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ADF EngPractice

  Antonio Dias de Figueiredo is an emeritus professor of Information Systems Engineering at the University of Coimbra, Portugal, and an independent consultant and researcher on the Philosophy and Sociology of Technology and on Technology in Education. He was Vice-President for Western Europe of the Intergovernmental Informatics Program of UNESCO and integrated the NATO Special Program Panel on Advanced Educational Technology. He has participated in various European projects, both as a partner and as a science advisor. He was the president of the Accreditation Committee for Informatics Engineering of the Portuguese Engineers Association and currently chairs the Accreditation Committee for Informatics Engineering of the Agency for the Assessment and Accreditation of Portuguese Higher Education. He has been awarded a Honoris Causa by the Portuguese Open University and the Sigillum Magnum by the University of Bologna, Italy. He is a frequent speaker at national and international events. He is the author of over two hundred papers published in research journals and conference proceedings, he has contributed with chapters to several books, and he is a member of the editorial boards of various research journals. He graduated in Electrical Engineering from the University of Porto, Portugal, in 1969, and obtained his PhD in Computer Science from the University of Manchester, U.K., in 1976.


What first got you interested in engineering practice?

  As the founder and president of the Department of Informatics Engineering of the University of Coimbra, back in 1994, I was surprised to notice, in the middle of a prospective study on future institutional strategies, that a deeper understanding of the nature of the engineering profession influenced very positively the performance of the graduates throughout their courses and their professional lives. This led me to start a lifelong inquiry into the nature of engineering knowledge and practice. Typical research questions of my initial program included: What’s engineering practice? What's engineering knowledge? How does engineering relate to science? How can we obtain reliable engineering knowledge? How can we assess its value? What are the relationships between practice and knowledge?

  The progress in this direction led me deeply into the philosophy and sociology of engineering knowledge and practice and into the history of engineering, to which I devote today a significant part of my time.


Why did you begin researching the topic of your chapter?

  The methodological approaches I usually adopt in my research on engineering knowledge and practice are grounded on philosophical and sociological models, plus some mathematical models, at times, when I feel confronted with issues of complex social behavior. I often use History as a component of my research work, but only in referential terms. In this chapter, however, I had decided to try to obtain from History the evidences I needed to support my interpretation of the nature of engineering practice throughout the ages and into the future. The exercise started as a sort of playful intellectual exploration, but as it gained a momentum of its own it suddenly became a fascinating and obsessive journey that took me a lot of time to complete.


What challenges did you encounter when working on this chapter?

  I had never tried to carry out a genuine piece of historical research, so I felt overwhelmed by the amount of mysterious hints that pointed to mysterious hints and more mysterious hints.

  I found myself spending weeks trying to explore minute details of engineering practice through the ages, feeling that they could have determined the evolution of engineering practice as we see it today. The time and persistence required for this kind of exercise were well beyond what I could ever have imagined. In this context, my core challenge was that of interweaving into three dozens of pages more than two millennia of engineering practice plus a coherent flow of argument that could make sense out of them and bloom into an inspiring and (hopefully) useful conclusion.


What aspect gives you the most satisfaction now?

  I would like to believe that I have covered new ground and contributed to an inspiring and historically supported vision of what engineering practice is all about.


What advice would you give to someone interested in engineering practice research?

   Try to develop a passion for understanding how people engage in their activities, how they work together, how they learn individually and collectively from what they are doing, how they define their individual and collective purposes and patterns of achievement. Try to develop a sense of empathy with those people. As you apply that sense to the study of teams and individuals practising engineering, you’ll notice that you’ll need to read a lot. Take time to identify the authors who inspire you most and be prepared to change your mind as you progress. You’ll also need to decide which research methods you will be using. Don’t rush in your choice and try to keep off the beaten tracks. Get out of your comfort zone. You cannot discover anything in territories that you already know. Expose yourself to chance and don’t be afraid of failing. Failure is often the unique door to success. Be prepared to confront difficult tasks. Easy tasks don’t contain challenges, and no challenges imply no innovation. Learn to collaborate with other people and make sure that they get as much value from that collaboration as you do: that’s the secret of sustainable collaboration. Finally, surprising as it may sound, write. Write a lot! Writing is not just a way of putting your thoughts on paper. Writing is also a way of experimenting, a way of building your very thoughts until they are capable of holding on together.


+3 # Pedro Neto 2013-12-08 15:09
Dear Prof. António Dias Figueiredo,
Since this book has a web page it is possible to make use of multimedia resources. So, as a suggestion, the book could be presented by means of a short video/animation or PPT presentation, showing the different angles of this document. The chapter “On the historical nature of engineering practice”, apart from being the first one, is probably the most suitable for introducing the book for a general audience. I think it could help the reader to have a more clear vision of what is treated, helping him to enter in a deeper state by reading the book.
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+4 # Antonio Figueiredo 2013-12-10 13:03
Dear Pedro Neto,
Many thanks for your suggestion. It's a great idea, which has been successfully explored in other contexts. The Journal of Engineering Education, for instance, has been using it at least since its century issue. Given time, a scarce resource, I would be pleased to present my chapter in a short video/animation or slide presentation, but the presentation of the book as a whole would need to be handled by the editors, the only ones in a position to convey the spirit of the book.
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