Sometime in 1992 I was offered the title of “Applications Engineer” at Maplesoft. I was the company’s very first employee to hold this title and it was my first real job. I was thrilled! Imagine, if you will, an impoverished student who had been living on the most pitiful of incomes for almost ten years, all of a sudden being offered a great salary and the chance to travel and meet interesting people around the world! And for the most part, all I had to do was show people how great this thing called Maple was.
Recently, Maplesoft established a significantly enlarged Applications Engineering group reflecting our recent growth in engineering modeling in various industries, and I’ve been given the privilege to lead this very talented group of engineers with a wealth of experience. In many ways, Applications Engineering at Maplesoft today is a grown-up version of the one that I began my career with, so many years ago. Today, with a rich product line designed specifically for engineering modeling, the work of the applications engineer is typically “real engineering”. We do real-world model development. We work with some of the most impressive engineering companies (our customers) and work with them to figure out the best way to deploy our unique technology to seemingly intractable problems.
The profession of engineering has always had a bit of a “wild frontier” reputation … at least, we in the profession like to think so. Hollywood, through movies like Apollo 13 and Star Trek romanticizes the unique qualities of people who have an affinity towards science and technology and are able to deploy these qualities in creative ways for the benefit of society. These days, I am reminded of this romantic view of the engineering world every working day. MapleSim and recent developments in the overall product line has not only triggered market reaction that has been great for business, but also great for my spirits as well.
Da Vinci’s Viturian Man: Leonardo Da Vinci is generally celebrated as the world’s first romantic engineer
I distinctly recall a conversation I had with a highly respected professor of Mechanical Engineering when I accepted my first job as an application engineer, who commented that Maple was what engineers of his generation thought computers were destined to do (or really should do). That is, the really difficult part of engineering was the management of the scientific complexity and the consequent models that are needed as we attempt to make sense of impossible situations. He believed that computers should help an engineer think, as opposed to simply speed up his arithmetic. His comments had a great impact on me then, and they ring even truer today.
I firmly believe that our new product line is about as close as the world has gotten to the vision that the professor articulated (and that I bought into so many years ago). There is something fundamentally amazing about technology that effectively replicates uniquely human process in a useful way. That’s why we continue to muse about a future of robots and sentient computers, and stabilized technologies like GPS machines, and anti-lock brakes become our favorite gadgets. Both MapleSim and Maple have a very strong dimension of such qualities. All engineers, even if they are not modeling specialists today, have memories of struggling with models. And when you show them a system that collapses what usually takes months, to days, and perhaps even hours – as MapleSim and Maple do when it comes to model development -- engineers simply “get it”. This makes the job of a modern Maplesoft Application Engineer that much easier and rewarding.
Some Links for the Romantic Engineer
The Existential Pleasures of Engineering, by philosopher-engineer Samuel Florman who effectively refutes the common notion that engineers are cold, heartless, automatons ;-)
The Star Trek NG episode “Relics” where original Chief Engineer Scotty, along with Enterprise-D Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge celebrate the joys of engineering while trying to save the universe yet again.
List of Gakken hobby kits: a series of spectacular hobby kits for engineers and engineers-at-heart.