Monday, April 21, 2014

Engineering and Life in the Infosphere

Civil engineering has become an information-intensive profession as our clients in the public sector have become increasingly information-oriented.  Cities still have a need for tangible assets (roads, pipes, libraries, water plants, etc.), but value in advanced societies is highly dependent on information-based, intangible assets.  Cities have emerged as key nodes in the information society.  Civil engineering needs to better understand this marriage of the physical with the inform parts of society.  This sort of physical/inform holistic enlarging of our professional responsibilities will allow us to deal more effectively with our many challenges.  As the world moves toward greater and greater informatization - all of engineering needs to adapt.

The civil engineering profession needs to periodically reexamine where it stands in the context of the Zettabyte Era.  Review the lifecycle of information to see where we can create additional value.

Stages in the Information Life Cycle
Discovering, designing, authoring, etc.
Networking, distributing, accessing, retrieving, transmitting, etc.
Processing and Management
Collecting, validating, modifying, organizing, indexing, classifying, filtering, updating, sorting, storing, etc.
Monitoring, modelling, analyzing, explaining, planning, forecasting, decision-making, instructing, educating, learning, etc.

Engineering and the Vulnerability of U.S. Coastal Infrastructure

The risks of climate change and extreme weather events should be clear to people and communities along our national coastlines.  I am not sure we have come to gripes with the likely consequences.  Thirty nine percent of the population lives in coastal shoreline countries.  This population grew by 39% between 1970 and 2010, and is projected to grow by 8.3% by 2020.  The population density of coastal countries is 446 people per square mile which is over four times that of inland counties.

Consider the following statistics:
  • $6.6 trillion contribution to GDP of the coastal shoreline counties, just under half of U.S. GDP in 2011.
  • Total number of jobs is 51 million in the coastal communities in 2011.
  • $2.8 trillion in wages paid out to employers working at establishments in 2011.
  • Ranks #3 in global GDP (behind the United States and China) if coastal communities were considered a separate country.
  • The expected increase in the coastal communities density - 37 persons per square mile - a projected 8.3% increase.
Check out the excellent Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change: Anticipating Surprises by the National Research Council.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Do Engineering Students Have a Pre-Existing Desire to Make Money?

Great question.  Excellent blog post on Economics Majors and Earnings: Further Exploration.  I would like to see the same type of analysis completed for engineering students.  Points #4 and #5 are important to ponder.  Engineering is also a "signaling" career choice - from the blog:

"Majoring in economics probably signals desirable traits to employers, but the degree to which this is true, and the impact on expected earnings is unclear. (On the latter point, note that college major plausibly plays much less of a signaling role decisions about raises and promotions than it does in hiring decisions.)

It’s worth noting that majoring in economics doesn’t have to be an accurate signal of a desirable trait in order for it to have signaling benefits: all that’s necessary is that employers believe that it’s a signal of the trait.

The fact that economics majors make more is a signal that they’re better employees
Unless one attributes the wage gap entirely to signaling (which would correspond to a belief that employers are generally mistaken in paying economics majors more), one can know that economics majors tend to be better workers, even if one doesn’t know why. Thus, employers will take the fact that economics majors make more money as a signal of quality. So the wage gap itself gives rise to signaling benefits.

Employer surveys
According to a survey of the The Chronicle of Higher Education:
  • Economics is one of the most desired majors in business (pg. 67)
  • 19% of employers state that they look for specific majors, 44% value some over others, 34% say that they balance it with other factors, and 3% say that it’s not important at all. (pg. 64).
The preference for certain majors will be presumably be lower if one restricts to non-technical jobs. It should be noted that employers listed internships and employment during college as more significant than college major, with volunteer experience and extracurricular activities are not far behind. (pg. 24)

2013 Gallup poll of business leaders asked about the weights that they assign to different factors when making hiring decisions. What they indicated is summarized below. (The columns starting with the second are the percent who ranked the factor as “very important”, “somewhat important” “not very important” and “not at all important”)"