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On Engineering

"There are no such things as applied sciences, only applications of science."

- Louis Pasteur (1822-1895), Lyons address (1872/09/11)

For most of my career, I have worked as a computer engineer. I often find that I must clarify key functional differences between between scientists, engineers, technicians, programmers, administrators and clerks.

What is Engineering?

Engineering is the discipline of applying science to serve the needs of humanity (wikt:engineering).

So, the engineering discipline is perhaps best described through examination of its major components: science and human needs.

Human Needs

In his 1943 paper A Theory of Human Motivation, psychologist Abraham Maslow (1908/04/01-1970/06/08) proposed a hierarchy of human needs (wiki:Abraham_Maslow).

Maslow's hierarchy of needs is often depicted as a pyramid divided into levels representing five types of human needs, to illustrate that the needs in one level must be satisfied before the needs in the level above it. Maslow described the needs in the first four levels as "deficiency needs", as they are primitive needs that cause a person to feel anxious when they are not met; the types of deficiency needs – in the order in which they must be met – are physiological, safety, love and belonging, and esteem. The top level includes "growth needs"; once the deficiency needs are met, seeking to satisfy these needs drives personal growth. (wiki:Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needs)

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs


Science is an Old French word derived from the Latin word scientia, meaning "knowledge" (from the present participle stem of scire, meaning "know") (wikt:science). The word knowledge evolved from the Middle English word knouleche (derived from the Old English word cnawan) and refers to the awareness and ready recollection of information (wikt:knowledge). Technology, a Greek word (often abbreviated "tech") refers to the subset of science regarding the knowledge of a technique (the art or means of doing a thing) (wikt:technology).

Information is a French word evolved from the Old French informaçion (derived from the Latin informatio, from informare) referring to data that is understandable by people (wikt:information).

The building blocks of information are data. Data is the plural form of another Latin word, datum, which means "that is given" (neuter past participle of dare, meaning "to give") (wikt:data).

Converting Data into Designs

A collection of data is most generally called a data base, which may be created using manual or automated systems. Data are often stored in a data base entering each datum into an appropriate field, each of which is usually identified via a unique key. Sets of data sharing many or all of the same field keys are called records, and like records are often kept in a single file. Files are typically contained in a volume, and volumes kept in a library.

The data acquisition process involves the manual entry and/or automated collection of data. The data reduction process involves removing redundant data without losing relevant information; this process is sometimes called data compression.

Data is converted into information through the process of communication.


The communication process begins with the development of products by performers and recordists. Recordists are those who commit ideas to tangible forms through designing patterns in media, and include all types of writers, illustrators, phonographers, photographers, cinematographers, computer programmers and so on. (Record keepers – such as clerks and librarians – store and retrieve developed records.) Using this paradigm, engineers are recordists that fulfill human needs.

Teachers facilitate the aquisition of knowledge through aiding communication and measuring its effectiveness.


Once developed, patterns may be reproduced through printing, pressing, and other manufacturing processes.

An engineer's design yield a single product, such as a roadway bridge, or many copies from the same design, such as music players.

Types of Engineers

Among developers, there are usually several degrees of technical knowledge and ability.

Many people who work with computers, for example, may be classified by job titles listed below.

  • Computer scientists develop and share knowledge of hardware and software development.
  • Hardware and software engineers apply knowledge received from scientists to develop their products.
  • Technicians, including programmers, develop products or their components as directed by engineers.
  • System and database administrators maintain but do not develop products.
  • Clerks enter data into systems maintained by others, usually with minimal technical knowledge.

For more general information about communication and publishing, see On Effective Modern Communication. For more information on publishing via the World-Wide Web, see Designing Documents for the World-Wide Web and Publishing on the World-Wide Web.

The authoritative accreditation organization for engineering and technology cirricula is ABET, Inc., formerly named the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology.