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Envelope #9: "When you’re at a party, how to describe structural engineering without making it boring"

Happy Thursday! This is Back of the Envelope, where we chit-chat about interesting SE stuff.

(Estimated read time = 1 minute and 43 seconds)

Today’s email is a short one. It’s about a reddit thread that I came across recently.

The topic is “When you’re at a cocktail party, how to describe structural engineering without making it boring?” (link)

I read through all the answers (so you don’t have to)…

Some are self-deprecating, some are hilarious, some are… inappropriate, and some are legit.

Here are my favorite 5:

1/ Human body

I use the human body as an analogy: architect provides the skin, structural provides the muscles and bones, MEP is basically the rest.

- SufficientContract79

This is actually pretty similar to what I normally say.

2/ Legos

I use the LEGO analogy.

I don’t put the pieces together, but I figure out which pieces to use and how to put them together and draw the pictures that show you how to do it.

- Enginerdad

Haven’t heard this one before -- I like it.

Everyone loves LEGOS so that’s a win. (And username checks out)

3/ We do not and cannot

Structural Engineering is the art of molding materials we do not wholly understand into shapes we cannot precisely analyze, so as to withstand forces we cannot really assess, in such a way that the community at large has no reason to suspect the extent of our ignorance.

- Robert_Sacamano_IV

Hmm kind of true if you think about it.

4/ Depressing

 My day to day is a dance between not getting sued by the owner, not saying no to the architect, not getting yelled at by the contractor, hoping to not lose my job, trying to not get anyone killed in real life, all while not getting paid enough

- juandough2323

This person is definitely fun at parties. Sadly, some truth to what he/she said though.

5/ Show-and-tell

I make sure buildings stay standing after earthquakes so that people can get out safely. Hey do you want to see pictures of this 35,000 square foot mega mansion I engineered? It looks like a capitol building and my entire house could fit inside the lobby. The detached garage alone is 5,000 square feet.

(Of course people want to see that and then they ask questions about what I needed to do on it. Teaching is always better with visuals.)

- smackaroonial90

Note to self – find and keep a cool picture of my project(s) on my phone so it’s ready when I need it.

Bonus: The correct answer

Boring is what piling engineers do.

- mhkiwi


And you? What do you answer when people ask about what you do? Reply to let me know!


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