When you hear the term “engineer,” what immediately comes to mind? Three years ago, I would have said blueprints and machine shops. Simply put, the basics of mechanical engineering.
When I started college, I was determined to be a mechanical engineer, since it was something I knew I enjoyed. Many of my friends fell into the same trap, and it took a year or two for us to realize that what we loved about engineering was the problem-solving process — what sect of engineering we studied was irrelevant. We wanted to be able to be creative and build new products.
This blog post is the result of a discussion I had with David Gaynor, a software engineer at Twitter. He began school at Olin College of Engineering as a mechanical engineer and has not set foot in the machine shop in the last two years. After taking Software Design, Olin’s introductory programming class, he changed tracks and has been pushing code for the last two years.
What made you interested in engineering in the first place?
The driving force behind my interest in engineering was that I wanted to exercise my creativity in constructive ways. To me, this meant making products, whether they were physical or not.
Why did you decide to switch to computer engineering?
When I started building software, I realized that I could build a useful program in a few hours. This was much more efficient than the full week it might take me to build something in the shop. If I had a bug in my program, I could just go fix it. That’s not the same with wood — if I split a piece of wood, I have to go buy more from the hardware store and start the part over. I found that programming was a faster way to make the things I wanted to build.
What advice would you give people who are trying to decide if computer engineering is for them?
Before you make the switch, I would recommend thinking about what interests you about engineering in the first place. Is it:
- Making new products that didn’t exist before?
- Impacting lots of people with your ideas quickly?
- The mindwarp that comes with thinking about complex problems in fields like statics and thermodynamics
If you love the complex math problems in statics and thermo, then we definitely need more people like you in the mechanical world. However, if you decided to be an engineer to create products fast and impact lots of people, then you may want to consider software.