Juan David's Newsletter - November 6th, 2022
The Engineering Distortion Field
I’ve been meaning to write about this topic, and today it’s the day.
Let’s start with the basic premise: STEM cannot be and is not the only way to thrive in the United States, especially if you come from a “diverse” background.
A growing number of young people are being told that engineering is the way to get out of poverty or even succeed. Just this week, I went to a Hispanic engineering conference, and this was the narrative throughout:
I was poor —> I studied engineering —> I'm happy
I was an immigrant —> I studied engineering —> I'm successful.
I was (whatever excuse) —> I studied engineering —> I “made it.”
This is admirable, and I'm not criticizing their life decisions. They say they're happy so let them be!
But I find this narrative dangerously destructive: “Engineering is how you get rich, famous, and happy.” A narrative that we’ve talked about before.
Let’s call this narrative the Engineering Distortion Field.
Seeing this narrative helped me understand why most people I met at the conference study mechanical engineering—a major with colossal competition and low job demand.
I was surprised. I thought, “Is it just me, or does everyone here study mechanical engineering?” I was right! The majority of Hispanic engineering students study mechanical engineering1.
Before we start talking about whether mechanical engineering is a good major or not, let’s talk about why the Engineering Distortion Field may be making these Hispanic students study this specific major and why believing the narrative goes against what it means to be an enlightened human being.
This narrative isn’t just affecting Hispanic students, it’s affecting many people but I fear it affects Hispanics the most as some of us need to find ways to “make it.” But again, I don’t want to talk about race or anything related.
“Pursue STEM careers.” “Become an engineer.” “STEM is the end all be all!”
This STEM propaganda does more harm than good. It does good to those for who engineering is their true calling; without the STEM propaganda, they would not have found it.
But instead of telling people to study engineering or STEM, we need to shift into telling them to find what they love doing.
Doing what you love, or at least attempting to, is very uncommon. For instance, this is the script when someone asks me what I want to do with my life:
Them: What do you want to do?
Me: Do what I love.
Them: Excuse me? That’s not a major or job.
Them: So what are you going to do?
Me: Do what I love through cool projects.
Them: What is your major again?
We need to encourage people to start doing what they love, not doing what they love as long as it’s engineering.
Listen, I get it! Colleges are messed up, and if you don’t study an engineering/STEM major, it’s probably not worth going to college, and if you are going to college, you may as well learn something useful. This is what I’m sort of doing.
I work on projects because, through every project, I get closer to fully knowing what I love doing.
Doing what you love sounds like a shallow idea, but at the core, it’s the most important thing you can do with your life. Once you are doing what you love (or at least getting there), you open a portal to a new world where you never work again and are on your way to enlightenment.
Did I say enlightenment? Yes! Doing what you love doing is a way to reach enlightenment, which I define as the capacity to understand how everything is both meaningful and meaningless. Everything matters and doesn't matter.
No one knows what they’re doing or where they’re going (the world is full of uncertainty), but those who do what they love have a feeling of certainty no rational mind can give you.
When you reach this stage, you don’t care whether you are an engineer or a non-engineer because as long as you’re doing what you love, you will be happy, and you will make progress as well as learn anything that comes your way to make your mission a reality. When you reach this stage, you get grounded and avoid believing you are this special engineer who “made it” and works in a fancy engineering job when in reality, you’re just another engineer.
Aiming to reach enlightenment is the way.
They made up their minds
And they started packing
They left before the sun came up that day
An exit to eternal summer slacking
But where were they going without ever knowing the way?
The Way by Fastball
Doing what you love is how you avoid being trapped in the Engineering Distortion Field and start seeing the world as a place to follow your obsessions, whether engineering-related or not.
Doing what you love is the most important thing, and nothing matters more
Doing what you love is the difference between not knowing the way despite knowing what to do and knowing what to do despite not knowing where to go.
More people doing what they love is how we will get to a Tron level of innovation!
Juan David Campolargo
🎵 Song I listened to while writing this: Dancing In The Dark
🏛 Read past issues of the newsletter, here.
Mechanical Engineering is the most common major. Page 3, Top Majors. Source.
It’s important to note that mechanical engineering is also one of the most popular engineering majors.
This is all true with the exception of the last one, but to be honest, I’ll consider airdropping the essay to people next time.