dew.

    Also, as noted above, engineering skills often have non-engineering applications which pay better than straight engineering jobs. For example, I have a cousin who is a chemical engineer, but has spend a decade or so as a customer service/sale representative for a company that sells sophisticated components for technical systems. She spends most of her time helping her engineer customers figure out which parts they really need and how many of them they need.

    This isn't to say that a good mechanical sense (psychologists sometimes call it "structural vision") isn't a good and necessary thing, and that there isn't room for a creative engineer whose good with his hands, but plenty of people make a good living without either, and plenty of creative people who are good with their hands find outlets that are more satisfying than engineering for them.
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2005
  5. Jan 29, 2005 #4
    so your saying that you don't need to be the type to sit and take apart radios to be an engineer becuse that was part of what i was asking.
  6. Jan 30, 2005 #5


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Any engineer in any position will be better off having good practical, wrench turning experience. You would be amazed how quickly one gets caughht up in the technical aspects of what they are doing to forget about the basics that will cause a headache to someone else. It also will help you to follow the KISS rule in a lot of situatoins.

    Is that necessary to be a good engineer? No. Not really. However I think someone who does tinkering and such will have a bit of an edge on someone who doesn't. I guess the best way to put it is that it will make one a bit more "well rounded."
  7. Jan 31, 2005 #6


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I think that the first indication that someone would become a good engineer is merely that they are fascinated by its applications and have a desire to become part of that.

    Obviously creativity, imagination, good numeracy and literacy skills, common sense, and good interpersonal skills are all crucial, but these can to some extent be learnt and they are nothing without the initial drive and enthusiasm for the profession.
  8. Jan 31, 2005 #7


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    There are plenty of types of engineering other than mechanical engineering. Chemical and electrical engineering, for example, deal with phenomena that are largely outside the experience of a typical tinkerer.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook