Editorial: Vote on the E&T people list

Who are the most influential engineers around today? Or the technologists that have changed the world? Who ranks as the most important of all time?

For our first issue of 2009 my team of editors came up with their suggestions in their areas of engineering and technology and beyond. We then sat down to agree on a list. A few rows and lots of cups of coffee later we settled on our list of 25 E&T people that starts on p18.

We don't claim it to be scientifically calculated, but we tried to stick to a few  criteria. They had to be alive. And they had to meet the description of 'engineer' or 'technologist'. You will spot what seem like glaring omissions - famous people running technology or engineering companies that are certainly influential but don't appear in our list. But ask yourself whether those people really are engineers or technologists to the core, or whether they are business people with backgrounds in sales or finance.

So what can we learn from this list? Most top engineers aren't household names. Indeed, I wouldn't be surprised if even our clued-up readers are introduced to some new names. The list shows that the worlds of engineering and technology are becoming more diverse, and you can't pigeonhole people. There's a synthetic biologist on our list, for example. And James Dyson describes himself as "an artist who is trying to call himself an engineer."

Our list is global, so it includes people of various ethnic backgrounds - but there is only one woman. The Royal Academy of Engineering, launching a Diversity in Engineering campaign last week, reminded us that women make up 45 per cent of the UK labour market, but less than 6 per cent of engineers.

"Women and those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds make up a large pool of potential talent that is still significantly untapped by the engineering profession," it rightly pointed out. But I am not sure about its call to "leave behind the conventional image of a bearded Isambard Kingdom Brunel and his illustrious Victorian counterparts". I think that today's technology and the exciting things that engineers could make possible in the future are better at attracting kids and teenagers into the profession than long dead engineers. But not when those dead engineers are championed by today's celebrities, as Jeremy Clarkson did for Brunel in the 'Great Britons' TV series.

Only three on our list have beards (or did when they were photographed). But what about Brunel? Next time you see it, take a look at the iconic picture of him with the huge chains in the background. Some meaty sideburns, for certain, but no beard.

We list ten suggestions for the greatest engineers of all time on p22. Note that we haven't ranked any of our lists though. We thought we'd let you do that. We also don't claim our list of 25 is definitive. So we want to know what you think. We're opening the list up for voting at www.theiet.org/engtechmag [new window], where you can also suggest your own candidate for the most influential. You will need to register if you're not already but it's easy, and you can also sign up for one or more of our nine fortnightly newsletters.

I am sure our E&T people list is contentious. There may well be a bias in there towards Britain, and perhaps towards those with a high media profile. But should there be more women in there? Or even beards? It's over to you. And we'll publish what you decide.

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