Despite the fact that engineering is an exciting and challenging major, the school does not really give us a big picture of the field itself. A complaint I have about college education, especially in STEM fields, is that they take a bottom-up approach.
In school, we learn about transistors in our computers, or the various types of rocket fuel that can be used, which is obviously important, but even if you know that information, you will not know what new technologies are emerging or what problems and solutions are being developed in certain fields by scientists, engineers, and more.
School teaches how things work, but it doesn’t explain why they work, or provide a high-level overview, thus it is on us to do loads of reading and seek out answers for ourselves if we want to get the big picture.
The following are some books I believe every aspiring engineer should read. They helped me to learn more about engineering and appreciate it more.
- Physics of the Future, by Michio Kaku
To get excited about the engineering field and how it plays a crucial role in our current developing world, I recommend reading Physics of the Future by Michio Kaku. The book covers a wide range of topics from computers, artificial intelligence, and nanotechnology, to medicine, fusion power, and space travel.
There are several cases in the book that explain specific types of research that are important to our future, giving some insight into the actual projects out there, such as nanoparticles that look for cancer cells being developed at the Argonne National Laboratory, where prototypes have already been made, or internet glasses and contact lenses being developed by multiple companies to make augmented reality more widely available.
- Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions by Brian Christian, Thomas L. Griffiths
Anyone interested in computer science, maths, algorithms, and statistics should check out this book, as it explains how all these fields come together to solve problems in our everyday lives. This book begins with an explanation of a mathematical puzzle known as The Secretary Problem.
In the puzzle, the book tells you to imagine you have to interview 100 people for a secretary job, and you want to hire the best candidate. Of the hundred people provided, there is only one qualified candidate, and you have no idea who it is. In every interview, you must inform the candidate whether they are hired (search is over) or not hired (search continues). What would be the optimal way to pick the best candidate?
If you hire the first person you like, that would be a poor decision, as it implies the remaining 99 people are not good candidates. If you wait for the 90th interview to pick someone, there is likely a chance that you passed the best person.
The best way to solve this problem, according to the book, is to wait until the 37th person and take the next best person who is better than the 37 before. Using this algorithm, you will pick the best candidate 37 percent of the time. Therefore, even if you interviewed a million people, it would still work, which is great, since if you did it on your own, you are more likely to miss choosing the best candidate.
This algorithm is known as the Optimal Stopping, where you cannot go back after making a decision. This can be applied to parking spots, choosing an apartment, or deciding to marry someone. This is just one topic from the book where it breaks down the concept of computer science first, and then shows how they apply in a real world setting.
- A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science by Barbara Oakley
This book is about how to excel at math and science, but the concepts introduced in the book can be applied to any subject, so it is really about how to learn in general.
According to the author, there are two different modes of learning, focused and diffused, and you must combine both of them to truly master a subject. Also discussed in the book are the illusions that come with learning and how to overcome procrastination. I recommend it to students who want to learn how science works.
- How Not to Be Wrong, the Power of Mathematical Thinking by Jordan Ellenberg
One book out there for math lovers is “How not to be wrong, the power of mathematical thinking,” which is hands down one of my favorite books.
The subjects covered include mathematics, computer science, gambling, statistics, the military, and politics, but everything is explained from a mathematical standpoint. For example, the book says that out of the fifty states, South Dakota has the highest rate of brain tumors, but provides assumptions about why that can be wrong. The reason is actually the law of large numbers and how the lower population of the state allows for more fluctuations in percentages, whether it comes to brain cancer or those who love certain types of movies.
Another cool example from the book is that if you ask people the outcome of five flips of the coin, they might guess heads, tail, tail, heads, and tail. However, when asked about the chances of getting 5 consecutive tails or 5 consecutive heads, people think that they are not random.
- Deep Work by Cal Newport
If you want to be more productive, Deep Work by Cal Newport is what you need. Cal Newport has a PhD in computer science and discusses the type of work needed to thrive in our society, and how to operate efficiently when we are surrounded by constant distractions.
He discusses how he completes more tasks than most, in the same amount of time or less. Most people are doing the wrong type of work, which requires hours of time to complete the same task using deep work to complete the task. If you want to get more motivation and tangible advice to get more things done, this book is for you.
Chin-Erdene is an international student at Seattle Central College and a member of the Editorial Board of Seattle Collegian. He is currently pursuing a degree in computer science and linguistics and aspiring to become a linguistics engineer in the future. As he is from Mongolia, he only started to learn English in the latter part of his high school years, from which he developed a deep passion for linguistics and language structures. He wants to use the applications of computer science and mathematics to analyze written and spoken languages from computational perspectives. In his free time, he loves reading science fiction books, baking sourdough bread, and watching action/sci-fi movies. He is a big fan of Goerge R.R Martin and J.R.R Tolkein.