Updated: Jan 11
Are you looking to choose a career? Let me help you. After reading this you’ll run off to the nearest university and register for classes. This will be a good thing for you and for the world.
Would you like people to say, "Ohhhh," in a good way at parties when they ask you what you do? Do you like having a respectable salary while working in an air conditioned office, working only 40 hours a week and rarely having to travel on business?
if so, then the best career for you is mechanical engineering.
Here is a question to get you started. Look around you right now:
Other than living things (people, plants, pets), can you see anything that has been constructed without the aid of a mechanical engineer?
Look hard. Take your time. I’ll wait.
(Ten minutes pass.)
While you’re pondering that question, I must point out that the jet ski shown in the photograph above wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for mechanical engineers. In fact, without mechanical engineers, modern photographs would not exist.
Let me help you with your answer:
The clothing you’re wearing was woven by machines designed by mechanical engineers.
The pencils and pens on your desk were manufactured by machines designed by mechanical engineers.
The paint on your walls was mixed by machines designed by mechanical engineers.
The half-eaten Big Mac hamburger beside you was prepared using tools and machines designed by mechanical engineers.
The paper on your desk was manufactured by machines designed by mechanical engineers.
The structure holding your cellphone’s electronics together was designed by mechanical engineers.
If you wear eyeglasses, they were constructed using machines designed by mechanical engineers.
Your lilac’s flower pot was manufactured by machines designed by mechanical engineers.
Your fingernails were clipped by a fingernail clipper designed by a mechanical engineer.
Just how broadly do mechanical engineers affect your life?
Without mechanical engineers,
you’d have to get your food from your
garden tilled with wooden tools you
carved with sharp rocks.
Yes, mechanical engineers should be worshiped!
Why is mechanical engineering the best career?
Here are just some reasons why no other career beats mechanical engineering:
There are rarely too many mechanical engineers.
Colleges do not artificially restrict the number of mechanical engineering students, as they do regularly for many medical and legal professions.
Only a bachelor’s degree is required. No continuing education or licensing necessary.
You get to work in air conditioned offices.
Everyone thinks you’re smart.
Work hours are most often forty hours per week, with evenings and weekends off.
Mature people seek relationships with professionals whose careers give them evenings and weekends off. Tip: You don’t want to marry an immature person.
Mechanical engineering is a fact-based profession. You will almost always get your way with your supervisor if physics is on your side. If physics is not on your side, you have no business presenting your idea to management.
Physics is not subject to opinion, pride, or politics. Good mechanical engineers have zero ego. Infighting and competition have no place in the mechanical engineering field. Mechanical engineers should never have a “dog in the fight” or a “stake in the outcome.” If you abhor politics, become a mechanical engineer.
Low stress-to-salary ratio. Doctors and lawyers make more money than mechanical engineers. But their jobs are much, much more stressful.
If a mechanical design fails during testing, the design does not sue the engineer. Mechanical designs are most often over-tested in a process called “qualification testing.” This process is designed to be more severe than the product will ever experience in real life.
Four years of college
What about those four years of tough engineering courses? Yes, they’re tough. But they provide a comfortable, stable career when compared to other professions.
The math presented in college homework, labs, and exams is far more complex than what is required in real life.
For example, here is an equation representing the first law of thermodynamics. This is the typical sort of equation taught in an engineering course:
Before you run away screaming, you must know that I have never used this equation in its entirety. Never once. This is because the equation represents just about EVERYTHING that can happen to a system. Never in real life does everything happen to a system at once.
For example, while inflating a balloon, you’re not at the same time likely to,
Submerge it in water.
Drop it off a cliff.
Catch it on fire.
Accelerate it to Mach 10.
Pour sulfuric acid on it.
Place it in outer space.
Generally only small portions of large equations are used at any given time. This makes life for engineers much easier.
Here is a typical application of the first law of thermodynamics:
In English, it means:
Kinetic energy of a moving object is equal to
one-half its mass times its velocity squared.
Notice the equation is much smaller than the complete equation shown above.
You may be unfamiliar with the terms. But this is an issue of understanding new terms, not a math issue.
Why, then, is a four-year engineering degree required?
The issue isn't the math, but rather to learn which principles and equations should apply at any given time. How to apply them is what is difficult, not the equations themselves.
The Expert Button-Pusher
The story is told about a company that used a complex machine with many buttons, levers, and dials. The machine worked so well for so long that everyone working at that company forgot what the buttons, levers, and dials did.
One day, the machine stopped working. No one at the company knew how to get it going again. They found an expert who lived across the country. They paid him five thousand dollars to come and get the machine working again.
The expert arrived. He looked over the machine for a few minutes and then pushed one button.
The machine began working perfectly again.
The company management who hired the expert complained and said, “We paid you five thousand dollars to push one button?”
“Yes,” the expert said, “but I knew which button to push.”
That is the story of mechanical engineering.
The math is easier than you think
I have listed below the most common equations I have used throughout my career. You’ll see that they make use of only ordinary algebra. No matrix algebra. No systems of vectored, partial differential equations. None of the equations shown here go beyond high school math:
There are exceptions, of course. Occasionally I must set up and solve a differential equation. But they are the exception rather than the norm. The terminology may be unfamiliar to you, but the math is not complex.
The question of "how to apply the principles" applies to any career. Take plumbing, for example.
“Just solder some pipes together.”
“Hold on!” you say. “That’s where skill and craftsmanship come in.”
And you’re right. Skill and craftsmanship come from experience. This applies to all professions, including engineering, plumbing, and coaching football.
I provide here two examples of relatively simple math that can produce astounding results.
I own a Toyota Highlander SUV. Its average weight is published at about 4,400 pounds. If I estimate that about 6-inches by 6-inches of each of its four tires touches the road at any given time, I can calculate the air pressure in those tires.
Remember the following equation from the above list:
With some algebra, we can rearrange the equation to represent pressure:
The equation says that pressure (P) is created when an applied force (F) is distributed across a certain area (A). The pressure in my Toyota Highlander’s tires calculates to be:
Are automobiles not exciting enough for you? What about modern airliners?
The maximum takeoff weight of a Boeing 777-300 ER airliner is 775,000 pounds. The surface area of the wings of a Boeing 777-300 ER airliner is 672,768 square inches. With these two numbers I can calculate an astonishing number:
It is amazing to me that a 387-ton jetliner carrying 340 passengers can lift off the ground with only 1.2 psi difference in air pressure across the wings. That ain’t much!
“Simple division is one thing,” you say, “but what about complex trigonometry?”
An entire college semester of trigonometry can be reduced to the following figure. I know this is true because I’ve only taken one trigonometry class in my life, and that was over thirty years ago. All I remember from that class is this figure:
All the trigonometry I have needed in my career comes from this figure. I realize that learning trigonometry in a classroom is a shock to the mind and soul. But applied trigonometry is much less complicated.
I’ve written an entire post on calculus, which you should read. It will be fun.
Engineering students must take three semesters of calculus (integration) and one semester of differential equations. Differential equations are integration in reverse.
Want to know a great secret?
There is software out there that can solve every math problem you can dream up. The best of these products is a program called, Mathcad. Mathcad is a word processor for equations.
The following scary integral calculates the percentage confidence of 99.73% over a statistical spread of three standard deviations.
Using Mathcad, I typed the above equation on the left side of the equal sign. When I tapped the equal sign character, the answer of 99.73% appeared.
How easy is that? Mathcad did all the work.
But that’s cheating!
“You let the computers do all the work,” you say.
This is my whole point! Have you ever picked up a cellphone or handheld calculator and asked it for the square root of a number, say, the square root of 456.7? You type in the number 456.7 and then press the “square root” key. Then the machine does the work.
Is that cheating?
Do you have any idea just how much work your dear cellphone or calculator must do to come up with that answer? Your electronic device must perform the following function (or one similar to it; there are a number of approaches):
Below is a computer program I wrote using Mathcad that calculates the square root of any positive number below 1x10^90 (that would be 1 with 90 zeros behind it) without using a square root function. This is another approach calculators may use to calculate square root:
Unless you like doing all that work by hand, don’t accuse me of cheating.
3D modeling and analysis
Modern engineering software allows engineers to create entire three-dimensional designs on computer and then test them for,
Mass and weight/balance
Stress, metal fatigue, and cycle life
Liquid or gas flow (if it’s a hydraulic or pneumatic design)
These analyses are done before the design physically exists in real life. This way, hopefully, when the parts are finally made, all the design mistakes have already been made and fixed.
3D metal printing
The same 3D modeling capability that can render realistic images on the computer screen can send 3D computer models to sophisticated metal printing machines that can manufacture entire parts without the touch of a human being. Metal printers can “print” titanium parts (1/3 lighter than steel) which are just as strong or stronger than traditionally machined steel parts.
Gone is the drudgework that used to be required of mechanical engineers. No more,
Piles of calculations
White shirts and ties
Handheld calculators (I don’t own one!)
Today is the best time in the history of the world to be a mechanical engineer. This makes you an extraordinary lucky person!