Myth #4: You need calculus.

15 July

Myth #4: You need calculus.

I did take a lot of calculus to become a Mechanical Engineer.

However there are many different types of engineers.  Computer, Bio-medical, Chemical, Industrial, Civil, etc.  Check out this link for more.  Many of them do not require calculus, or much higher level math.

In my job(s) as an engineer I used physics, geometry, trigonometry, and algebra on a regular basis.  Not much calculus.  Very few of my colleagues used much calculus either.

These subjects are taught in junior high and high school.  This fact bares repeating in, large font.

I used high school level math the most.

College calculus was much more interesting than the little I learned in high school.  Why?

It was tied to real world problems rather than being taught as a pure abstraction.  It was math with a purpose, and it was something I could relate to.

Frankly, I think all math should be taught this way.  Calculus was invented to solve real world geometric problems.  So lame it isn’t still taught this way.

Yes I had to understand calculus to get the job, but once I graduated the computer did most of the work for me.

It was vital that I understood the basic concept(s) so I could tell when the computer was giving me a bogus answer.

There is a common saying among engineers about computer analysis:  Garbage in, garbage out.


Computers have no concept of the real world, they don’t have eyes or hands (yet).  It was my job as the human operating them to make sure the answer they were giving was physically possible. 

It was all too easy to calculate an impossible answer, and very difficult to get a possible one.

An engineer regularly performs simple calculations to double check the computer.  She also listens to her gut when the answer doesn’t make sense.

And she doesn’t do this process alone.  It is common practice to have a peer look over her work to double check calculations. Everyone does this.

Yup, the solo-genius narrative of the engineer stereotype also false.    I’ll debunk that one in two weeks with Myth #5:  Engineers work alone.


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