by Dave Douglas
After the turn of the century, Greg Papadapoulos and I began to notice some recurring themes in our work with the engineers at Sun Microsystems and elsewhere.
First, an increasing number of engineers, especially those right out of school, were expressing a desire to "make a difference". Some had a hobby or activity they were already invested in outside of their work, while others were searching for something that would make them more fulfilled. Many were also bringing that sense into the office, and trying to see how they could use their job to make a difference beyond the bottom line of Sun.
Second, the world at large was asking more of engineers. Public knowledge about topics like recycling, copyright, privacy, and climate change translated into new demands on manufacturers of products and services, which, in turn, required new ways of thinking in engineering.
Generally this was good news: we had engineers who want to make a difference, and a public with rising expectations of them. In 2006 Greg wrote the first blog post about this entitled Charting a Course from Recent Grad to “Citizen Engineer”, which launched a more focused discussion of Citizen Engineers and their role in the new century.
However, as we began to discuss this more, it quickly became clear that engineers, including ourselves, had missed out on some important topics during our educations. In particular, engineers were being asked to make increasingly complex decisions about environmental impact and intellectual property, but had never had any formal training in either area.
So we set out to write Citizen Engineer with a couple of goals in mind. First, we wanted to promote the idea that engineers could, and should, take a more visible role in shaping our future world. Second, we wanted to fill in some of the basic knowledge gaps that we found to be widespread through the engineering community. Finally, we had a point of view about the role of engineering and how to approach these complex issues which we wanted to get across.