Erin Cech at Rice University agrees that empathy is essential and names our current culture in engineering a ‘culture of disengagement,’ one in which engineers focus almost exclusively on technical details with little or no attention to empathy and moral issues. Cech’s recently published results show that engineering students’ level of empathy decreased over the four years of their engineering education. Yikes. Not only are we attracting students with lower empathy to begin with but they become less empathizing over the years of their engineering education.
Why is empathy essential in engineering? Engineers design and build products, yes, but these products are for people! To design effective products and processes engineers must understand the people who will use them.
For all of the focus on technology, on building things faster, more efficiently, it’s all for naught if it doesn’t serve the user’s needs. If we’re not solving someone’s problem, then what’s the point?