Are engineers geniuses? Most aren’t! But like every other profession, there are poor, average, and genius-level engineers.
To better answer this question though, we need to define a genius.
Google defines a genius as,
“Exceptional intellectual or creative power or other natural ability.”
Now, how does this definition translate in engineering? The below-bulleted list is my stab at the question.
- Designing something novel no one has seen before
- Coming up with a new concept that’ll transform an entire industry
- Troubleshooting and solving complex problems on the spot single-handedly
- Galvanizing other engineers to tackle large projects
BUT to point out, genius status doesn’t equal zero stupidity. We’re all human, and we all make mistakes at one point or another.
With that out of the way, let’s dive into the meat of this question.
The select few engineers who lead the pack
In every profession, there are a select few people who lead the effort. Think of the National Basketball Association (NBA).
The NBA already includes the best of the best basketball players. Yet, most of the active NBA players you’ve never heard of, even if you’re an avid NBA fan.
What’s more, only a handful of players can increase a team’s chance to compete for a championship.
Think of players like Lebron James.
If Lebron is on your team, you instantly become a championship contender. Even more, Lebron has revolutionized positionless basketball.
This perfectly captures Lebron’s value and greatness on the hardwood floor.
Without a doubt, I’d label him as a genius in his profession.
The same ideology applies to engineers. There are select few engineers who drive fields of work forward.
These engineers have a natural talent for visualizing concepts and connecting dots. This plus an insane work ethic leads to genius-level engineers.
Like Lebron, these engineers pull industries forward. They foster new advancements while keeping everything running smoothly.
Important Note: it may seem these engineers do their work singlehandedly. But, there’s a huge supporting cast trailing every genius engineer.
Without the leadership of genius-level engineers though, advancements would halt.
All in all, every engineer’s contribution is meaningful in the grand scheme to varying degrees.
The point is, levels exist in engineering. No different than in any other profession.
Imagine a pyramid representative of all working engineers.
At the top are the genius-level engineers. These engineers lead innovation and tackle the most difficult problems.
The further you then go down the pyramid, the more mundane and repetitive the work of the engineers becomes.
Formal engineering education as the genius filter
I hear the talk a lot about how engineering education is a great filter. It weeds out all the “stupid people.”
Then what’s left is genius engineers. But again, levels exist in EVERYTHING!
Aside from academic levels, let’s go over the reality of engineering education.
For starters, engineering education needs reform. If you don’t have a deep interest in engineering, you’ll struggle immensely in school. I blame this partially on the education system.
So, formal engineering education isn’t a machine that endlessly churns out genius engineers. Far from it!
I remember back in college, many students who struggled simply didn’t put in the time. They didn’t study enough and their focus was elsewhere.
In other words, they didn’t have an intense interest in engineering. Yet, each of them still graduated as an “engineer.”
In the end, they became average engineers at best in the working world.
Because you can’t shove a square peg in a round hole. This doesn’t mean some of these individuals aren’t geniuses in other fields though.
A deep passion for engineering creates exceptional engineers
It’s only when you’re deeply passionate about a subject, you’ll wake up at 5 AM to do the work. Heck, you may even forget to eat because you so badly want to solve a problem.
At the same time, you’re painfully persistent. If you can’t crack a problem, you’ll tackle the problem from ten different angles. The word “quit” simply doesn’t register for you!
This level of dedication is what builds mastery in engineering.
Some engineers you may think are natural geniuses. What goes untold though is, how they’ve dedicated their entire lives to engineering.
In other words, these engineers may have a knack for engineering. But, they’re also insanely dedicated.
Not many engineers fit this description. It’s a rare combination to possess. Hence why genius engineers are rare.
To point out, learning to become a creative engineer requires experience. You’re not born an amazingly creative engineer. You may have some qualities to help you, but the bulk of creativity comes through experience.
You can also use engineering creativity tips to become a better engineer.
My experience in the workplace as an engineer
I’ve taught people with only high school educations. I taught them everything from simple engineering to complex concepts.
And guess what?
They learned the content perfectly without a hiccup. They effortlessly learned because they have a passion to learn about engineering.
It’s NOT the institution or environment that’s most important for learning. It’s the individual!
Plus, I find one-on-one teaching is one of the best ways to learn. You can instantly ask all your questions, and clarify any confusion right off the bat.
To further drive my point home, I know technicians who can outsmart many “real” engineers.
What’s more, their highest education level is only high school too.
But through years of experience and deep interests, they’ve mastered a subject. Also, they’ve mastered the application of the theory in the real world.
The marriage of theory and real-world experience creates incredibly smart individuals.
In short, formal education isn’t a marker for genius-level engineers. Even if you graduate from top-tier schools.
Average engineers in the workplace
Who is an average engineer? A person with a slight interest in engineering who like a sheep follows a set path.
I want to emphasize one point though. It’s very important!
There’s absolutely zero wrong with being an average engineer.
We’re all average in so many different things. Because our interests lie elsewhere.
One person can be an average engineer. But at the same time, they’re an amazingly awesome musician.
But I digress.
There are some average engineers who may try to come off as smarter than others. But these engineers aren’t doing any novel work.
They’ve just worked hard enough with the right amount of focus to get good at one subject. This has then landed them a job to do a certain type of work to collect a decent paycheck.
To point out, many engineering jobs don’t require genius-level work. Most of the time, the work is repeating the same things over and over again.
Or, just recycling the same cookie-cutter design or process with every new project. Then here and there, you make some tweaks because of new project variables.
In short, the engineering moniker alone does NOT give someone the ‘genius’ title. Likewise, the alphabet soup after your name also doesn’t give you the ‘genius’ title.
Genius comes from having peak levels of the following qualities:
- Ability to quickly connect dots
- Hard work
The design review process in engineering catches the blunders of engineers
The review process is extensive in engineering projects. And for good reason.
The following is part of the review process:
- Many design submittal rounds
- Inhouse engineers reviewing the design work
- Outside agencies reviewing the design work
- Upon design completion, contractors, and manufacturers doing a reality check on the design
All this helps catch a lot of mistakes made by engineers. I point this out, as engineers are NOT immune from mistakes. Despite what anyone would tell you.
It’s like Lebron James saying he never makes a turnover. Or even more outrageous, he never misses a shot.
It goes without saying, engineers who’ve been practicing for decades still make mistakes. The hope is, engineers with greater experience make fewer mistakes as the years go by.
BUT, if you’re working on the bleeding edge of your field, your work will be rife with mistakes.
The point is, the review process catches most mistakes before they go out the door. Because the work of engineers is almost never perfect on the first swing.
So, the hidden review process to the public may make certain engineers look like geniuses.
Who is a genius-level engineer?
The first name that pops into my mind is Nikola Tesla. Tesla was both an engineer and a scientist. Many overlaps exist between engineers and scientists.
To point out, I’m a huge fan of Tesla’s work. I believe he perfectly personifies what it is to be a genius engineer.
In short, Tesla was a visionary. He helped shape human history with his inventions.
More specifically, today’s electrical power systems and devices evolved from his inventions.
He invented, predicted, or contributed to the following:
- Practical methods to distribute Alternating Current (AC) power
- Induction motor
- Tesla coil
- Remote control
- Neon and fluorescent lights
- Wireless transmission
The above is only a small list of his accomplishments too. Tesla had obtained around 300 patents in his lifetime.
How did Tesla invent these amazing technologies?
Tesla went to school in Karlovac, Croatia. He studied electrical engineering at the Austrian Polytechnic in Graz, Austria in 1875.
He never graduated though.
But it didn’t matter, his real education came from self-study and a restless passion. Tesla also had a photographic memory with an amazing ability to visualize in 3D.
He could envision complete schematics of his inventions down to the last detail. He’d work without diagrams and through memory alone at times.
This enabled him to see his invention prototypes working in his mind. It was as if he turned on the design in the real world and he sat back and observed.
What’s more, he was a voracious reader. His high-volume reading gave him the tools to become an insanely creative engineer.
This level of creativity is why I compare some engineers to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
To capture Tesla’s genius in his own words, he said the following about his inventions,
“My method is different. I do not rush into actual work. When I get an idea I start at once building it up in my imagination. I change the construction, make improvements, and operate the device entirely in my mind.”
Geniuses in other fields of work
Every field has genius individuals.
You can go down the list of fields A through Z. Whether it’s doctors, chefs, athletes, business people, and so on. You’ll without a doubt find geniuses among them.
Important to realize, a genius manifests differently in different fields of work.
So it’s hard to define a global genius, as it’s not a black and white description.
That said, if you’re labeled a “genius,” it doesn’t mean you’ll become an engineer. Your interest level may simply not align with engineering. That’s totally okay.
Because nowhere does it say, all world geniuses need to congregate into the engineering field.
“Are engineers geniuses?” wrap up
Not all engineers are geniuses. In fact, most aren’t.
I think in the end, this works out perfectly. Because if everyone was a genius with a Type A personality, nothing would get done.
A genius engineer needs supporting engineers to assist them. I’d go as far as to say, to carry them.
In the future though, Artificial Intelligence (AI) will become a big player in engineering. Then, ALL engineers will take a back seat to AI. No exceptions!
Then, the question of “are engineers geniuses?” will take on a whole new meaning.
Do you think engineers are geniuses? What do you think defines an engineer’s genius level?
Featured Image Photo Credit: The History Rat (image cropped)
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Koosha started Engineer Calcs in 2020 to help people better understand the engineering and construction industry, and to discuss various science and engineering-related topics to make people think. He has been working in the engineering and tech industry in California for over 15 years now and is a licensed professional electrical engineer, and also has various entrepreneurial pursuits.
Koosha has an extensive background in the design and specification of electrical systems with areas of expertise including power generation, transmission, distribution, instrumentation and controls, and water distribution and pumping as well as alternative energy (wind, solar, geothermal, and storage).
Koosha is most interested in engineering innovations, the cosmos, our history and future, sports, and fitness.