December 28, 2015: Maybe I Actually Am An Engineer

The following exchange (lightly edited) took place on Twitter a few days ago:

There are a lot of claims and assumptions in these ten tweets. I've frequently made similar claims (hence Titus's wariness), but after working with scientists daily for six years, I'm less sure of myself. Are today's tools and notations for computational science actually inadequate? Do less than 5% of scientists use the tools we have? Do better tools actually generate more users? Is Git really better than CVS or Subversion? People who do empirical studies of software engineers would say, "We don't know how to measure that," "We don't know," "Unproven," and, "That study hasn't been done, but probably not for most users" respectively.

The fact that those questions popped into my head has made me realize that I might finally be an engineer. Consider:

What ties these together is the belief that if we start with, "I don't know, but I can find out", we can make our world better. That—the use of the scientific method to improve the universe instead of merely understanding it—is as good a definition of engineering as I know. Among all the thoughts prompted by this difficult year, the discovery that I might finally be thinking like an engineer three decades after earning a degree in the subject is oddly comforting.

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