This week’s selection is “The Art of Doing Science and Engineering” by Richard W. Hamming and Bret Victor.
The name “Hamming” might be familiar to you. If not, it should be, as virtually everything you do in today’s digital world depends on Richard Hamming’s inventions. Perhaps his most notable invention was “Hamming Codes”. They are a means of encoding information in binary form that are self-correcting. In other words, if some data are transmitted, the message can arrive successfully even if some bits were lost along the way. The Internet exists because of this foundational technology.
A mathematician, Hamming worked on the Manhattan Project and early digital computers. According to Wikipedia, he was “involved in nearly all of” Bell Labs’ most prominent achievements. Eventually teaching in California, he passed in 1998.
This is a fellow who saw science and engineering at the highest levels, and from his experience he gained a deep appreciation for the style one must use to succeed in engineering. In his later years he taught this philosophy to students, but before he passed this material was collated into this book.
The book is organized as a collection of cases studies of different engineering projects, and while the nature of each project is presented, the idea is for the reader to focus on the attitudes of the participants. Hamming attempts to convey the disciplines he has found necessary over his vast engineering experience through these stories.
In his words, he says:
“The purpose of this course is to prepare you for your technical future. There is really no technical content in the course, though, I will, of course, refer to a great deal of it, and hopefully it will generally be a good review of the fundamentals you have learned. Do not think the technical content is the course — it is only illustrative material. Style of thinking is at the center of the course. I am convinced with educating and not training you.”
I should point out that Hamming feels that “Education” is the “what and why”, and “Training” is the “how to”. I agree.
If you’re interested in pursuing engineering projects in your future, this book could be an essential step on forming your style.
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