Think of three, ‘great’, British engineers. Hands up if the first three that come into your mind are; Isambard Kingdom Brunel, George Stephenson and James Watt. These three great engineers died over 100 years ago. Can you name three, great’, British engineers from the last 30 years? Don’t worry if you can’t, as modern day engineers do not seem to attract the the same kudos as they did centuries ago.
We need to ask ourselves if this is because British engineers are no longer, ‘great’, or do engineers work in a different way, meaning that a whole team of people are responsible for new technology? Let’s compare engineering today with engineering during the Industrial Revolution and that may answer our question.
Even in today’s terms, the Industrial Revolution was an awesome time in Britain’s history. It represented the shift in the manufacturing process from man to machine. Engineers became the celebrities of their time because their inventions change the world forever and put the, ‘Great’, in Britain because we could now seek world domination due to being so technically advanced compared to other countries. Cities were connected by huge suspension bridges, goods could be transported by rail and we could sail all over the world, with great speed, and form lucrative trade agreements.
Our factories clattered with the excitement of production and industry was booming. It would seem that engineers developed their ideas in a similar way to the great artists where they had a team of apprentices working below them developing their skills while the head engineer took all of the credit.
Unsurprisingly the root of the modern day, ‘Technical Revolution’, was during Victorian times, when Charles Babbage invented the first computer. As with everything in those days it was huge and could only do sums. Technical development over the last century and particularly the last 30 years has been to make everything pocket sized. The ZX Spectrum in the eighties whetted our appetite for home computers and lead to Alan Sugar, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs inventing the PC (Personal Computer). The computer may be associated with development in America and construction in China but everything your Smartphone or tablet does has its beginnings in Great Britain.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, html and http. Psion Computers developed the touchpad priority device and John Daugman patented the Iris recognition algorithm. Android, Windows, IOS and other operating systems would not have existed if it wasn’t for our, ‘Great’, British computer engineers. The use of computers in technical engineering and genetic engineering has resulted in huge scientific developments all over the world.
The harsh reality is that Great Britain has a critical shortage of engineers and nothing is really being done to inspire our children to follow the engineering root. Nobody really can say what engineers do but everything they come into contact has been engineered in some way. The Kudos of British engineering is low because we don’t celebrate our own successes and inventions are patented by huge corporations.
It’s time that engineers stop putting their cats on Youtube and started promoting themselves.