Why Do Engineers Think They Are So Smart?

Why do engineers think they are so smart? Some engineers think this because they solve complex problems using a lot of math.

But the really top-notch engineers? They don’t have time for grandstanding. They let their problem-solving do the talking. And truth be told, most engineers I’ve encountered are down-to-earth, humble folks.

What really grinds my gears, though, is when engineers strut around like they’re the smartest folks in the room.

The reasons why an engineer may think they’re smarter than others

math formulas

Let’s dive into some reasons that I’ve often heard:

  • Coursework: They’ve slugged their way through brain-busting coursework for years on end.
  • IQ data: They’ve got an IQ that’s cruising above average. Hey, certain professions do have a strong link with conceptual and analytical chops.
  • Math on the job: They’re practically ninjas at applying advanced math in their daily grind.
  • Real-world problems: They’re saving the world one problem at a time with their engineering solutions. Just look at the impact of all types of engineering!
  • Personal interests: They prefer sinking their teeth into brain-twisting problems instead of lazing around doing brain-numbing activities.
  • University: They’ve donned the cap and gown at engineering school, which, by the way, only a handful of applicants even get into. The table below indicates the acceptance rates of top U.S. engineering schools in 2018.
UniversityUndergrad acceptance rateGraduate acceptance rate
UC Berkeley12%17%
Georgia Tech20%33%
Carnegie Mellon13%19%

With that out of the way, I’m going to go over why I think it’s wrong for any engineer to think they’re superior to others.

#1 Waving the “engineer” label

In this day and age, being dubbed an engineer often comes bundled with an aura of prestige and genius. Folks usually peg you as some level of genius when they hear you’re an engineer.

But unfortunately, some engineers exploit this reputation. They flaunt their engineer title like a shiny badge, even if they haven’t made a dent in the real world.

It’s like those folks who get a kick out of name-dropping famous people they’ve brushed shoulders with or boast about being present at some monumental event. We’ve all bumped into someone who’s all too eager to chatter about their supposed association with a star or a historic moment.

Let’s not kid ourselves – a fresh-off-the-boat engineering grad hasn’t made their mark in the real world yet. Nada! Worse, there are seasoned engineers out there who wouldn’t know good design if it hit them on the head. In such cases, the engineer tag doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.

Still, some engineers ride on the coattails of past engineers’ victories, just because they’re now part of the swanky engineering club. It’s as laughable as that one relative who calls themselves a Michelin-star chef but can’t whip up a decent omelet.

This inflated sense of self-importance can ruffle a few feathers, like when construction workers grumble, “Who’s the brainiac engineer who designed this mess?!” But hey, life has a knack for knocking everyone down a notch, even the most conceited.

#2 Catching a ride on successful projects

Ever noticed how some engineers have a penchant for attaching themselves to successful projects? It’s somewhat akin to the whole engineer label phenomenon. These engineers slyly associate themselves with skyrocketing projects and then pose as if they were the powerhouse behind it all.

This false sense of participation can inflate their egos, making them feel as if they had a pivotal role in mind-blowing feats, like launching a rocket to space.

But here’s the thing – they might’ve just been marching to the beat of more skilled engineers or done nothing more than basic grunt work. It’s crucial to understand that most grandiose engineering projects have a handful of leaders, while the rest of the engineers just play follow the leader.

Consider the NBA, like those championship teams led by Lebron James. When the season wraps up, both Lebron and the 12th man on the roster get championship rings. But while Lebron’s been sweating it out for about 40 minutes a game, the 12th man might’ve only been on the court for a measly 2 minutes every five games. Yet, they’re both officially crowned as champions.

This same kind of phenomenon happens in the world of engineering, highlighting the importance of discerning real accomplishments from those gained merely by association.

#3 Embracing the legacy of engineering

Every engineer is essentially standing on the shoulders of the engineering wizards, inventors, and thinkers of yesteryears. Without leaning on the genius of innumerable brilliant minds from the past, we wouldn’t be able to achieve much on our own.

Our modern gadget-laden world is the result of millions of baby steps forward, with many of these breakthroughs being the fruit of someone’s entire lifetime of hard work.

In essence, take a step back and give yourself a humility check. No matter how much of a lone ranger you think you are, there’s an army of brilliant minds propping you up.

#4 Gaining perspective from the universe

the vast universe
The vast universe (Photo Credit: Greg Rakozy)

Do you find yourself bragging about being smarter than ants or dogs? Didn’t think so.

In a similar vein, I’d bet my last dollar that the cosmos is bursting at the seams with beings who could make even our brightest look like they’re still in diapers. Hell, we’ve only just dipped our toes into the tech ocean in the past couple of centuries!

I reckon life is as commonplace in the universe as stars in the sky. Some of these cosmic neighbors could be eons ahead of us in the tech marathon. From their viewpoint, we’re about as advanced as ants. Puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?

Even if we dismiss aliens as the stuff of sci-fi and claim we’re the sole living entities in this grandiose universe, there’s still a mountain of stuff we don’t know. So why get on your high horse to feel superior? Life’s far too fleeting for such bullshit.

If you’re genuinely a brainiac, you shouldn’t need to resort to caveman tactics to outshine everyone around you.

When I come across such behavior, I can immediately tell that the person is grappling with deep-rooted insecurities. There’s no other plausible explanation for it. There’s a whole bunch of better ways to boost your self-esteem.

Better yet, find a dark spot devoid of artificial lights, and stare into the night sky to get the best dose of humble pie.

#5 Diving deep into subjects

In my experience, the deeper you dive into a subject, the more you realize your knowledge is just the tip of the iceberg. You uncover the real complexity of the topic and realize that even the most seasoned scientists are stumped by a plethora of unknowns. It’s these mysteries that knock the cockiness out of great engineers.

What’s more, your education should have schooled you in the boundaries of human understanding. If your alma mater didn’t do that, a taste of the real world should definitely serve up a helping of humility sooner rather than later.

#6 Acknowledging unequal opportunities

Here’s a thought: many folks who might strike you as less intelligent probably didn’t roll a lucky number on the opportunity dice like you did. This could be due to a host of reasons, including:

  • Growing up in a family where support was scarce
  • Facing financial hardships in their formative years
  • Being exposed to violence or abuse
  • Having to pull their weight from a young age to keep the family afloat

Factors like these often stack the deck against individuals and hand them a raw deal when it comes to opportunities. Let’s face it: your birthplace can play a huge role in your life.

I’ve crossed paths with individuals who, after just six months of training in engineering design, could run circles around many formally educated engineers in terms of smarts and productivity.

In this fast-paced world, the internet has kicked the importance of formal academic labels to the curb. At the end of the day, what really counts is your ability to deliver the goods. Just take a look at Elon Musk: the man taught himself rocket engineering before formally establishing SpaceX, which has since earned its stripes as the first private company to send humans into orbit.

So, it’s downright laughable when some engineers strut around like peacocks. Be grateful for the chances you’ve been given to make it big in this awesome profession.

#7 Recognizing diverse forms of intelligence

Folks, intelligence comes in many shades. Take Lebron James, for instance—he’s a genius on the basketball court, with an uncanny ability to predict plays before they even unfold—all in a split second, under the crushing weight of expectations.

His brain is wired differently from that of a brilliant engineer. An engineer may have their own set of strengths, but they could be on thin ice elsewhere.

Likewise, there are folks out there who create magic with their hands, like skilled carpenters. They’re geniuses in their own right, and I’d bet my boots I couldn’t hold a candle to their level of expertise.

Some engineers get tunnel vision and overvalue their specialty while overlooking the talents of others. If you don’t shine in their field, they may give you the cold shoulder.

But here’s the thing: everyone’s got their own unique set of strengths and a toolbox of expertise they’ve spent years filling.

“Why do engineers think they are so smart?” wrap up

To sum it up, it’s simply ridiculous to view oneself as smarter than others, no matter what your profession, is just plain silly. It’s not just off-putting, it’s comical.

If you’re genuinely as bright as you think, others will naturally acknowledge and commend your talents. This kind of recognition will make you more approachable, and your professional title will hold more weight.

The most brilliant minds don’t need an engineer label to signal their smarts; their work does the loud speaking. Moreover, the best engineers I’ve rubbed shoulders with are confident without being cocky. They genuinely appreciate and respect the spectrum of talents across different professions.

Why do you reckon engineers think they’re the sharpest tools in the shed? Is there any group of people you believe are the smartest?


Get daily articles and news delivered to your email inbox

Leave a Comment