Elon Musk is a man of many talents and has been referred to as many things. Some of which may not be completely positive. But is this man who is behind giant names such as Tesla, SpaceX, Boring, and PayPal and Engineer?
Yes – while he has never referred to himself as such, nor does he have a degree in Engineering, he is an engineer none-the-less. We’re going to explain what we mean and provide the information for how we came to this answer, to this oft debatable topic.
According to Merriam-Webster, dictionary authority since 1828, when used as a noun, an engineer is defined as “a person who is trained in or follows as a profession a branch of engineering.”, “a person who runs or supervises an engine or apparatus.”, “a designer or builder of engines.”, and “a person who carries through an enterprise by skillful or artful contrivance.”.
Elon Musk’s Schooling
Musk started his post-secondary education in 1989 at Canadian Queens University in Kingston, Ontario. After attending there for three years he transferred to the University of Pennsylvania, where he would go on to graduate with two degrees; a Bachelor of Science in Economics and a Bachelor of Arts in Physics.
In 1995 he began to work towards a PhD in Energy Physics and Materials Science at Stanford University but almost immediately dropped out to start up a company with his brother to take advantage of the internet boom.
Just because he finished school two days after enrolling in his PhD, doesn’t mean that that’s when Musk finished his education.
Musk started his education at an early age. Not only was he attending private and public school, but he was teaching himself about things far more advanced than was usual for his age. He was an avid reader and often refers to Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series as a favorite and turning point for him.
In the summer of 1994 Elon interned at two locations in which he would learn a lot. The first being Pinnacle Research Institute, which at the time, researched electrolytic ultracapacitors for energy storage. The second company was Rocket-Science Games, a start-up console and computer gaming company in which he learned from engineer Bruce Leak, inventor of QuickTime and QuickDraw.
He then started his education in leading companies, first with his brother Kimbal when they started Zip2 in 1995, a web software company. After selling Zip2 he was one of the founding members of what became PayPal, before Ebay bought the company in 2002.
From PayPal his on the job education really took off in an engineering way, starting SpaceX and becoming their CEO and CTO, becoming CEO of Tesla, and having part in various other companies in some manner or another.
Elon Musk and the Definition of Engineering
So, while he doesn’t have a degree in engineering, he does fit the criteria for every definition of the word given by Merriam-Webster. Again, he doesn’t claim that he’s an engineer, or try to pass himself off as having an engineering degree.
There are people who feel that he should not be considered an engineer because he doesn’t have a degree in engineering. However, Yale University and the University of Surrey in England have both bestowed upon him Honorary Doctorate Degrees in Engineering Technology and Aerospace Engineering, respectively. They recognize the contributions he has made to the engineering field in the last several years.
Food for Thought
There were people of every profession before universities started handing out pieces of paper. While they don’t have degrees, the impact these people made on history, including engineering, I’m looking at you Great Pyramids in Egypt, is undeniable.
Two very important people, both of whom happen to be women, who were instrumental in NASA’s space program, Margaret Hamilton and Katherine Johnson, were not engineers. Yet, without their engineering feats, man would not have walked on the moon when he did. Their contribution to history is no less important because they don’t have a piece of paper that says they were engineers.
Elon Musk has already revolutionized many areas of engineering, both on earth and in the skies, and we can only guess what he’ll come up with next.