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HOME > PAST ISSUE > July-August 2012 > Article Detail

ESSAY

100 Reasons to Become a Scientist or Engineer

On our 75th anniversary, we collected 75 reasons. Now we've added 25 more

The Editors

98
Henry Petroski

When the Soviets launched Sputnik in 1957, my fate was sealed to become an engineer. By 1980, I had three degrees in engineering, was registered as a professional engineer, had worked as an engineer for five years, and had taught engineering for 10. Yet, when faculty colleagues in the arts and sciences asked me what exactly engineering was and why there were so many engineering failures, I could not provide a concise answer—even to myself. It was this situation that led me to write an explanatory book with the working title “What Is Engineering?” In the course of writing that book I discovered that at its heart engineering is about the obviation of failure. The book, published in 1985 under the title To Engineer Is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design, launched my career of writing about the engineering profession, bridges, failure and design. I have returned to these topics in my latest book, To Forgive Design: Understanding Failure, which contains a chapter describing my formative experiences in graduate school. Now, four decades later, I continue to learn a bit more about engineering with each new column that I write for American Scientist, and I also learn a lot from what readers write in response to my columns. Among the most enjoyable things about being an engineer is that learning never ends.

Henry Petroski

Aleksandar S. Vesic Professor of Civil Engineering and Professor of History

Duke University




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