Defining an engineer

The word “engineer” is a meaty one. It has a wide and quite unrestricted definition. You have to be careful not to categorize after the Stereotypes of an engineer#. But there are some qualities that does safely classify a person as an engineer, and that comes from inspecting how they work.


Engineering is what an engineer does.

What counts as engineering is pretty straight forward like that.

What counts as an engineer, that is mostly up to other engineers to declare, but for example when considering an Electrician vs Electrical engineer#, an engineer is more of a role than a title, and the “senior”-ness of the persons procedures and knowledge.

Quantifying your success

An engineer can quantify their success. Meaning, they can declare their intended outcome, come up with range of possible solutions, and measure how well their solution held up.

Questions that can come up in the head of an engineer:

  • “Will this solution perform well enough so the page loads under 20ms?”

  • “How can this be optimized so it does not take more than 20 MB of RAM?”

  • “This page needs to withold 1000 requests per minute; which options would allow such throughput?”

Asking questions like that is asking questions like an engineer.

Focus on practical over artistic

By focusing on getting the project “good enough”, you’ve captured the engineering spirit. A hard-core engineer will get their project in a working state, then improve the functionality it has, instead of making the solution clean or pretty.

This is not to say that giving it an artistic touch is bad, and it also doesn’t mean cleaning up your solution is non-engineering. It is actually preferred to sometimes consider how a project is solved when you think about the longevity of a solution so that it can be modular and be extended without needing to redo the parts of the project.

Cleaining and enhancing the aesthetic touch just for the sake of cleaning and enhancing the aestetic touch, that however is not considered engineering.

Not everything an engineer does is engineering

If you’re developing software, you aren’t automatically a “software engineer”.

If you’re building a bridge, you aren’t automatically a “mechanical engineer”.

If you’re mixing chemicals, you aren’t automatically a “chemical engineer”.

Either word does not mean the other. Neither are subset of the other.

A software engineer does not solely engineer software. But a software engineer may induce engineering practices and way of thinking when they develop software.