what's the difference between an engineering technologist and an engineer?The time is December 17, 1903. The place is Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Two sons of a minister, Wilbur and Orville Wright are impatient to get home to Ohio for the holidays. In 1903 the job description, “engineering technologist,” did not exist. It is just as well—neither Wright brother thinks of himself as an engineer or an engineering technologist. They think of themselves as canny inventors, stepping up from humble but clever bicycle mechanics to tackle the mysteries of controlled flight. If either brother had waved around a Professional Engineer’s license, the first airplane might only have existed in exquisite detail and mind-numbing precision on paper, never to reach the skies above Kitty Hawk. 

Engineering Technologist—Or Wizard?

The Wright brothers were not professional engineers (PEs). Had they been, they probably would have viewed the whole “This thing will fly!” project as impractical and in need of substantial safety margins such as anchors and tall ladders. Engineers have excellent mathematical skills, work largely in theory, and design systems or conduct research. They may manage projects, evaluate and test ideas or theories, or design something as tiny as a single switch. They are not as theoretical, perhaps, as engineering scientists, but engineers work from theory to the very doorstep of practicality. It is the engineering technologist who today carries the idea across the threshold, into the realm of reality. 

An engineering technologist uses some of the same skills as an engineer, though with a bit less rigor in mathematics and theoretical science. Where the engineer might work largely on theoretical work, an engineering technologist is, frankly, a bit of a wizard. What the engineer devises, the engineering technologist actually creates, with real parts, products and profits. 

An engineering technologist constructs, maintains and repairs all manner of devices, systems and inventions that the engineer designs and draws. The focus is on application, not theory, and to accomplish the practical completion of a design, an engineering technologist must master many trades: 

  • Electronics engineering
  • Mechanical engineering technology
  • Computer programming
  • Practical applications of Silly String® and packing peanuts 
  • Computer hardware and software
  • Manufacturing and assembly

The engineer might look at that list and say, “Of six things, only one is clearly flawed, giving a success percentage of 83.33 percent, which is well within acceptable parameters.” The engineering technologist might look at that list and say, “You know, I didn’t build your particle accelerator out of Silly String® and packing peanuts. That’s gotta go.” 

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Education for Engineers vs. Technologists

A key distinction between engineering technologists and engineers is their educational background. While engineers will delve deeply into complex undergraduate mathematics classwork and classes in the pure sciences, engineering technologists focus more on application of skills through introductory mathematics, survey science courses, and engineering fundamentals. 

Take the mathematics aspect, for example. A typical four-year mathematics schedule for an undergraduate engineering student may look like this: 

  • Calculus I
  • Calculus II
  • Crying and Pulling of Hair I and II
  • Multivariable Calculus
  • Differential Equations

This comes, of course, after a high school mathematics career of four years with Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry and Pre-Calculus (also known in the trade as “No Time to Date in High School”). 

Contrast this with the mathematics coursework of engineering technologists. Engineering technologists are expected to be facile in mathematics, but do not have a four-year mathematics requirement: 

  • College Algebra
  • Pre-calculus

Many successful engineering technologists build on three years of high school Algebra, Geometry and Trigonometry by completing two or three years of undergraduate mathematics. 

Should You Design or Do?

In some ways, the Wright Brothers were both engineers and engineering technologists. They were the first aeronautical engineers because they solved problems of flight using laboratory work, mathematics and experimentation. They were also engineering technologists because they translated the experimental results into an actual flying machine (which you can see today in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., a short hop from Manassas, Virginia). 

Engineers use their mathematical and scientific knowledge to design solutions to engineering problems. They might conceive, design and develop entire systems to answer a dilemma in one of many fields: 

  • Aerospace
  • Automotive
  • Computers
  • Manufacturing

Engineering technologists use their technical skills to construct the systems designed by engineers. They may also be involved in other aspects of product development where their technical knowledge and understanding can help a company: 

  • Product development
  • Quality assurance
  • Sales
  • Program management
  • Advanced manufacturing

Your Beginnings as a Technologist Could Start Here

The era of flight began that December day at Kitty Hawk, and within a person’s lifetime we had astronauts on the moon. To begin your flight to your future, start with a solid education at ECPI, where the school’s innovative year-round program could help you earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Electronics Engineering Technology or Mechanical Engineering Technology in as little as 2.5 years. Contact ECPI today to learn more about your potential career path as an engineering technologist. It could be the Best Decision You Ever Make!

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