Pocket protectors

My instructor has a habit of dissing engineers. I don’t think it’s a well-articulated dislike, so much as a knee-jerk reactionary position based on his lifetime in a career that is less respected in the tech field: Engineer trumps electrician, therefore electrician is casually resentful.

He refers to them as having pocket protectors, which is an interesting coding for nerd, since I don’t think pocket protectors have been common in over 25 years. As that is the average age of my classmates, do they even know what a pocket protector is, and that they weren’t always just associated with geekery? My instructor uses a lot of funny colloquialisms in his speech, actually, so maybe my classmates just take it all in stride.

I find the anti-engineer stance to be a bit much. The instructor’s rants tend to involve stories of how 3 engineers were paid $130 each per hour to solve a problem, and they couldn’t do it, and finally an electrician was the one to come up with the solution. It’s part of the anti-academic mindset I’ve encountered a lot in the trades, where any university-based education is seen as being a waste of time or for losers without “real” skills.

Obviously, coming from a university background, I’m pretty invested in countering this viewpoint! Because I hate to think that the 7 years I spent doing my degree were a waste of time.

That aside, it’s also an interesting position for an instructor to take, because it contradicts his supposed role as a mentor. I mean, wouldn’t he like to see us make the most of our abilities? I’m good at a lot of the math and problem-solving parts of our trade, so think I’d actually really like to pursue engineering at some point. Shouldn’t a teacher encourage students to seek challenges like this?


6 responses to “Pocket protectors

  1. I work at a trades school which has been amalgomated into a college. We have two campuses – one trades and one degree oriented. This trades vs “academia” conflict is fascinating and also damaging. It is interesting to be witness to it for sure, I can only imagine the experience in the classroom.

    • feralgeographer

      On the worksite, it’s even more pronounced, because the engineers and architects tend to wear button-up shirts while the trades folk wear c@rhartts! You can tell at a glance who’s doing what job.

      The funny thing at my trade school is that a few of the instructors actually are engineers (as well as electricians), and they’ve privately encouraged me to take a similar path: The college even offers a bridging program, to assist trades people in entering into the third year of a university engineering degree. But in the larger classroom setting, there’s no word of this opportunity.

      I think it’s a shame, because I’m the sort of uppity queer who’d seek out the challenge of becoming a engineer or architect all on my own, while few of my classmates seem to be so sure of themselves. Many say that they’re in the trades because they’re too dumb for anything else, and yet they’re fantastic at math and circuit analysis and many other things that’d serve them well in a whole host of professions. Becoming a great electrician requires skills that they should take pride in… I sure as hell do! It might do them well to know that they’ve got a lot to offer to world, of which the trades are only a small part.

  2. future landfill

    As a practicing carpenter for many years, I too had a dismissive attitude to engineer and architects, occasionally with good reason – only a few of them had real slogging-it-in-the-mud experience, they sometimes noted on plans that “contractor to determine on site…”, meaning I had to do the calculations, and there was frequently an inclination to “overbuild the code”.

    Later on, I recognized that professionals – engineers, doctors, lawyers, etc. – get to stamp the documents and they are on the hook for whatever criteria they have stipulated, hence the likelihood they will “overbuild”, ie. cover their ass. When the bridge falls down, the patient dies, the wiring sets the house ablaze, guess who gets to stand trial? The insurance companies rule in almost all human endeavours and the nerd knows quite well that his/her work, governed by codes left, right and center, has to meet the smell test.

    That said, it would be good if these folks had a bit more job-site experience as part of their high-priced education. It’s always fun to put the “baby architect” on the spot when you can point out that what they’ve spec’ed just won’t do the job. Later on I buy ’em a beer and commiserate.

    • feralgeographer

      A beer can fix many a problem, eh? Especially in construction!

      I’m interested in becoming an electrical inspector (eventually!), which is a job that I think I’d enjoy but also makes me nervous for exactly the reasons you mention here: There’s a lot of responsibility involved in signing off on an installation, and from conversations with my comrades-in-trades, I gather that the inspectors are pretty much as universally reviled as the engineers! And the architects, heh heh…

  3. Douglas Thiessen

    I agree it’s fun to dis the geeks every now and again, but after seeing what happened at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan, I’d say we should encourage architects and engineers to over-design as much as possible. Having the structure or system work just 9,999 times out of ten thousand may not be good enough.

  4. feralgeographer

    Yes, indeed! We’ve all got our role to play, and I’m a big believer in safety and durability of designs.

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