Engineers design products to make life easier for people. They create tools — machines, machinery, tractors — that make our lives better. Engineers now generate billions of dollars in venture capital. You can be a successful engineer in the world of technology if you want to be. Most organizations come from a combination of formal and informal engineering programs administered by academic, industrial, and business science departments. Each faculty has its own distinctive background, goals, and educational experiences.
At RAND, though, you are a product of all three: with your training in physics, engineering, mathematics, and computer science, and with your background of working in defense technology and specializing in technical analysis and design, you’re qualified to hit the ground running. The non-government variety of professional engineering is a mixed bag.
The International Institute of Aerospace Studies (IISAS) sponsors an astronaut-oriented curriculum at California Institute of Technology. Many companies and government agencies have established their own professional engineering programs. IISAS stands out as the only professional engineering program whose faculty is selected based on commercial feasibility rather than academic merit. IISAS offers diverse programs that involve explicit study of the evolution of spaceflight technology and operations. IISAS also has an MBA program that emphasizes management.
The Organization of Military Machinery
In theory, a field consisting of experts in many of the technical disciplines of aeronautics and aerospace could be defined as a specialized body of expertise. In practice, closely integrated efforts between government and industry fail often to produce centers of expertise. That’s the problem with any “industry”. A major purpose of engineering scholarship is to guide students reasonably close to the reality of the field they are studying, since no ministry wants to ask its employees to chew the fat on pressing questions. But practice is the only way to get good at anything. Because of the small size of the Federal business enterprise, only a tiny number of non-government firms, like Boeing, have both the technique and technology to win critical Department of Defense contracts for military and other purposes.
The Air Forces‘ brand-new, cost-plus delivery system is thin on both counts. Yet many requirements have been loosely defined, and likely to remain so until problems can be identified, solved, and their implications can be assessed. In the Defense Department’s refusal to embrace cost-plus systems, airmen are forced to operate in a software-based system that does not conform to the Air Force’s own design requirements. The turnover penalty for Air Force technicians out of national security-patrol jobs is devastating to the Air Force program for future professionals.
The Department of Defense lacks an accessible office of professional responsibility that would oversee these nascent professional organizations and help to identify and address problems with implementation by using a modular construction company. The military works best if it grants its technical leadership the discretion to “stand aside” when it thinks cooperation is impossible. The Defense Department’s plans for a new training program provide a good example of this. In coordinating for the new training program dubbed “Aviation day,” established to enable more legroom on work teams, no less than 17 DOD official review committees were established. Except for one, they were created exclusively to address the problems of the program.
None of the new review squads could decide between the two competing methodologies for combining power and control. Some reviews may have been “bipartisan,” but the nature of the recommendations was very heterogeneous.
The task of developing better teaching tools to help support technical professionals rests on each of us. Exercise and reward in pursuit of specialization matter. That’s why we all use manual typewriters. By enabling people to specialize, technical colleges give students the opportunity to master a particular subject area and thereby build confidence in their ability to solve issues beyond their own knowledge.
This confidence can only become authentic only when the technical profession offers professional skills accessible to everybody — and not just to those instead trained by majors in a particular college.
At the same time, administrative systems aimed at applying common, business principles to business problems can be just as characteristic of technical colleges as those of different types of higher education. Creative work and the sharing of knowledge about the purpose of engineering remain intrinsic to engineering. Nothing like them is found in business education. Making a difference in the quality of engineering education is the most difficult part of what we do at RAND.
The hard part is getting the information to students. Our education program is still a fledgling one at this point. An even bigger challenge is the enormous number of lessons in existing disciplines and in engineering professional library collections that are not accessible by PCs nor by the portable devices that people use in the workplace. The general student interest in ever more technical topics seems to be leading us in the direction of providing computing facilities for the classrooms where they are needed. We’ll try to get you started with an introductory computer science course. Remember, though, that this experience will only be best if your learning comes out of exercises and projects that start from the ground up.