Media Portrayals of Engineers

       Media over the past decade has changed drastically not only technologically, but in content as well. Our generation lives in a much more mysterious time than our parents and grandparents. Technology advancements brought our generation comfort and caused us to rely more on what we hear and see rather then what we experience. One of the main aspects of media we experience today is TV ads, movies, and TV shows. Media has taken true identities manipulated them and forced people to reshape their views which affects people’s perception on everyday life. As an engineer I often see how we are portrayed negatively in movies and other forms of media. Despite their intelligence and work, engineers are portrayed as reclusive and isolated causing people to change their perspectives. If we take multiple media sources we can see that they depicted these characteristics about engineers.

Media portrays engineers as socially awkward and reclusive and we see this representation in TV shows such as Prison break. Prison break was created by Paul Scheuring in 2005 and it shows how Michael, the engineer, breaks into prison in order to break out his innocent older brother who was sentenced to death. In the show Michael and his group of inmates experience tragedies and difficult situations as they are constantly on a run. Michael was always the one to get everyone out of trouble and eventually gave his friends freedom. Throughout the show Michael was always the quiet one and often and his friends thought he was crazy because he rarely said anything or had a normal conversation with anyone. To Michael the group’s mentality seemed strange while for the group Michael’s doings were mysterious. In multiple scenes people disagree with what Michaels plan was because it seemed extremely risky, but he was always right and his plans worked. In this show engineers are portrayed socially awkward individuals.

One of the greatest TV shows that has the most practical representations of a reclusive and isolated engineer is Dilbert. Dilbert was created in 1989 by Scott Adams and this show revolves around the engineer Dilbert and his pet dog Dogbert at his work place in Silicon Valley. At his office, Dilbert can never agree with his coworkers. As in Prison Break, everyone in Dilbert’s company seems unable to make smart decisions and to them Dilbert seems crazy because his ideas are not like everyone else’s. The only individual that understands and agrees with Dilbert is his dog. Dilbert is isolated from everyone else and feels that no one understands him and no one wants to be around him because he is seen to be awkward and crazy based on the things he does. In each episode the company faces a problem and when everyone explains their solution Dilbert strictly disagrees and when Dilbert states his solution everyone else disagrees, thinking that his ways are absurd. This shows how engineers are isolated form the rest of the world because no one understands and respects them.

Figure !.

Figure 1.

Another representation this show displays is the way engineers dress. Dilbert in Figure 1 is shown to dress nerdy and sloppy. Dilbert is wearing slacks that are short and his tie seems to be deformed; always pointing upwards. Engineers are shown to not care about their external looks. What we see and hear has a significant effect on the way we see things and the choices we make. An article that studies the portrayals of engineers written by Dr. Zbigniew J. Pasek states that “Portrayal of certain professions in the popular media has a deep and lasting effect not only on general public’s understanding of these professions, but also has an impact on future career choices of adolescents” (2012). Dilbert portrays engineers as awkward individuals and shows that they do not cope with the rest of society because they are different. This affects the younger generation and their career choices hence there is a decline in engineering professions. The article continues by stating that modern societies are experiencing a strange paradox. On one hand, to thrive, they continuously increase their dependence on a wide range of technologies, but on the other hand, the scientific and engineering communities responsible for the invention and development of these technologies are in steady decline (Pasek, 2012). As times become more advance society requires more engineers to constantly improve technology but because of how media represents engineers we see a decline in engineering career paths in younger generations. Media portrays engineers as mysterious individuals thus causing people to change their perspectives and avoid a career in engineering.

Engineers have helped our world advance technologically and make our everyday life easier and more convenient. To become an engineer it takes a lot of mental skill and experience to fully understand the field. Real engineers require problem solving, leadership, prioritizing, team work, and communication skills and to be successful. In the real world engineers may have different personalities but all engineers must be able to communicate with their customers and create their design successfully. From personal experience I can say that it’s quite hard to become a skillful engineer. As hard as it is on its own, media makes engineering seem unworthy and complex. The younger generation is most effected by stereotypes. The different stereotypes change the image of a typical engineer and this causes young adults not to choose their career path related to engineering because media portrays them as isolated individuals. An article on “Engineers in Popular Media” states that stereotypes are the cause for much worry among the engineering community because they are strongly believed to be one of the main reasons for the lack students enrolling in college to obtain an engineering degree(Olin, Fabian, & Olin, 2012). The author continues and explains that the solution to these stereotypes is the sources which are movies and TV shows. Shows and movies must portray engineers how they are in real life from their perspective not from other sources and their views.

Figure 2.

Figure 2.

One of these more recent movies is Iron Man. This film shows a positive portrayal of engineers and I believe will motivate others to choose the engineering path as their career choice. Iron man is based on the Marvel Comic, which was created by Stan Lee, and released in 2008. In the movie the main character, Tony Stark, is an engineer who created the Iron man suit while being held hostage by a terrorist group. After coming home he recreates his suit and improves its abilities. His close friend abused this opportunity and took Tony’s design and created his own suit which he later used to try to kill Tony. Though Tony made a mistake and others used that to their advantage, he fixed his mistake and improved his design again making it better for him and his company. This film also shows Tony as, most would consider, a handsome and well dressed person that.  In figure 2, Tony is wearing a decent suit and is dressed very formal. When younger people see a man in a suit it instantly sparks an interest and makes them someone they look up too. Tony stark is a good example of a motivating modern engineer. In order to force interest into the younger generations engineers should be shown to be well dressed and someone who can always solve a problem.

In conclusion, media create stereotypes that damage the image of an engineer. This leads to negative portrayals of an engineer which causes young generations to change their career decision. Even though engineers have helped us by creating all the advanced technologies, society will still see them as awkward and isolated individuals as seen in the shows Dilbert and Prison Break. In order for this to change movies and TV shows should be represent engineers positively. Tony Stark is a great example of engineers and it will motivate others to see engineers as great and powerful people and hopefully cause others to choose their careers around the engineering filed. This will show the true representation of an engineer which would also help build the future.




Adams, Scott. Dilbert. Digital image. SFGATE. Benny Evangelista, 2013. Web. 2015.

Figure 1. Dilbert. Prod. Scott Adams. Perf. Daniel Stem. Columbia TriStar Television, 1998. TV Show.

Figure 2. Tony Stark. Digital image. Pixshark. N.p., n.d. Web. May 2015. <;.

Iron Man Armored Adventures 1. Dir. Jon Favreau. Perf. Robert Downey Jr. Marvel Entertainment, 2008. DVD.

Olin, D., Fabian, A., & Olin, F. W. (2012). Engineers in Popular Media : Hollywood as a Recruiting Tool for Engineering Colleges Engineers in Popular Media

Pasek, Z. J. (2012). Reel engineers: Portrayal of engineers and engineering profession in the feature films. 119th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, June 10, 2012 – June 13, 2012.

Prison Break. Prod. Paul Scheuring. Perf. Dominic Purcell, Wentworth Miller. 20th Television, 2005. DVD.



This entry was posted in Spring 2015 by paleksey. Bookmark the permalink.

About paleksey

My name is Aleksey and I am form Ukraine. Currently I am a sophomore majoring in electrical engineering. I am excited to be in this class and would love to learn more about cultures.

7 thoughts on “Media Portrayals of Engineers

  1. Aleksey!
    I noticed a lot of good changes and you seem to have taken a lot of my advice from my peer review which I’m glad it helped! It was great that you added details on how Michael was socially awkward because I have never seen the show. Yet again, I really enjoyed seeing your Dilbert example! Rock on with the color! You do a good job at connecting how the people from Prison break and Dilbert’s company think of these two character’s insanity. The fact that the doc is the only one able to understand Dilbert emphasizes the “crazy” part.
    Yes!!! Brilliant job at turning around and utilizing Tony Stark as a positive example! He truly is a handsome yet intelligent guy 😉 I know you perceived him as being portrayed as evil, but I hope you now see that he was more good than “evil”! (Before you send in the final paper, delete the “that” after the words “well dressed person”. It seems like you added an extra word by accident!) And his formal dress code is something to look up to. But the fact that he defeats the images from your previous examples is like showing the world that there is more to engineers that meets the eye. It’s good you use this modern example because the younger generations today need this type of sharp image to be positively influenced.
    You’re right on the idea that the negative portrayals of Engineers can damage the perspectives of young individuals. What they need, as you pointed, are good figures to aspire to as their source of motivation. I hope you continue to find your own inspiration and not give up on being an engineer. Best of luck on your future career and it was nice to be in class with you! Have a brilliant summer break!

  2. Hello Paleksy,

    Your post is really fun to read! I like the artifacts that you used. The TV show Prison Break and the movie Iron man are all my love. I always want to be a engineer and change the world. But that’s just a dream. I think that it is so cool what engineers can do. I think the are the pioneer of new technology. Without engineers we won’t have cell phone, computers and ipads. They changed they way the society works.
    Anyway, you did a great job!

  3. Hi!
    Awesome job! I always feel that media needs to give engineers and scientists in general more love. I’m absolutely tired of seeing the dummy portrayal of engineers in the media over and over again. Iron man is a great example of a engineer as a superhero. As far as I’m concerned, me and my friends all love Iron man! And I’m sure most of the viewers want one of his suits as well! That’s definitely a new trend of how engineers are portrayed and things will get better and better in the future when it comes to engineers.

  4. Hey Aleksey

    I think you made some great changes to your paper from when I read your draft. It seems to flow a little better and you expand more on some key points and examples which I think was really helpful. Your sources as I said earlier are great and help prove the point you are trying to make really well. Overall I really liked your final post, good job!

  5. As someone that has never necessarily wanted to be an engineer, you make an interesting point. The biggest trait that has always come to my mind when thinking of engineers is the large amounts of wealth they accumulate due to their profession. But after reading your post, I realized the traits you show are also prevalent in media. But at the same time, I would never think of the two extremes of a wealthy leader type person as being a recluse and portrayed as different due to their way of thinking. But at the same time, the newest avengers movie (hopefully not spoiling anything!) portrays Tony Stark as moving the plot in an interesting direction due to his perspective and way of looking at things! Definitely an interesting archetype to look at! Good job!!!

  6. Hello Paleksy,

    The most important takeaway for me was your statement “The different stereotypes change the image of a typical engineer and this causes young adults not to choose their career path related to engineering because media portrays them as isolated individuals.” This hits home for me because I was pursuing a career in engineering, yet, the media had a great influence in me switching it. Engineering was challenging but interesting. The rigorous math and science classes did not discourage me from pursuing an engineering career. Instead, I thought about my college experience. Due to the media, I did not want to become socially awkward and isolated, so that was one of the factors that made me decide not to pursue an engineering career. The media has portrayed engineers to be socially awkward, quiet and reserved, and crazy. It really blows my mind, how influential the media is in each individual’s life, yet, the media is so prevalent that hardly anyone bothers to question it.

  7. I liked your essay, I agree that the portrayal of engineers in pop culture is wrong. I was actually going to do the same identity but thought that it would be difficult to find sources. As an engineering major I see this happening just about everywhere nowadays. Great essay.

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