How Computer Engineering Helps You Think Creatively
By Larry Alton
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At first glance, computer engineering and related fields may not seem like they have much to do with creativity. In our culture, we tend to draw a heavy line between fields related to math and/or logic and fields related to creativity—think of it as an external split between left-brained and right-brained subjects. Because computer science depends heavily on careful calculations and strict adherence to logical rules, it doesn’t seem to demand much in the way of creative thinking, or at least not to an outsider.
But in reality, learning the basics of computer science can help you think more critically and with more novel inspiration, ultimately helping you in other areas of your life.
Let’s start by explaining why the creative problem-solving skills you’ll learn in computer science can help you in everyday life:
Novel solutions and new products. Being familiar with creating and polishing hardware and/or software can help you come up with ingenious solutions for your everyday life. You’re used to thinking about problems as solvable challenges, so you naturally come up with ways to address them. This applies to areas beyond computer science as well; for example, one former computer engineer used his creativity to engineer a pillow that reduces pressure on your face while sleeping.
Lateral thinking and breaking patterns. Writing code and creating applications from scratch also incentivizes you to think laterally and break the patterns you’d otherwise fall into. Traditional lines of thinking just won’t work for some problems, so you’ll be forced to think in new, creative ways. That allows you to experiment with new approaches and keep trying until you find something that works.
Seeing problems from other perspectives. As a computer engineer, you’ll be forced to see problems from other perspectives, whether you want to or not. That might mean reviewing code that someone else wrote, getting feedback from a client who has no familiarity with engineering, or imagining how an application might look to a user who’s never seen it before. In any case, you’ll quickly learn how to broaden your perspective, which means you’ll see problems in an entirely new light.
How Computer Engineering Improves Your Abilities
So how exactly does computer engineering improve your creative abilities in this way?
Generating new ideas. You have to be creative if you’re going to generate new ideas. In some roles, you’ll be responsible for coming up with the ideas yourself—either designing your own apps for circulation, or making direct recommendations to your clients. In other scenarios, you’ll be responsible for coming up with novel ways to include a feature that might otherwise be impossible. In any case, you’ll be forced to come up with ideas constantly, which gets easier the more you practice it.
Reviewing code. You’ll also be responsible for reviewing code—including code that you wrote and code that other people wrote. Reviewing your own code forces you to see it from an outsider’s perspective, and reviewing the code of others gives you insight into how they think. That diverse experience lends itself to imagining scenarios from different perspectives.
Fixing bugs. Finding and fixing bugs is an important part of the job, and it’s one of the most creatively enlightening. To resolve the problem, you first have to understand why it’s happening. If you’ve written the code yourself, it’s easy to think the program will run flawlessly, so you’ll have to challenge yourself to start looking for the root cause of the problem. Sometimes, tinkering with the code will only result in more problems, which forces you to go back to the drawing board with a new angle of approach. It’s an ideal problem-solving exercise, and one you’ll have to undergo many times.
Aesthetics and approachability. Finally, you’ll need to think about the aesthetics and approachability of what you’re creating. Your code might be perfectly polished on the backend, but if users have a hard time understanding the sequence of actions to follow to get a product to do what they want, you may need to rebuild it.
If you’re not already experienced in a field related to computer science, you might feel intimidated at the idea of getting involved in the subject. After all, people spend years, if not decades studying computer science to become professionals.
The good news is, you don’t need decades of experience to see the creative problem-solving benefits of the craft. Learning the basics of a programming language, or even familiarizing yourself with the type of logic necessary to code, can be beneficial to you in your daily life. Take a few hours and flesh out your skills; you’ll be glad you did.