“Be an engineer or a doctor! You can also be a nurse like your aunt in the US.” As a kid growing up in an Asian household, this was what I heard every year for as long I can remember.

Practicality is the one defining characteristic of many Asian cultures. One must only look into a refrigerator to see how Asian someone really is. In there you’d see plenty of ice cream containers that do not contain ice cream. Instead it’s filled with fish, meat, or leftovers. You’d probably also see charcoal hidden somewhere. Look through the cupboards and you might see used plastic bags waiting for its second lease of life. It might also be worth saying that if you do visit an Asian household, make sure to finish the food they serve you or at least eat a lot of it. It’s considered rude not to take a few bites then compliment your host.I would say that the Asian culture is (more often than not) a good combination of extremes that puts practicality first, without compromising on hospitality or some level of kindness toward your community.

Of course, it’s the same practicality that pushes some people into making life decisions that are not necessarily their choice. I remember when I took my first Industrial Engineering (IE) class. The professor asked each student why they took IE. The answers were a combination of “because my uncle who’s an IE is rich”, “because my parents told me to”, and “because I want to be an engineer”. Truth be told, less than 10% of class actually knew what IEs do. It’s strange to think that many of the IEs I talk to now attach their identity to their IE degree, something that they didn’t exactly know about a few years prior. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, after all, we all have our own desires, ambitions, values, beliefs and pace.

However, I don’t necessarily see myself as an industrial engineer nor was I pushed into becoming an industrial engineer. I always wanted to be an engineer and I do currently see myself as an engineer, a person who has the ability to see potential and turn it into reality. It’s a rather vague definition but that’s what engineers are to me. The beauty of this definition is that it’s not anchored on a piece of paper that brands you as an engineer. I’d consider anyone who can bring a vision or an idea into reality as an engineer because that’s what we do.

Engineers build the world. Every gadget, building, mobile app, furniture, vehicle, information system, tool, and anything else that does not inherently exist in nature was built by a team of engineers. It’s amazing! The modern world, despite its flaws, is a product of human creativity built on top of each other, and as far as I know, we’re the only ones who can do this on a scale that can alter the entire world in less than a millennia. With the pace of technological improvements nowadays, isn’t it exciting to see where we’ll eventually be in a few decades or centuries? Who knows? Maybe the space exploration science fiction movies are right. Maybe we’re meant for something more.

An engineer out to solve some problems.