[EAS] Professional Evolution

pjk pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Mon Aug 2 20:26:29 EDT 2004

Subject:   Professional Evolution

Dear Colleagues -

Having just encountered "Professionalism and the Future of
by Andrew Abbott of the University of Chicago
<http://sociology.uchicago.edu/faculty/abbott/>, I recommend it as a
worthwhile stimulus for thinking about the future of engineering.

Numerous parallels between the professions of librarian and engineer
appear throughout Abbott's very readable, forceful and surprisingly
prescient paper (much of the material is from the mid-90s). The
three contexts he addresses as shaping the future of librarianship
and engineering alike are the larger social and cultural forces, the
context of other competing occupations, and the context of competing
organizations and commodities.

Engineers seldom think particularly probingly about the future of
their profession. Narrow local optimization attempts, usually out of
phase, such as engineering shortage/surplus prognostications,
underscore that sad reality. 

It may be said that engineers aren't able to think about their
future any more than they have proven able to generate insights
about the imperatives of good design and usability. Most of that
progress, that allows technological accomplishment to become
manifest in safe, practical and productive products, did not come to
us from within engineering, but from psychologists like Donald

Perceptive sociologists like Abbott, who study the evolution of
professions, provide significant insights about the larger forces
and settings within which the profession of engineering evolves.


"No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness 
 that created it."    --Albert Einstein

"Today I am more than ever frightened. I wish it would dawn upon
 engineers that, in order to be an engineer, it is not enough to
 be an engineer."  --Jose Ortega y Gasset, "History as a System"

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