Engineering is Marketing is Engineering

Why do we draw a line between engineering and marketing?

If the goal of marketing is to understand and develop solutions for that market, why stop short at the door to the engineering department?

If the goal of engineering is to develop solutions to real problems, why rely on the marketing department to determine what defines a real problem?

Especially in large companies that tend to have significant clout with educational institutions and accreditation agencies, the reasons for these division might include:

  1. There are inefficiencies in trying to teach one person to do two different jobs.The truth of this varies significantly by person, and by size of company (larger companies tend to favor compartmentalization more than small companies).
  2. Engineering is so technical that it requires years of specialized math and science to master, leaving little time for other topics.This is less true today than ever, not because the world is less complicated, but because computers can now do many of the analyses that used to be done by humans. In any case, there will always be science and math skills needed in engineering, but as individuals we have relatively little control over the degree to which computers can do this stuff for us. So other than staying on top of new developments, there’s not much we can do to change things here.
  3. Engineering is framed as a cost-minimizing, risk-mitigating activity, while marketing is seen as a driver of profits.This is the easiest to change, and thus has the biggest potential impact.

The lines between engineering and marketing are already blurry, and getting blurrier, but we would do well to better educate young engineers on the basics of marketing, and to foster close, trust-based working relationships between marketing and engineering.

Engineering Isn’t About Costs

Once upon a time, the job of the engineer was to minimize cost.

Engineers calculated things like

  • How thick does the concrete on this bridge deck need to be to ensure it won’t break?
  • What’s the maximum wind speed this house can endure?
  • What should the shape of this wind turbine blade be to maximize efficiency and minimize material?

Today, computers can answer questions like these. So why do we still have engineers? What do they do?

Engineers solve problems. That involves creativity, innovation, and passion. These have always been a part of engineering, but as computers take over more of the heavy mathematical lifting formerly done by humans, they’ll become even more important.

Of course, understanding costs is a crucial and often difficult part of engineering. But if we frame an engineers’ role as being all about reducing costs, we’re likely to get small, incremental changes. If we ask engineers to think bigger, like about what customers want, we’ll get bigger, better solutions.