Economic Woman

Econometrics, gender, equity and more.

The humble inventor

with one comment

As you might have gathered already, I think bloggers restrict ourselves unnecessarily by only linking to recent material. Most good sites and articles aren’t obsolete within a couple weeks.

Jason Kottke pointed me towards this NYT Magazine article from 2003, about Amy Smith, an inventor who teaches at MIT and develops cheap, low-tech solutions for the developing world.

Success in the kind of design that Smith pursues requires humility, because your masterpiece may end up looking like a bunch of rocks or a pile of sand. […] Women have the advantage here, unlike other branches of engineering. ”I know how to be self-deprecating,” Smith says. ”The traditional male engineer is not taught that way.”

I’m not sure this is true – I don’t think men lack humility as a rule, or at least I don’t see how a woman educated along with them would develop fundamentally different values. I’m also not sure about the implication that women are disadvantaged in other branches of engineering. They’re not present in large numbers, but that’s not necessarily because of a lack of ability. In any case, I enjoyed the article. It’s nice reading about women in unconventional fields, and about the roundabout ways that people find the jobs they love.

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Written by Allison

19 May 2008 at 12:12 pm

One Response

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  1. Amy Smith has done some excellent work…you might also be interested in some other technology-for-the-poor projects which I posted about here.

    I don’t think the issue is humility, precisely–it is more that engineers (and other people) tend to want to work on what is trendy and fashionable. There’s an old saying “if the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” and people graduate from college with hammers and go around looking for things to pound on. Often, they would do better to focus more on understanding the customer problem and selecting the appropriate toolkit.

    david foster

    19 May 2008 at 12:36 pm


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