By Michal Adamkiewicz, Senior, Electrical Engineering
Michal is a Senior in Electrical Engineering. Apart from building things he enjoys dance, climbing and going on adventures.
Why did you choose to be an engineer?
I always wanted to build things.
I’d like to discuss a lesson I have learned over the course of many engineering projects. Furthermore, I believe this issue isn’t sufficiently addressed in our education and is actually exacerbated by the culture around engineering and the public’s perception of it. This issue is the underuse of prototyping and testing in engineering. I don’t want to make the statement that rapid iteration is the only way to do things, but rather that is under appreciated especially in cases where we think we know what we are doing.
Looking from the outside engineering looks like a field where smart people painstakingly work on their design blueprints and calculating every detail, before pressing the magic button which causes everything to turn on and work flawlessly. In reality, engineering is a fundamentally iterative process – you just don’t see the hundreds of times Boston Dynamics’ Robots fall flat on their faces – but you do see your own creations flail. Because of this people often attribute their own failures to them being bad engineers, and other people’s successes to them being better engineers, rather then to proper testing. This is especially true – and damaging – for students that don’t have prior experience, and worry that they will never be good enough. They view their failures as confirmation of this sentiment as opposed to a fundamental part of engineering experienced by everyone.
Unfortunately, few classes are structured in a way to help students make this realisation. Homework assignments focus aggressively on calculations rather than debugging and iterating on designs. Even classes with final projects often leave student reflecting on the way they have failed without showing to them the process for turning failure into success. ME210 students often see their robot’s flaws but never get that chance to fix them, leading them to see them as flaws of their design rather than the process that produced the design. It would be unfair blame all classes without pointing out the ones that try to instils the correct thought process in people. ME203, for example, actively requires students to produce both functional and manufacturing prototype to ensure proper scoping.
It is easy to trick yourself about how good your design is, especially after graduating from a prestigious university like Stanford. This is something I’m guilty of myself on countless projects. We must learn to let go of our attachment to our designs, see their flaws and iterate on them. Not only will this make our designs better in the long term, but I hope that by showing the world our failures and how we overcome them, will lead to many more aspiring students realise how they too, can produce amazing designs.