What does an engineer look like? They come in every shape, size, race, and color imaginable! There’s no cookie-cutter answer to that question.
Sadly, Hollywood often paints engineers as socially awkward, disheveled nerds who struggle to put together a coherent sentence. Sure, there might be a hint of truth in that stereotype, but it’s far from the whole story.
So, buckle up and let me give you a fresh take on engineers.
What does an engineer look like in the real world?
Do they all sport glasses and a skinny tie? Are they all scrawny, socially awkward folks with messy hair? Are they all single men? These are just some of the questions I’ve heard over time, and they always crack me up.
The truth is, engineers are as diverse as the colors you’d find in a blooming flower garden. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to what an engineer looks like.
Sure, some engineers might fit that nerdy stereotype with their geeky glasses and wild hair, but that’s just a small part of the whole picture. You’ll also find plenty of stylish and sophisticated engineers who look like they just strutted off a fashion magazine cover.
As Forrest Gump once said,
“Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”
This rings true for engineering too. Engineers aren’t defined by any specific race, gender, color, height, weight, or any other characteristic.
NASA’s engineering workforce
Investigative journalist A.J.S. Rayl once commented on the NASA program:
If your image of a NASA engineer or scientist is that of a white male in a crisp white shirt with black clip-on tie and pocket protector, think again. NASA has evolved and so has it workforce. Drawing on the talents of individuals from all nationalities and cultural backgrounds, NASA is looking to acquire the best of what humanity has to offer.
The bottom line is, there’s no one-size-fits-all look for engineers. And this is coming from NASA, the trailblazers of space travel. They were once the cream of the crop in certain fields of engineering. They’re the same folks who brought us the legendary Apollo missions that took humans from Earth to the Moon!
If you’re curious about the NASA engineering mindset and want to learn more, check out my NASA engineering mindset lessons.
What do I look like?
Even though I’ve been an engineer for over 15 years, most people are shocked to find out what I do for a living. I don’t fit that stereotypical image the media loves to portray.
To make things even more interesting, I’ve been a bodybuilder since I was 15. That definitely throws people for a loop!
Here’s a photo of me competing in Los Angeles in my twenties:
It was the Muscle Mayhem Competition in 2010, and I was living a full-on bodybuilding lifestyle then. But at the same time, I was a hardcore engineer. And let me tell you, those two worlds don’t exactly mesh!
I was hitting the gym like a madman 5 days a week, and I had this whole offseason and competition season thing going on. I was also eating 6 to 8 meals a day and weighing every single thing I put in my mouth. It’s safe to say my life was far from ordinary.
So, when I told people I was an engineer, their reactions were absolutely priceless. Here are some of the hilarious responses I got:
- “No way, man!”
- “Stop bullshitting, you’re no engineer!”
- “Bro, you’re a personal trainer. I see you in the gym all the time!”
- “No way you could have gotten through engineering. That shits hard!”
Honestly, it was all pretty entertaining. After all, it’s only natural to judge people based on appearances. But this just goes to show, you can’t judge a book by its cover! Looks can definitely be deceiving.
Shattering preconceived biases
I have to say, it was hilarious how people had these preconceived notions of engineers, and I didn’t fit the mold. They just couldn’t wrap their heads around the fact that an engineer could also be a hardcore bodybuilder. I get it, it’s not a typical combo.
It got to the point where they practically demanded proof that I wasn’t just messing with them. But honestly, I didn’t care what people thought of me. I was busy loving life and crushing it in both engineering and bodybuilding. That’s all that mattered to me.
However, I felt it was important to break these preconceived ideas people had. It was my small way of encouraging the next generation to pursue engineering without fearing judgment based on their looks.
In the end, I managed to shatter those stereotypes, even if it was just for a few people. And that’s a win in my book!
What do other engineers look like?
Believe it or not, there are tons of engineers out there who also happen to be bodybuilders! It’s true – many of my engineering pals are gym rats.
If you don’t believe me, check out the old bodybuilding.com forums. The “Miscellaneous” section was crawling with engineers who loved pumping iron.
But here’s the thing: bodybuilding has its own set of stereotypes, just like engineering. To most people, bodybuilders are seen as brainless meatheads. So, the idea of a nerdy engineer being a muscle-bound beast is mind-boggling!
Moving on, I’ve had the chance to visit almost every major engineering company out there, including HP, Microsoft, Tesla, SpaceX, Google, Apple, and more.
And guess what? The working engineers in these companies are incredibly diverse! I’m talking about engineers of all shapes, sizes, colors, and backgrounds.
It’s worth noting, though, that high-tech companies tend to be more diverse than traditional engineering fields like power and civil engineering. Maybe that’s because they’re seen as cooler and more cutting-edge, or maybe it’s because K-12 schools don’t do enough to promote these fields to students and parents.
Problems with stereotypes in engineering
Stereotypes are kryptonite to kids interested in engineering. They undermine their confidence and limit their potential. And that’s a real shame.
Imagine kids who have a natural gift for math and science, who could be the next Elon Musk or Marie Curie. But instead of encouraging their interests, society saddles them with outdated labels and preconceived notions.
It’s not just the kids who suffer, though. I’ve talked to parents who are hesitant to let their daughters pursue engineering because of the industry’s male-dominated reputation. They don’t want their daughters to face discrimination or feel out of place.
But here’s the thing: there are loads of kickass female engineers out there breaking barriers and paving the way for future generations. They’re just as brilliant and capable as their male counterparts. It’s a missed opportunity, not just for those individuals, but for our society as a whole.
As former president Obama said back in 2013,
“One of the things that I really strongly believe in is that we need to have more girls interested in math, science, and engineering. We’ve got half the population that is way underrepresented in those fields and that means that we’ve got a whole bunch of talent…not being encouraged the way they need to.”
Important Note: There’s no shortage of STEM graduates these days. I know a bunch of engineers who can’t seem to snag a job.
So here’s the deal: we should encourage kids who are genuinely passionate about engineering to chase their dreams, not just push them into the field ’cause it’s the “right thing” to do.
I mean, what if little Timmy is all about art? Shoving him into engineering would only lead to a world of frustration and failure. This is one of the reasons why we see so many jobless engineers in the market today.
Created biases in hiring practices
Man, engineering stereotypes can seriously mess things up when it comes to hiring. Picture a hiring manager who only looks at white dudes for engineering gigs. That’s not just unfair, it’s bad for business. Come on, people! Lousy engineers come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Judging someone’s skills based on looks? That’s just insane.
I’ve heard some wild hiring biases in my time, but I won’t bore you with the detailed stories. Let’s just say there are hiring managers out there with some major blind spots. Like, I know some software engineering folks who only want to hire people with Russian-sounding names.
At the end of the day, hiring managers need to focus on skills, not looks, names, or where someone’s from.
“What does an engineer look like?” wrap up
Engineers look like regular folks you see walking down the street. I bet you couldn’t pick one out of a crowd most of the time.
That’s why I hope Hollywood starts showing engineers in a more diverse way. I’ve seen a bit of a shift lately, but we’ve still got a ways to go.
But hey, if you’re passionate about engineering, don’t let stereotypes hold you back. Your drive and dedication are what really count in this field.
You know who gets that? Elon freaking Musk. He doesn’t care about fancy degrees or what color your skin is. He just wants someone who can get the job done. As he said about hiring at Tesla:
“A PhD is definitely not required. All that matters is a deep understanding of AI & ability to implement NNs in a way that is actually useful (latter point is what’s truly hard). Don’t care if you even graduated high school.”
What does an engineer look like to you? What did you think they looked like growing up? Do you fit the stereotype? Have you seen diversity growing in the engineering world over the years?
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Author Bio: Koosha started Engineer Calcs in 2019 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 well 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, sports, fitness, and our history and future.