The Engi-not-so-neer (or Why I hate IT “Engineers”).

Take anyone from your IT department and have a look at their job title. About 90% of the time there will be at least one person who has the title word engineer thrown in there, usually at the end (Network Engineer or Systems Engineer). Now to someone like myself who is an actual engineer this is a bit of a poke in the face, but the IT industry seems to get off scott free when it comes to abusing registered titles something which gets my and many other engineer’s guards up. We put a lot of work into becoming the people we are and having our title watered down by those who don’t care to look up and recognise its importance is a sore spot for us all.

I first came across this when I started studying engineering. I gleefully called myself an engineer in front of my father (a radio and telecommunications engineer himself) and was instantly met with scorn. He then took me through the history of what the engineer title was, and why calling myself one prematurely was unprofessional. I took this under my hat and didn’t mention again until I graduated. It was a very proud day for me since I knew the weight that my new title would carry when I began my first tenuous steps into the professional world. Needless to say I got a bit of a rude shock.

It’s hard for me to pin down where this whole debacle started, since the IT industry is pretty lax when it comes to defining roles with a standard nomenclature. I can identify with the notion that when you’re recruiting for a position you would want someone with engineer like qualities (which are pretty much standard for most positions within the IT industry) however giving the engineer title to a position is a slap in the face to those of us who have pursued a career in the field of engineering. I guess I should be pointing the finger at recruitment agencies and HR departments, since they’re the ones who are responsible for actually assigning names to roles (and would explain the lack of understanding of what an engineer is).

It may seem like a minor point to get upset about but just imagine the same thing being pulled with the Doctor or Architect titles (shamefully the IT industry has diluted the meaning of Architect as well). The title is supposed to carry with it a sense about the person who carries it, and having people use it so broadly only detracts from its purpose. If anything it shows that we’re capable of putting up with University for 4 years.

I guess it’s the bitter engineer coming out of me again but I do feel a great deal of respect for those of us who have gone through the hoops in order to call ourselves engineers. We form a select group of people who are expertly skilled and I dont like to see the engineer title diluted by those who don’t cut the mustard.

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  1. Who on earth cut’s mustard ? Unless it was left out in this bitter canberra morning and froze, most mustard can be used without any cutting involved (in fact your definitely doing it wrong if you’re cutting it. But it would count as food engineering I guess…)

  2. http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/cut-the-mustard.html

    “Why cutting mustard was chosen as an example of high quality is unclear. As always in such circumstances, there are no shortage of guesses. Some of these allude to the literal difficulty of cutting mustard in its various forms; for example:

    – Mustard seed, which is hard to cut with a knife on account of its being small and shiny.
    – Mustard plants, which are tough and stringy and grow densely.
    – Culinary mustard, which is cut (diluted) and made more palatable by the addition of vinegar.

    There is no evidence to support these derivations and they give the impression of having been retro-fitted in an attempt at plausibility.

    Another supposed explanation is that the phrase is simply a mistaken version of the military expression ‘cut the muster’. This appears believable at first sight. A little research shows it not to be so. Muster is the calling together of soldiers, sailors, prisoners, to parade for inspection or exercise. To cut muster would be a breach of discipline; hardly a phrase that would have been adopted with the meaning of success or excellence. This line of thought appears to have been influenced by confusion with the term ‘pass muster’, which would have the correct meaning, but which could hardly be argued to be the origin of ‘cut the mustard’. The OED, which is the most complete record of the English language, along with all of the other reference works I’ve checked, don’t record ‘cut the muster’ at all. The fact that documented examples of ‘cut the mustard’ are known from many years before any for ‘cut the muster’ would appear to rule out the latter as the origin.

    There has been an association between the heat and piquancy of mustard and the zest and energy of people’s behaviour. This dates back to at least 1672, when the term ‘as keen as mustard’ is first recorded. ‘Up to mustard’ or just ‘mustard’ means up to standard in the same way as ‘up to snuff’. ‘Cutting’ has also long been used to mean ‘exhibiting’, as in the phrase ‘cutting a fine figure’. Unless some actual evidence is found for the other proposed explanations, the derivation of ‘cutting the mustard’ as an alternative way of saying ‘exhibiting one’s high standards’ is by far the most likely.

    Whatever the coinage, the phrase itself emerged in the USA towards the end of the 19th century. The earliest example in print that I’ve found is from The Iowa State Reporter, August 1897, in a piece about the rivalry between two Iowa towns:

    Dubuque had the crowds, but Waterloo “Cut the Mustard”

    The use of quotation marks and the lack of any explanation of the term in that citation imply that ‘cut the mustard’ was already known to Iowa readers and earlier printed examples may yet turn up.”

    Learn something new every day 🙂

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