Professional Engineering Work

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engineering students to be successful, cre- ative, or impactful ... who have Ph.D.s and degrees in higher sta- ...... that the automotive engineering work has.

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CHAPTER 7

Professional Engineering Work Reed Stevens, Aditya Johri, and Kevin O’Connor

Introduction The focus of our chapter is on current research-based understandings of professional engineering work. We argue for the relevance of these understandings to engineering education. We will also argue, as others have as well (Barley, 2004; Trevelyan, 2007, 2010; Vinck, 2003), that research on professional engineering work is too sparse. Therefore a good part of this chapter is oriented in a programmatic, agenda setting direction. From the perspective of engineering education, the sparseness of research on professional engineering work is puzzling for a number of reasons. First, engineering education is often reorganized against the backdrop of claims about what professional engineering work is now or will be in the future. Without trustworthy and specific representations of engineering work practice and of the dispositions, skills, and identity orientations of professional engineers, how are engineering educators to know whether engineering education is preparing

engineering students to be successful, creative, or impactful engineers? A prominent consensus report from the National Academy of Engineering highlights a “disconnect between engineers in practice and engineers in academe” (Engineering Education Research Colloquies, 2005, p. 18). The report stated that “the great majority of engineering faculty, for example, have no industry experience. Industry representatives point to this disconnect as the reason that engineering students are not adequately prepared, in their view, to enter today’s workforce” (Engineering Education Research Colloquies, 2005, pp. 20–21). It is important that a focus on “preparation” of future engineers not be tied to an agenda that solely emphasizes what professional engineering “needs” and economic competitiveness. It also is possible to organize an engineering educational system to prepare recent graduates to be change agents and participants in new social movements within engineering work practice. However, in either case, concrete images of engineering work are critical resources for rethinking 119

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engineering education and making empirically based assessments of progress. The lack of concrete and trustworthy images of professional engineering quite naturally extends to engineering students as well. Students often have vague images of professional engineering work, and the images they do have are strongly colored by the experiences in their educational careers that allowed them to navigate into and through engineering education – that being exceptional past performance in textbook, problem set, and test-based mathematics and science courses. As a result, students often ignore, discount, or simply do not see images of engineering that emphasize its nontechnical, noncalculative sides and its non-individual aspects (Stevens, O’Connor, & Garrison, 2005; Stevens, O’Connor, Garrison, Jocuns, & Amos, 2008). The idea that engineering work can be creative, collaborative, and oriented toward agendas of social good (not just financial gain) are aspirational positions that students sometimes adopt, but for those students for whom these are non-negotiable core values and interests, the absence of direct images of engineering that support these values can be decisive for whether even high-achieving students stay in or leave engineering (Stevens et al., 2008). So, more concrete images of engineering work can be an important resource for students themselves, as they can for institutions of engineering education broadly. With regard to images of engineering, it is worth noting here that engineering – unlike other professions such as teaching, medicine, law, and even natural science – is not widely represented within popular cultural media. One can easily bring to mind television shows, films, and novels that depict teachers, lawyers, doctors, and even natural scientists. How easily can readers bring to mind similar representations of engineers and their work on film or television? The recent visibility of a character on the popular television show The Big Bang Theory is an exception that seems to confirm the rule. And the engineer, Howard Wolowitz, M. Eng., routinely endures status-based teasing from his friends

who have Ph.D.s and degrees in higher status scientific fields. A third clear reason to have detailed research-based images of professional engineering work is that even if extant studies were sufficient in their capacity to represent engineering as it is (which we argue they are not), the images of these studies would need continual updating because engineering is properly and widely understood to be a rapidly changing form of work, under the forces of globalization; offshoring; and new technologies of communication, design, and production. These multiple reasons argue strongly that it is important to establish what we already know and what we still need to learn about professional engineering work.

What We Know About Professional Engineering Work In this section, we review and synthesize empirical research on professional engineering work, drawn largely from field studies, but also from laboratory studies and surveys that include professional engineers as subjects. Every method has its strengths and weaknesses, but field studies are the only type of research that can tell us what engineering work is like in context. Field studies are typically conducted in workplace settings, and although the duration of fieldwork varies across studies as do the types of data captured (e.g., fieldnotes, video-recordings of engineering work, semistructured interviews), most field studies have a broadly ethnographic goal: to describe adequately the specific qualities of work practices, to understand and represent the meaning of those work practices for the people being studied, and to understand engineering work as constitutive of unique forms of work culture and social organization. Among the social scientists who have taken an active research interest in engineering, a number have highlighted the puzzling dearth of empirical descriptions of professional engineering work (Downey and Lucena, 2004; Trevelyan, 2010; Vinck, 2003).

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professional engineering work

The academic field that probably has given professional engineering work the most extended attention has been Science and Technology Studies (STS). Bruno Latour, a leading scholar in STS, wrote an early synthetic book titled Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers Through Society (1987). Despite this early programmatic announcement that engineers would be followed along with scientists, STS has mostly forgotten to follow the engineers (Downey, 1989), at least in comparison to the attention devoted to higher status natural scientists. As Downey and Lucena put it, “In research in science and technology studies (STS), engineers often make cameo appearances but rarely do they get lead roles” (Downey & Lucena, 2004, p. 395). When STS studies have followed engineers’ work, the resulting accounts diverge sharply from normative images of what historian Rosalind Williams calls “the ideology of engineering” (Williams, 2002), that is, the view that engineers have a distinct technical domain of knowledge that they can apply rationally and in a more-or-less linear manner to the solution of technical problems. Under this ideology, the social and technical do not mix. In strong and vivid contrast, STS studies have established that engineering work involves “complexity, ambiguity, and contradictions” (Hughes, cited in Williams) and that the social and technical are almost inextricably tied up together in any engineering project, at least in any project that is realized successfully. STS scholar John Law (1987) gave a name to this alternative image of engineering work; he called it “heterogeneous engineering.” Law’s idea of heterogeneous engineering revolves around the imagery of engineers as “system builders” (Law, 1987, p. 112) in which any stabilized system they contribute to building is composed of heterogeneous elements that are both human and technological. Law’s own case study of heterogeneous engineering is historical and concerns Portuguese colonial expansion in the late 1400s. Law also references Hughes’ study of Edison through which Law makes the key point succinctly:

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Edison’s problem (his reverse salient) was simultaneously (italics added) economic (how to supply electric lighting at a price that would compete with gas), political (how to persuade politicians to permit the development of a power system), technical (how to minimize the cost of transmitting power by shortening lines, reducing current, and increasing voltage), and scientific (how to find a high-resistance incandescent bulb filament). (Law, 1987, p. 112)

A contemporary case study that offers a “canonical example of heterogeneous engineering” (Suchman, 2000, p. 314) involved a major bridge-building project. The study’s author, Lucfy Suchman, notes that the design and technical practices that engineers view as “the real work” of engineering did take place in this project; however, her analysis shows the work of “sensemaking, persuasion and accountability” (p. 315) are as consequential for the realization of the bridge project (cf. Trevelyan, 2010). These practices are equally important parts of engineering work because of the vast number of heterogeneous actors (see Table 7.1) – human and nonhuman, small and large – that must be assembled and maintained into a stable network for a project to be realized. The critical conceptual point that undergirds the heterogeneous engineering perspective – as well as the broader perspective of actor-network theory (cf. Latour, 2005) – is that the commonsense dichotomy between the “technical” and “social” is unnecessary and in fact misleading when trying to understand how projects are realized. A recalcitrant code reviewer or problematic environmental impact statement can threaten a project as easily as can a tensile strength limitation. Put in the idiom of Actor Network Theory, to successfully realize an engineering project, nature and material forces will resist and these resistances must be overcome; the same can be said of humans and their institutions; they resist and must be overcome (e.g., persuaded, adequately paid, made silent, etc.). As Suchman writes in conclusion, “the construct of heterogeneous engineering is meant to underscore the extent

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Table 7.1. Partial Enumeration of Relevant Actors Federal/State

County/Region

City

Department

Other

agencies Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)

Two county Board of Supervisors

Two cities on north and south shores

Department Headquarters

Delta smelt

Governor

Conservation and Development Committee

Southtown Improvement Association

District

Harvest mouse

State Transport Improvement Program (TIP)

Metropolitan Transportation Committee (MTC)

Mayor of Northtown

Toll bridges

Hazardous waste

Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)

Regional Transportation Plan (RTP)

Home-owners

Structures

C&H Sugar

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

Design

Railroad

State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO)

Bridge Replacement Project

Rights-of-way

Fish and Wildlife

Utilities

Coast Guard Army Corps Reprinted from Suchman (2000, p. 317). This represents a partial list of human and nonhuman elements that had to be organized and stabilized for the successful realization of the bridge-building project.

to which the work of technology construction is, to a significant degree, also the work of organizing” (Suchman, 2000, p. 324). And it is organizing of both the physical and the human world. If heterogeneous engineering represents a broad conceptualization of professional engineering work, what does the work itself look like – the day-to-day practices of engineers? Some of the earliest fieldwork about professional engineering practice was conducted by Bucciarelli (1988, 1994). Bucciarelli studied “the design process” within two engineering firms, using participant observation techniques. Consistent with a general ethnographic stance, Bucciarelli did not first stipulate a definition of design process and then collect data that aligned with that definition; instead, he constructed his account of the design process on the basis of how the members of the cultural groups he

studied (i.e., the professionals at the two firms) defined and enacted design. Bucciarelli’s study clearly establishes that “[engineering] design is a social process” (Bucciarelli, 1988, p. 161) not in some trivial sense that it involves people working together but rather that “[design] only exists in a collective sense” (p. 161), that it can only be seen as a process that is distributed across different sub-communities, which in turn requires social and technical coordination to bring different parts of a project’s work together. Bucciarelli introduces the concept of an “object world” to identify the firms’ “different worlds of technical specializations, with their own dialects, systems of symbols, metaphors and models, and craft sensitivities” (Bucciarelli, 1988, p. 162). For example, whereas the electrical engineer’s object world is filled with voltage potentials and involves sketching objects like diodes, the

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mechanical engineer’s object world is populated by beams and steel and requires an understanding of metal machining process. The manager’s object world is inhabited by schedules, milestones, and critical paths. Bucciarelli highlighted that these different object worlds must be brought into some kind of coordination often involving negotiation among the inhabitants of different object-worlds making a point similar to that made by Suchman’s later study, that “organizational effort is part of designing” (Bucciarelli, 1988, p. 162). Another early study of engineering design by Henderson (1991, 1999) described the “visual culture” of engineering design, a culture in which sketching is the way that engineers think and communicate and in which sketches are objects through which organizational actions are frequently coordinated and negotiated. Engineering drawings and sketches are shown to be “devices that socially organize the workers, the work process, and the concepts workers manipulate in engineering design” (Henderson, 1991, p. 452). Henderson’s study shows that engineers gathered around sketches, talked and revised their ideas with sketches and drawings at the center of their activity. She also uses the ubiquity and centrality of sketching and drawing (as actions) and these sketches and drawings (as objects) to offer a critique of a then dominant ideology that paper was soon to be a thing of the past in engineering, to be replaced by computer-aided design (CAD). Because Henderson showed the centrality of sketching and sketches and because CAD systems of that time period rigidly specified drawing practices and drawing forms, Henderson argued that CAD lacked the requisite flexibility needed to support the collaborative work practices of engineering design.1 In another field study of civil engineers designing roadways, Hall and Stevens (1995) found that engineers worked with both CAD and paper interfaces, each having their own affordances within the work practices and accountabilities of engineering work. In general, however, this study concurred, as did a later study of architectural design

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by Stevens (2000), with Henderson’s finding that the work of envisioning, exploring, and revising design alternatives was a paperbased practice because of paper’s “flexibility” as a mobile, collaborative, and expressive medium. It remains an open question, one that has seemingly not been addressed in a field study, whether the idea of designing within the computer environment is still more of an ideological fiction rather than a routine fact of work practice. It seems plausible that the current generation of engineering designers, having grown up as so-called “digital natives,” may have substantially shifted the balance from being engineers producing and iterating design ideas on paper to doing so more fully within CAD environments, which of course have themselves become more flexible and friendly to sketching practices with touch sensitive tables, better GUIs, and bigger screens. Drawing on the broader thematic interests of STS, these studies of professional engineering focused attention on the importance of documenting engineers’ representational practices (cf. Lynch & Woolgar, 1990; Greeno & Hall, 1997; Vinck, 2003) – how people use representations to make sense, solve problems, and to persuade and communicate with others. One fine-grained analysis of the representational practices of engineering work can be found in Stevens and Hall’s development of the concept of “disciplined perception” (1998, cf. Stevens, 1999). Disciplined perception refers to the learned ways that people in a discipline see and interpret their focal phenomena – through their tools and representations. In focusing on these discipline-specific practices, disciplined perception is a concept consistent with Henderson’s focus on the visual cultures of engineering as well as Bucciarelli’s focus on the distinct culturally constituted object-worlds of engineering. Using the methods of interaction analysis (Goodwin & Heritage, 1990; Jordan & Henderson, 1995) to analyze the momentto-moment unfolding of civil engineering project work, Stevens and Hall’s account of engineers’ disciplined perception also provided a way to understand how disciplined

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perception develops in practitioners. The account analyzed interactions in which intersubjective gaps (i.e., different ways of seeing what representations were saying) between collaborating engineers working together provided occasions for a more experienced engineer to discipline the perception of a relative newcomer. Stevens and Hall’s account thereby articulated the interactional mechanisms through which an engineer might gradually “learn to see” as an engineer, through proximal apprenticeship with more knowledgeable others in the context of daily work. This account can also be tied to the idea of heterogeneous engineering, in that the disciplined perception of engineers involves reading a range of heterogeneous interests and constraints directly from representations. For example, in this study the authors recount how the engineers provide a coordinated reading across plans, sections, and elevations to recover a rationale for a consequential decision to exceed code-allowable grade on a stretch of proposed roadway, which in turn could avoid the financial cost and potential slowdown of their project that would be set in motion by a damaging environmental impact statement. In the context of single stretches of interaction, the technical elements (such as “cut” and “fill” and “allowable grade”) are intermixed with social issues (such as satisfying budgets and environmental concerns of some project stakeholders). This account also resonates with Suchman’s account, which highlighted that engineers’ work is often about making persuasive arguments to secure project interests, with arguments assembled via embodied performances with visual representations.

Comparing the Work of Engineering Education and the Work of Professional Engineering Practice Another line of research on engineering workplaces, also relatively sparse, is work that compares the work practices of

undergraduate education to the work practices of professionals on the job. This comparative research is often conducted with an eye toward possible programmatic implications for engineering education. Comparative research on problem solving in the undergraduate curriculum and in professional engineering work suggests that the types of problems that are solved and the processes of problem solving in these different contexts differ in both substance and structure (Jonassen et al., 2006; Stevens, Garrison, & Satwicz, 2007; Stevens et al., 2008). Engineering problems found in school – particularly in coursework apart from senior capstone experiences – are organized to develop facility in solving “wellstructured” problems (Jonassen et al., 2006), with clearly stated goals and knowable, correct solutions attainable through application of a small, finite set of rules and principles. This recalls a venerable distinction from Rittel and Webber (1973) regarding “tame” (i.e., well-structured) vs. “wicked” problems, with wicked problems being the norm for professionals. The wellstructured problems that engineering students learn to solve tend to be aimed toward advancing students’ individual mastery of concepts of engineering science (Korte, Sheppard, & Jordan, 2008; Stevens et al., 2008). Trevelyan and Tilli (2007) conducted an extensive review of different literatures on engineering work, including, among others, the technical literature on engineering research and development, competency standards of professional organizations within engineering, engineering education literature, engineering management literature, and ethnographic studies of engineering work. They concluded that most of these literatures provide an inadequate picture of engineering work. They diagnosed a prevalence of prescriptive claims about engineering work based on personal experience or anecdotal evidence, an undue privileging of design engineering over and above other engineering practices, a neglect of tacit aspects of work,

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and a tendency by respondents to limit what they view as “real engineering” to a narrow range of technical aspects of their work (cf. Faulkner, 2008 and Suchman, 2000). These studies, along with others, point to the promise of qualitative and ethnographic research for broadening and deepening our understanding of the work practices of engineers. There are also other research traditions that have productively informed an understanding of professional engineering work. Atman et al. (2007), working within the tradition of expert-novice studies in cognitive science, conducted a comparative analysis of the problem-solving strategies of students and professional engineers. These authors showed that, in laboratorybased simulations of engineering problem solving, experts display not only more extensive engineering science knowledge, but also more awareness of and judgment regarding other aspects of problem solving. This kind of detailed analysis of problem solving can be valuable in demonstrating that differences between experts and novices can be understood in terms of differences in organization of knowledge and cognitive strategies. Jonassen, Strobel, and Lee (2006) used different methods to make related points about problem solving in engineering work. Based on interview accounts of engineers’ past problem-solving experiences, these authors argued that workplace problems are “illstructured” or “wicked” (Jonassen et al., 2006; Rittel & Webber, 1973), most often involving vaguely defined goals and inviting no clear solution or solution path. Workplace problems were shaped from the outset by nontechnical constraints as befits a general image of heterogeneous engineering, such that success was rarely measured solely by technical or scientific standards but also included such considerations such as timeliness, budget, and customer satisfaction. Workplace problems foreground the importance of communication of technical concepts to others, rather than individual mastery or understanding of these concepts (Korte et al, 2008). And they require distributed expertise to solve them (Stevens

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et al., 2007). As a result, judgment is a critical aspect of problem solving by engineering professionals (Eraut, 2000; Stevens, 1999; Stevens et al., 2007; Vinck, 2003). Such illstructured problems stand in contrast to the well-structured problems found in school, which are characterized by clearly stated goals and by knowable, correct solutions attainable through application of a small, finite set of rules and principles. And these tend to be practiced and evaluated through the standard forms of problem sets, quizzes, and exams (Stevens et al., 2008), forms that have no natural home in the problem solving practices of professional engineers. Thus, both expert–novice task analysis and interview studies of simulated or reported work practices echo the finding of ethnographic field studies and caution against a view of engineering work as consisting primarily in “technical rationality” or what Williams called “the ideology of engineering.” Trevelyan (2007, 2010) conducted a qualitative study that involved ethnographic interviews supplemented by field observations with Australian and Pakistani engineers. This study is noteworthy for its delineation of ten categories of engineering practice, including several that tend to be neglected by more prescriptive and normative typologies. One major category of engineering practice identified by Trevelyan is what he terms “technical coordination,” that is, “working with and influencing other people so they conscientiously perform some necessary work in accordance with a mutually agreed schedule” (2007, p. 191). At least two aspects of technical coordination are important to understanding engineering work. First, technical coordination takes place outside of formal lines of authority. That is, coordination practices are not simply the province of managers; rather, all engineers seem to engage regularly in these social processes. Second, like Atman et al. (2007) and others, and against commonsense views among engineers that “the social” and “the technical” are separable (Faulkner, 2008, coordination is a hybrid of social and

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technical aspects of work, and therefore social interaction is at the core of accomplished engineering practice. This body of work that compares the knowledge practices of engineering students and engineering professionals is suggestive and important, but it is also sparse and limited in how it allows us to understand connections and disconnections between engineering education and professional engineering work. Interview studies that focus on accounts of past problem-solving experiences (e.g., Jonassen et al., 2006) have been valuable in pointing to some major areas of difference between schools and workplaces. However, interviews are less than fully sensitive to the broad range of knowledge practices, especially its tacit dimensions (Eraut, 2000; Polanyi, 1966), which are largely inaccessible to reflective awareness. Laboratory studies (e.g., Atman et al., 2007) have been valuable in demonstrating that differences between experts and novices can be understood in terms of differences in the organization of knowledge and cognitive strategies. However, laboratorybased expert–novice studies are limited in their ability to represent the locally situated aspects of problem solving, including characteristic ways in which particular workplaces (or school settings) organize teamwork; access to and communication of information; and the distributed, material, and embodied properties of cognitive activities (Hall & Stevens, 1995; Hutchins, 1995; Stevens & Hall, 1998). Ethnographic studies in undergraduate engineering education and in engineering workplaces (O’Connor, 2001, 2003; Stevens & Hall, 1998; Stevens et al., 2005, 2008) have been conducted to capture these aspects of engineering practices (e.g., its embodied, material, and distributed qualities) that are easily missed in other styles of research. However, although they offer suggestive accounts about how engineering education knowledge might relate to, or fail to relate to, workplace knowledge (O’Connor et al., 2007; Stevens et al., 2005, 2008), these studies have not examined directly the specific learning processes of engineers making the transition

from school to work. Simply put, too little is known about how the practices of undergraduate education are applied and adapted in the workplace and equally little is know about what knowledge practices from one’s engineering education experience have little or no clear use at work. Lines of research that look directly at these transitions from school to work are much needed.

The Identity Dimension Thus far we have focused our attention largely on characterizations of engineering work. In this section, we look at another important dimension of professional engineering – identity. If we are interested in a full understanding of professional engineering, we must attend not just to what people learn and know but also to who they are and what is their place in the world among their consociates as engineers, both within their local professional networks and within social life more broadly. Personal, social, and disciplinary identities intersect in complex ways among professional engineers. We understand identity formation as a two-sided process in which persons identify with certain groups (e.g., engineers) and forms of activity (e.g., engineering) and are in turn identified with certain groups and forms of activity by others. “Identities” have been argued theoretically to result from a complex, nondeterministic stabilization of these two dialectically related processes (Skinner, Valsiner, & Holland, 2001). A few key studies bear directly on identity issues among professional engineers. In a largely historical analysis, Downey and Lucena (2004) highlight the shaping influence of “codes” to which engineers responded at a particular time and in a particular place. Tracing a set of codes through Western Europe into the U.S. context, they argue that the historical trend has been for engineering identities to be increasingly shaped by the view that “progress” in engineering is tied to participation in and affiliation with large industrial corporations. They

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argue that, especially in the period from the Second World War to the current day, American engineers came to see themselves in terms of corporate metrics of progress, namely the mass production of low-cost consumer goods and corporate profit. In general, they claim that “[American] engineers have made embracing private industry a patterned feature of their identity” (Downey & Lucena, 2004, p. 411), something they note is not necessarily characteristic of other professionals in law, medicine, and the clergy. Downey and Lucena’s perspective resonates with a more forceful claim in David Noble’s America by Design that American engineers in the postwar period became a “domesticated breed” (Noble, 1977, p. 322 who “in reality served only the dominant class in society” (Noble, 1977, p. 324). Research by Faulkner (2008) points directly to some identity issues for engineers who must navigate a dominant technicist ideology of engineering (i.e., what we have been referring to as technical rationality) and the reality of professional practice as heterogeneous engineering. Despite the fact that all engineers do heterogeneous work and most recognize this work (though not using the term “heterogeneous”), there is a tendency among engineers to define “real” engineering in terms of the technical, “nuts and bolts,” scientific and mathematical labor, and to locate the social aspects of heterogeneous engineering outside of “real” engineering (cf. Trevelyan, 2010). Faulkner suggests that identifying with these features of engineering work allows engineers to maintain a unique identity of technical competence amidst interdisciplinary collaborations with people both within their firms (e.g., managers) and outside them (e.g., architects). This may be an implicit response to what historian of technology Rosalind Williams calls the “expansive disintegration” (Williams, 2002) of engineering as a distinct and bounded form of professional knowledge and competence. If, as Williams argues, society is increasingly coming to perceive that nearly everything involves engineering, then nothing is distinctly engineering.

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Faulkner’s analysis suggests further that the distinction between the technicist and the heterogeneous registers is a gendered one, with the “nuts and bolts” identity being one that men can more comfortably perform to reconcile their dual identities as both men and engineers. Faulkner’s study supports a point from a related pair of studies she cites (Robinson, 1992; Robinson & McIlwee, 1991) that “found that men engineers often engage in ‘ritualistic displays of hands-on technical competence’ even when the job does not require this competence. Women engineers do not generally participate in this ‘engineering culture,’ as they call it, and can lose out in career terms as a result” (Faulkner, 2008). We also can compare engineering student identities and professional engineering identities, as we compared knowledge practices among students and professionals. Existing empirical work is suggestive but incomplete about how identity formation processes in engineering student culture might shape transitions to engineering workplaces. There is a plausible tension in the way a student and a professional might understand herself if most students’ educations are based predominantly on coming to understand engineering as a form of technical rationality. Such an understanding of engineering could result in both direct and indirect tensions in understandings of one’s work as an early career professional. Directly, new engineers who identify strongly enough with a model of technical rationality are likely to struggle to understand themselves as engineers if they perceive a dilution of “pure” engineering work by what they perceive as “nonengineering” work in professional practice (Eisenhart & Finkel, 1998; Faulkner, 2008; Korte et al., 2008). A similar dilution is experienced by architecture students who come to see “designer” to be their dominant identity during their time in design school, only to find that as practicing architects (especially early career) one does everything but design and that design often “hangs in the balance,” meaning that it is readily pushed out by other aspects of architectural project work, such as negotiating and coordinating

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with clients and contractors, managing construction, and ensuring that design drawings meet state and federal codes (Cuff, 1992; cf. Stevens, 1999). A possible indirect effect of the curricular model of technical rationality is that it may prevent students from developing other imagined futures as engineers; engineers do varied kinds of work and play varied roles in their professional work lives but this diversity of experience is hardly visible in undergraduate education (Eisenhart & Finkel, 1998; Foor, Walden, & Trytten, 2008; Steering Committee of the National Engineering Education Research Colloquies, 2006). Whether the tensions are direct or indirect, what is obscured for students are the identity elements of heterogeneous engineering practice that engineering students typically do not see or learn to value as central – those related to communication, coordination, organizing, and persuasion amidst people and technical practices and objects. Two examples from ethnographic case studies are suggestive of possible tensions across the boundary of engineering education and early career professional work (O’Connor et al., 2007; Stevens et al., 2008). In a first example, an engineering student whose identity was heavily invested in his sense of himself as a solver of wellstructured problems in the technological rationalist mode (i.e., textbook math and science problems that bracket out all the nontechnical aspects of engineering problems) found himself quite confused and even angry when late in his engineering educational career he first encountered a substantive version of engineering as heterogeneous and collaborative. When he first participated in capstone design projects, and into the early months of his first new position as an engineer, this young man reported being rather at sea, because the mathematics puzzle–solving skills that were so central to how he saw his worth as a would-be engineer suddenly had little practical value in the formal and informal evaluations of his new workplace community. A second example from these case studies involves a young

woman who opted out of her engineering major into a communications-related field during the middle stages of her undergraduate educational career. This was a student who was technically proficient, earned solid grades, and was quite adept socially. Her experience in engineering education was soured, however, because she came to see engineering as a field with little room for how she understood herself, as a collaborative “people person.” Based on her engineering education, she decided engineering itself would be too individualistic and competitive and did not feel that she belonged. Ironically, the very aspects of her identity that caused her to opt out of engineering might have made her a very valuable and unique contributor to an engineering firm, where these sorts of interpersonal skills seem to be in high demand, especially when they are combined with technical competence (Bucciarelli & Kuhn, 1997), which this young woman was clearly on the road to developing. Taken together, these case studies point to a range of possible dilemmas and complex transitions of personal and disciplinary identification, as engineering students become engineering professionals. This is a topic of significant importance for future research.

The Changing Character of Engineering Work In this section, we draw on current studies of engineering work to address some of the ostensibly major changes engineering work is undergoing. We say ostensibly because, as is often the case, rhetoric and ideology may run ahead of demonstrable empirical evidence. In particular we consider the following four issues as possible candidates for major sources of change in engineering work: the role of new technologies involved in engineering work, globalization, new kinds of engineering problems, and changes to engineering work because of changes to the contemporary cultures of young people who are entering the profession.

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New Technologies in Engineering Work Broad conceptualizations of how to manage engineering projects such as concurrent engineering and product life cycle management put a premium both on information technology systems and on practices of computer-supported collaborative work. Clearly, engineers are making increased use of computational technologies that allow them to model and convert physical artifacts in digital forms (Boland et al., 2007; Yoo et al., 2010). Some commentators have argued that an almost complete elimination of manual labor in engineering is on the near horizon, suggesting that it will be fully displaced by symbolic labor at the interface. According to Zussman, “engineering practice today is characterized by a near total absence of that physical, hands-on labor that is a central attribute of craft work. Engineers manipulate symbols that refer to physical objects, mostly equipment and products, but they do not manipulate those objects themselves” (p. 77). According to this view, there is a clear division of labor in which human mechanical labor and craftwork is the purview of machinists, mechanics, technicians, and automated machines. That the lingua franca of engineering work is increasingly realized in “digital form” probably cannot be doubted as a general historical direction. However, lacking systematic empirical studies of actual engineering work, we should be cautious in subscribing to this view, because it has an ideological dimension. Similar ideological perspectives about technology, in particular CAD-CAM in the 1990s, far outran the empirical realities of work practice of the time in which paper-based representations remained central (Downey, 1992, 1995; Hall & Stevens, 1995; Henderson, 1991). Field studies of engineering work practice seem much needed in this area to understand how technological change within engineering work is changing the work itself and to understand how these changes are differentially affecting different participants in engineering projects and concerns (e.g.,

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newcomers vs. old timers). For example, in a study of roadway design in civil engineering described earlier (Hall & Stevens, 1995; Stevens & Hall, 1998), the authors related a story told by one of the project engineers they were studying. The engineer said that at a recent meeting of all the firm’s engineers, the president of the firm announced that if you had not learned to use CAD in the next couple of years, “there would not be a place for you” at the firm. The engineer then recounted that he had heard from some older engineers that they were choosing to retire early rather than retool in this way. Just as paper survived as a critical medium for work in the purported age of the “paperless office” (Sellen, 2003), manual labor too may be thriving in engineering work, if we see engineering work broadly. Again, this is the sort of question that could be answered substantively with field studies of contemporary engineering work. Globalization and Offshoring Major shifts in the use of information technology have combined with significant changes in the global economy over recent decades to increase the globalization of engineering work practice. Boeing’s approach to their new “dreamliner” represents one promise, and perhaps a cautionary tale, about global distributions of engineering work. As has been widely reported, the ability to use networked technologies allows engineers to bypass the traditional boundaries of the workday to move projects along “24/7” and to “offshore” significant parts of engineering project work. This “followthe-sun” model was initiated by General Electric’s initiatives in the early 1990s and involves setting up coordinated teams across the globe so that work can be handled by the team where the sun was up, and then work can be handed to the next team starting their day in a different part of the globe. For instance, a typical globally distributed team might have workers in Japan, Singapore, India, France, and the United States. Again, ideology may outrun reality with respect to

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these globally distributed “teams.” Surely, an opportunity for provocative and important empirical field research exists in this area, both for an investigation of the work practices themselves as well as for how cultural differences are understood and managed (Downey et al., 2006; cf. O’Connor, 2001, 2003 for analyses of distributed work processes in engineering education), in what are undoubtedly conditions of dramatically asymmetric power relations across global sites. A recent article by Will-Zocholl and Schmiede (2011) draws on interviews with engineers and managers to characterize some the changes in the automobile industry that have been driven by the dual forces of new information technologies and increased globalization. Based on an analysis of these interviews, the authors argue that the automotive engineering work has been significantly reorganized. Among the changes they point to are significant offshoring of “standardized” engineering work such as simulation processes and calculations. The authors also argue that “the core of engineers’ work, design, is becoming increasingly marginal . . . Other tasks, such as communicating, coordinating, and traveling, as well as administrative duties, are becoming more important” (Will-Zocholl & Schmiede, 2011, p. 13). A third point the authors make relates directly to the issue we just discussed – whether automotive engineering is becoming “dematerialized” (to use a term from Williams, 2002, p. 48) – the idea that manual aspects of engineering are disappearing. Although these authors indicate that some aspects of the work are dematerialized in the form of computer-based models, they imply that understanding materiality remains important because at some point the two- and three-dimensional images must be translated back into three-dimensional, moving objects. Finally, this study casts some light on potential existential or identity effects of these changes; they highlight that the engineers feel both less autonomous and more insecure (about their jobs and their futures) than they did in the past because

of these changes toward globalization. In fact they may have reason for this insecurity, as recent articles argue that almost 40% of work, even high-status “knowledge work” of engineering, can potentially be offshored. This puts the number of potentially outsourceable jobs at 20 million (Blinder, 2006; Smith & Rivkin, 2008). It would seem valuable to build on this article to conduct field studies that capture directly through observations or recordings (rather than through retrospective reports as were the data source in this study) the character of globalizationinduced changes to work and the shifting meanings those changes have for engineers. New Problems for Engineers to Solve If engineers have been tied to the corporation and its broad goals of profit via the mass production and sale of low-cost consumer goods during the post–Second World War period, the role of the engineer may arguably change in the near future and with it the qualities of professional engineering work. Engineering is clearly implicated in solving some of the planet’s biggest problems, including sustainable energy, climate change, and famine. These are problems that call for a full-scale recognition of heterogeneous engineering and its artful practice, because these problems can be ameliorated only through the organizing, maintaining, and adapting of complex, large-scale sociotechnical systems. Whether or not David Noble’s view that engineers were domesticated servants for the ruling class was a provocation made from exaggeration, it is clear that if engineers of the near future are to contribute substantially to solving these kinds of global problems, they will need to work for constituencies other than large multinational industrial corporations. This is because these often are the very organizations that are seeking to impede progress in solving these problems, at least if it threatens their bottom line and short-term growth outlook, which often it does (cf. Hess, Breyman, Campbell, & Martin, 2007). A study of engineering students’ beliefs about engineering, conducted across

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four very different universities, suggests that although social good is a loosely held aspiration for engineering students, the reason they most convincingly give for pursuing engineering, and enduring its difficulties, is to make a good living and have a comfortable material lifestyle, presumably within a corporate engineering setting (Stevens et al., 2008). This study suggests that engineering education has not yet strongly registered a shift to a different image of engineering work and that the identification with corporate participation and financial reward described by Downey and Lucena (2004) and by Noble (1977) is a dominant ethos ‘on the ground’ among contemporary engineering students.2 Changes in the Population of Young People Who Become Engineers There was a time when engineers were not trained, as is currently the nearly universal norm, through accredited university engineering degree programs. Auyang argues that from the Renaissance until about World War I, “engineers and their predecessors came mostly from working families, toiled with their hands, relied more on their thinking and experience than on schooling, and were obliged to deliver products on demand” (p. 114). During this period, apprenticeship and on-the-job training were the norm and the current gap between the academy and paid engineering work, if it existed, would be narrow compared to the contemporary situation. Gradually, engineering became professionalized and the training of engineers through accredited programs became the norm. In the United States, ABET certifies engineering programs, a process that began in 1932 with ABET’s predecessor organization, EPCD. In the postwar war period, an image of engineering competence was built out of a dual commitment to an engineering science perspective and the image of the engineer of the technological rationalist. During this period, engineers were seen as a distinct category of people and engineering as a distinct category of work. However, in the current era,

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engineering seems to be undergoing a socialhistorical transformation that Williams calls “expansive disintegration”: There is no “end to engineering” in the sense that it is disappearing. If anything, engineering-like activities are expanding. What is disappearing is engineering as a coherent and independent profession this is defined by well-understood relationships with industrial and other social organizations, with the material world, and with guiding principles such as functionality. Engineering is “ending” only in the sense that nature is ending: as a distinct and separate realm. Engineering emerged in a world in which its mission was the control of non-human nature and in which that mission was defined by strong institutional authorities. Now it exists in a hybrid world in which there is no longer a clear boundary between autonomous nonhuman nature and human-generated processes. Institutional authorities are also losing their boundaries and their autonomy. (Williams, 2002, p. 31)

With these changes and the growing ubiquity of engineering-like activities across society, the kinds of young people who aspire to and matriculate into engineering degree programs is bound to change. Williams reports a number of changes over the recent decades at MIT, seeing what she calls “a new breed of engineering student” (Williams, 2002, p. 58). This new breed includes greater ethnic and gender diversity, greater international diversity, more upper middle class young people, more young people of urban rather than rural communities, and more young people who see engineering from the very beginning of the higher education careers as a route to entrepreneurship, technology innovation, and management. These are reports from an elite university for engineering students, so it is an open question whether these demographic shifts are similar across the wider spectrum of accredited engineering colleges and university programs. It also seems as if the current generation of young people who have “grown up digital” (Brown, 2000) are likely to bring with them a very different set of interests, assumptions, and capacities from just a generation

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before them. And with the rapid changes in social media and digital, mobile technologies, this set of interests and capacities is likely to remain a moving target for some time. These incoming students will have been weaned on mobile devices, instantaneous Web searching, and games – both single player and massively multiplayer – on a dizzying array of platforms. And the consumer objects that they most aspire to own (e.g., iPods, tablets, gaming systems) are fairly clear hybrids of engineering and aesthetics, suggesting that the aesthetic dimensions of engineering may become more prominent. The current movement to educate for STEAM rather than just STEM (i.e., including the Arts in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) is suggestive in this regard. These young people also have and will continue to grow up in a culture that makes heroes of technology innovators who accumulate vast sums of money, people like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Serge Brin, and Larry Page.3

Conclusion In this chapter, we have described research on professional engineering work as it relates, or fails to relate, to engineering education. We have advanced an image of professional engineering work as heterogeneous. It is our assumption that this image, at least among many engineering educators, may appear foreign and may not align well with what often counts as engineering within the academy. If this assumption is true, it seems worth trying to understand why. One likely reason has to do with a gap we have mentioned so far, but have not brought into focus. This is the gap between the work of engineering professionals outside of the academy and the work of engineering faculty within the academy. Here we are in speculative waters, because there is not a body of research that undertakes this comparison empirically. But some differences seem clear and relevant. Like that of most academics (ourselves included),

the work of engineering faculty involves teaching and research, as well as many activities that maintain the going concerns of their workplaces, which are universities. Engineering research is of course a form of engineering work, but its accountabilities are clearly different from the work practices of engineering professionals outside of academia who are involved in realizing engineering projects. In short, there is a clear gap between what engineering faculty do in their work and what most of their students will do in theirs. What we see as an appropriate response to this gap is by no means to argue for the disruption of the disciplinary research practices of engineering faculty. What we do see as an appropriate response is to infuse engineering education with new, more diverse, research-based images of professional engineering work. These images are as much for faculty – who do different kinds of work – as they are for the students. A fertile sub-field of research dedicated to studying professional engineering work and connecting it – both practically and conceptually – to engineering education is much needed. A thriving subfield of this kind will address questions that we believe all stakeholders share about the continuities and discontinuities between the work practices and identities of engineering students and professional engineers. It is important also to state that specific directionalities for change are not assumed in advocating this program of research. It is an easy assumption to make that advocating this program of research implies advocacy for reorganizing engineering education to mirror professional work more closely. We are by no means making this assumption, though it is among the possibilities we see. To understand why this does not necessarily follow from the fact of a comparative program of research on engineering education and professional engineering work, consider the following analogy. Each of the authors of this chapter identifies with the interdisciplinary field of the learning sciences. The learning sciences as a field has, like engineering, both “basic” and “applied” elements. Basic elements involve

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studying how people learn in a wide range of contexts and applied elements involve trying to design tools, materials, and environments to improve learning and often to organize it new ways. Most in the learning sciences are emphatically not advocates for the ways that learning is organized in K–12 schools, but most would agree that without an understanding of how school-based learning is organized, attempts to disrupt, change, or reorganize K–12 practices will be difficult if not fruitless (O’Connor & Allen, 2010; Penuel & O’Connor, 2010). By analogy, engineering educators may see similar problems with professional engineering work and want to see it take very different forms than it currently takes. We are arguing that only by understanding the organization of professional engineering work and its effects on people, on nature, and on society are those efforts to change professional engineering work from the outside likely to bear fruit. At the same time, we do see possible directions for change running from researchbased understandings of professional engineering work into engineering education. Specifically, the idea of heterogeneous engineering is a potentially productive disruption for engineering education, which arguably remains the bastion for the technical rationalist view of engineering. This is not true everywhere but in many places. So engineering education could itself become more heterogeneous. This recognition would lead to a rebalancing of engineering education’s portfolio of learning opportunities, influences, and requirements to make it clear that the human, organizing aspects of engineering are as important to engineering as its technical aspects, moving toward what Stevens has sketched as a sociotechnical engineering education (in Adams et al., 2011, cf. Trevelyan, 2010). Achieving this rebalancing will almost certainly require diversifying engineering departments themselves to include people who emphasize the social aspects of engineering, so that a future generation of students may come to see the resistances of a local code review agency or policymaker equally as relevant

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to the successful realization of engineering projects as the resistances of a conductive material. We also see possible directions for change running from engineering education into professional engineering practice, changes that would themselves deserve study in the comparative research program we have outlined here. In this chapter, we have discussed research that has argued that engineering education is currently tilted toward an image of success in engineering that emphasizes technical rationality, technical innovation, business entrepreneurship, and participation in the corporate profit-making enterprise. We have shared research that shows that across a wide range of contemporary engineering students, many have vague but compelling aspirations that engineering could be a force for “social good” but most are clear that they are participating in engineering education first and foremost for the perceived financial security and comfortable material existence it promises. And few seem to see those values of engineering for “social good” enacted in their curriculum or in their broader educational experiences. But this could change and seems to be changing in a handful of respected engineering education programs. Some new initiatives are flying under the banners of “humanitarian engineering” and “social entrepreneurship” (Wikipedia entries) and others, such as Design for America, are framed around interdisciplinary efforts to design for solving “wicked problems” in society broadly and for underserved communities. These initiatives are very compatible with the image of heterogeneous engineering we have foregrounded here and go further to enact values aligned with an “ethic of care” (Riley, Pawley, Tucker, & Catalano, 2009) that is in some, if not significant, tension with goals for engineering education that primarily stress novel technical innovation and financial gain. Should future generations of engineering students have substantive experiences and identification with this image of engineering – how it can help solve pressing social problems through heterogeneous engineering based in an ethic of care

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as much as in an ethic of financial gain – newcomers to engineering firms could be part of a historical process of transformation in professional engineering work. Such changes would in turn invite new research about how student identification with engineering changes, who chooses to go into engineering, and how this alternative image reshapes broader images and effects of engineering in society. In this conclusion we have sketched just a few ways that engineering education and professional engineering work could influence each other in the coming years and challenged easy assumptions about how they should influence each other. These images are informed by our own values and, of course, the actual relations between engineering education and professional engineering work may evolve very differently. Regardless of whether these directions of influence take hold, we hope to have argued that studies of professional engineering work are not an elective for engineering education research, but required coursework.

Footnotes 1. For another critique of CAD’s insertion in engineering practice, and education, from a different perspective, see Downey’s (1992) “CAD-CAM saves the nation?” 2. This study did not seek to identify the source of this ethos among engineering students, but this is a topic of some interest because this strongly held rationale for pursuing engineering seems unlikely to come directly from engineering faculty, who often do espouse different values and themselves do not typically practice engineering in corporate contexts. 3. Noticeable in assembling a list of this kind is the absence of female technology icons.

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