Why do engineers think they are so smart?

Why do engineers think they are so smart? The few engineers who think this, do so because they use high levels of math, and solve complex problems.

But, exceptional engineers don’t need to go around talking about their smarts. They let other people do the talking for them. Most engineers are humble.

For this reason, I roll my eyes each time I hear about this subject. I really dislike it when engineers walk around as if they’re smarter than others.

The reasons why an engineer may think they’re so smart

math formulas

Here are the typical reasons I see and hear why an engineer thinks they’re so smart:

  • Graduating from a demanding university with demanding course work. To top it off, only a small percentage of students get accepted into engineering schools. Then graduate.
  • Using IQ data. A strong correlation exists between certain professions and conceptual and analytical skills. With engineers having a higher than average IQ.
  • Applying advanced math in your everyday work.
  • Solving real-world problems that change society in every way. Just look at all the types of engineering and their impact.
  • The self-urge to solve difficult problems.
  • Using a lot of critical thinking.

Also, here’s a table I see thrown around a lot too. It shows the acceptance rates into top engineering schools in 2018.

UniversityUndergrad acceptance rateGraduate acceptance rate
MIT7%12%
Stanford5%13%
UC Berkeley12%17%
Caltech7%8%
Georgia Tech20%33%
Cornell12%28%
Carnegie Mellon13%19%
UCLA12%27%
Princeton6%13%

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 The “engineer” label

I admit, in society today the label of “engineer” carries a certain weight. By default, when you hear someone is an engineer, you think they’re very smart.

For this reason, some engineers take advantage of this “engineer” label. They use the label even if they haven’t done anything in the real-world.

It’s like people who attach themselves to other people or events to gain clout.

Everyone knows a person who says I know so and so. Or, I was there when a certain event took place.

To put it bluntly, a fresh engineer graduate hasn’t done anything in the real world. Nothing! Nada!

Even more, I know engineers with 30 years of experience who can’t design a thing. In these cases, the engineering label holds zero weight.

Yet, some of these engineers attach themselves to the success of past engineers. All because now they’re part of the exclusive and prized engineering club. I find this to be ridiculous.

I compare it to the family member who self-labels themselves as the best cook. Yet, their food tastes horrid. It’s the same thing.

That’s why I constantly hear construction workers say: “which idiot engineer designed this?!”

Life over time will teach everyone humility. Even the arrogant prick.

#2 Riding the wave

This is like the “engineer” label we discussed. Some engineers falsely attach themselves to the success of a project. Then, they self-identify with the project.

This leads them to act superior around others. They think they were partly responsible for sending a rocket into space as an example.

But, in fact, they were only following the lead of great engineers. They didn’t provide anything of substance to the project.

Or maybe, they were only paper pushers. Many engineers are.

Important to realize, this is how almost every large engineering project works. Several engineers lead, while the other engineers follow.

NBA analogy

I’ve used this analogy before from sports, especially in basketball. Think of a Lebron James led championship team.

At the end of the season, Lebron James and the 12th man on the roster both win a championship. Yet, Lebron played 40 minutes a game.

While the 12th man on the roster played only 2 minutes every 5 games. They’re both champions in the record books though.

This same model exists in the engineering world as well.

#3 The perspective of independence in engineering

EVERY engineer stands on the shoulders of past engineers, inventors, and thinkers.

You couldn’t do anything today without relying on tens of thousands of past great minds.

Technology is where it is today because of millions of small advancements made. In many instances, each advancement took near a lifetime to discover.

So, there’s nothing you’ll do as an engineer today where you’ll stand on your own.

In short, humble yourself. No matter how independent you think you are, thousands of great minds are propping you up.

#4 The perspective of the universe

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

Do you go walking around saying you’re smarter than ants and dogs? I bet not.

In the same way, I believe there are aliens greatly superior to us humans. Our technological age has only started in the past couple of centuries.

I believe life exists everywhere in our universe. These other lifeforms may have millions of years of advanced technology over us. To them, we’d be the ants.

How humbling would that be?

Now, let’s consider that aliens don’t even exist. Even if we are the sole life in this vast universe, we know so little. It’s mind-boggling how little we know.

So, why try to belittle other people to make yourself feel superior? Life is too short for this bullshit. 

If you’re so smart, you shouldn’t need to resort to ape-like behavior to one-up everyone around you.

When I see this type of behavior, I instantly know the person has a deep found insecurity. There’s no other reason to act this way.

You can find better ways to feel good about yourself.

#5 Subject depth

Normally, the greater you drill into a subject, the more you realize how little you know.

You find out how complex a subject is. And, even the best scientists and engineers don’t have answers for the unknowns.

For this reason, unknowns humble great engineers. Self-doubt creeps into their minds.

Your education should teach you the limits of what humans can understand.

And, I know education doesn’t always do the trick. But, working in the real-world should humble you sooner or later.

#6 Unequal opportunities

Many people who you think you’re smarter than, never had the opportunity to flourish. This can be due to the following reasons:

  • No family structure while growing up
  • Economic hardships while growing up
  • Growing up around violent and abusive people
  • Having to work jobs from a very young age to support your family

These and many other reasons lead to unequal opportunities. It’s the luck of the draw where you’re born into.

Further, I’ve met some people who I could teach certain engineering work I do, in only 6 months. All without a formal education. And let me tell you, they would outsmart and outwork many “real” engineers.

In short, the world is changing fast today because of the internet. Formal academic labels don’t carry much weight if you can’t produce. 

For example, look no further than Elon Musk. He self-taught himself rocket engineering with his company Space X.

Now, his company Space X has become the first private rocket company to send humans into orbit.

Another reason why I think it’s laughable when some engineers act as if they’re superior. Be thankful you had the opportunities to flourish in this amazing profession.

#7 Smarts come in many different ways

People are smart in different ways.  Lebron James is a genius on the basketball court.

He has the vision to see plays before they happen. All in split seconds with unworldly expectations on his shoulders.

So, his mind works differently than the mind of even a great engineer. An engineer may be smarter in some aspects while lacking from another.

To continue on, then there are other people who do amazing work with their hands. They’re geniuses in their own rights.

Think of contractors who build things related to homes.

Overvaluing your specialization

Coming back to perspective. Some engineers tend to overvalue their own specialization. Then undervalue the specialization of other people.

If you’re not good at what they’re good at, they’ll look down on you.

Again, everyone has their own specialization that they’re good at. Work that they’ve put many years of time into to master.

So, get off your high horse.

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

Outside of engineering, it’s just ridiculous to peg yourself smarter than others. Not only is it disgusting, but it’s also laughable.

Humble yourself. If you’re as smart as you think you are, other people will give you the title.

This way, you’ll become more likable too. And, your title will carry greater weight.

Further, the greatest minds don’t need an “engineer” label to come off as smart. Their work does the talking.

The best engineers I know, are very confident. But, they don’t think highly of themselves.

Even more, most engineers I know have a ton of respect for every profession.

Why do you think engineers think they are so smart? Is there any group of people who you think are the smartest?

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