Those nerds from Building 2 aren’t that hard to get to know, Kieran Boyd vouches.

[hr]

“So what do you do at uni?”

Ah, that old gem, the perpetual icebreaker. A risky one too, considering that only half of your mates are still slogging away at university and a third have already entered the real world (but then there’s that one guy living at home still doing jack-all.) “I’m an engineer.” There it is: the familiar wave of judgement washes a virtual cap onto your head, one that is labelled, among other things, ‘nerd’. The stigma that accompanies your profession is something you accepted long ago when you signed up for this course, alongside depressing textbook costs and dismal class gender ratios. “Oh, cool. What type?” Yes, even though nobody can quite pin down what we engineers do, they recognise that there exist multiple versions of us, like Digimon or vitamin water. No one ever investigates the specific nature of a lawyer’s studies, but that’s because most people dry-retch whenever “banking and financial market regulation” enters a conversation. But somehow the mention of engineers sparks a bizarre curiosity in others that demands specificity.

So let’s lay it out for you non-engineers; it ain’t that complicated:

• Civil engineers make big things that don’t move, or at least shouldn’t.

• Mechanical engineers make things that do move, or at least should.

• Electrical engineers work with electricity. No surprise there.

• Mechatronic engineers are mechanical engineers and electronic engineers combined.

• Aeronautical engineers are the final evolution of mechanical engineers.

• Computer engineers create anything computerish you’ve put your hands on.

• Software engineers manage all the IT stuff you can’t physically punch in frustration.

• All the others are pretty self-explanatory or don’t count.

* But your new potential friend isn’t privy to these distinctions, so you may as well respond in Romanian for all the help it does. From that first mention of the e-word, the conversation has taken on a peculiar tone where you can become the interviewee and/or specimen. You might think that this little interaction is over, but no. This individual has met you, labelled you, explored you, but they are yet to connect with you. You’re just one of those alien creatures who spill from Building 2 with strange talk of balancing equations and capstone projects.

Perhaps it’s our fragmented campus, but the sleek, suited Building 5 students and the coffee-chugging Building 6 kids are worlds from your own; how could you possibly bond successfully? Yet there’s a slim door of opportunity, and they see their chance: “Oh. My cousin James does engineering at UNSW. Civil engineering, I think…” Just like that, as if to say, “Well, I’ve extended the olive branch of friendship, how are you going to react to that?” How does one react to that?! “Oh sure, Jimmy, yeah I know him. We’re practically engineering besties. He does great work with bridges and walls and things. It’s great that we have this connection, we’re basically family now!” Nope. Contrary to popular belief, we do not keep a working knowledge of all the engineers across the entire city, certainly not the entire world. There’s no monstrous Facebook page that’s marked ‘Engineers ONLY; Normal People KEEP OUT’. The dynamic of Quebecois aeronautical engineering is far beyond my simple social sphere, sorry. Now, this may seem a bit much, but I’ve shared this conversation many times. I put it down to a societal lack of understanding of what we engineers are, precisely (something to do with engines, right?). Perhaps it’s easier to recognise that teachers teach, managers manage, and lawyers law (or at least they would, if English would present any semblance of order), than the fact that engineers engineer; our profession is defined by the verb itself, “to design or create”. Ultimately, we think up stuff and then actually make it. We’re the kids who never truly grew out of LEGO, who eventually pulled apart our remote-controlled car, who couldn’t sit through a session of Mario Kart without commenting on level design.

So how should one react to that original response, “I’m an engineer”? The best tact is to grin in recognition, skip the interrogatory minutiae and jump straight to, “So, what’s the latest thing you’ve made?” Ask any engineer worth their proverbial grain of salt, and they’ll gladly gush over their most recent project or ideas. Actually, you might want to tack on to the end of that question “…in 25 words or less”, lest you find yourself overwhelmed by an explanation of retaining wall regulations and the limitations of C++ over C#. We may be a queer breed, us ‘makers’, and I’m sure you know one or two of us already, but if you truly want to befriend us, skip the small talk and cut straight to the point – it’s what we do best!

* Sorry, so many enemies made here. <3 chemical engineers.