What is a technologist?

This is another excerpt from a document I created when I interviewed for the position of Dean of the College of Technology. That full document can be found on this site under the tab labeled Documents and Presentations. The full document is titled “Future College of Technology.”  In this excerpt I try to explain what it means to be a technologist.

Technology is the accumulated body of knowledge that studies and explains existing and emerging technologies and provides the foundation for technological innovations, technology policy, technology leadership and management, and technology literacy.

Technology is not a universal term; it does not mean exactly the same thing in all contexts, thus it is context dependent. The word “Technology” in its current discourse has both a narrow and a broad meaning that roughly corresponds to who is using the term. Society in general has a very broad and unsophisticated definition and understanding of technology with the definition tied closely with the technical artifacts (computers, HDTV’s, iPads) that surround their daily lives. Engineering and Technology professionals have a more restrictive and narrow definition of technology that is focused less on artifacts and more on the design, creation and use of technology for the human-made world (human making).

The engineered human-made world (to distinguish from the human managed world; human doing) is designed, created, operated, and maintained through a continuum of highly skilled and highly educated professionals. Engineers work with nature and its laws as revealed by science. Technologists work with tools, processes, systems, and artifacts. The engineer makes with the mind, the technologist works with the mind and with the hand.

The essence of engineering is the design process; planning in the mind a device, process, or system that will solve a problem or meet a human need. The engineer usually does not make or construct but more commonly directs, plans, or designs.

The essence of a technologist is the mastery of a whole field with a broad and deep understanding of the technology; the processes, systems, tools, and techniques necessary to construct, modify, operate, and maintain the engineering design.

There is a continuum in technology that moves from vocationally trained skilled craftsmen at one end, to technicians narrowly focused on one aspect of technology, to technologists who have mastered a whole field of technology, to the engineer who have mastered whole technological systems. There is a clear distinction between a technician and a technologist. The technologist is a highly skilled professional that is positioned in the “sweet spot” between the engineer and the technician and skilled craftsmen. Technologists serve an important and unique role as the “integrators” in business and industry. Technologists have a deep understanding of the human-made world and use a problem solving methodology that can lead to innovation through the development of new and improved artifacts, systems, and processes.

You can also view technology as a spectrum, with ideas at one end and techniques and artifacts at the other, with design in the middle. Technological ideas must be translated into designs and tools to produce things.

There are important distinctions to be made between technologists and technicians. Technique and its adjective technical connote singular making. Technology connotes multiplicity of production. Technology, as opposed to technique, involves greater use of rules, consciously articulated procedures, and guidelines. Technique is more involved with training the human body and mind. Technology is more tightly associated with the conscious articulation of rules and principles. At the core, technology is the desire to transform the heuristics of technique into algorithms of practice.

About The Author

Gary Bertoline's picture
Gary R. Bertoline is Dean of the Purdue Polytechnic Institute, a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Computer Graphics Technology, and a Professor of Computer & Information Technology. Prior to becoming dean, he served as Associate Dean for Graduate Studies in the College of Technology. From 1995 through 2002, Gary served as Department Head of Computer Graphics Technology at Purdue University.