“I don’t know how many doubting engineers there are, but my experience suggests that there are more and more of them”

On April 30, 2022, the speech of the students of the AgroParisTech engineering school refusing the “destructive jobs” which were promised to them, highlighted the doubts of part of the profession in the face of social and ecological issues. But why aren’t more engineers deserting? This is the question that Olivier Lefebvre, himself a former roboticist, tries to answer in Letter to Doubting Engineerspublished in May by The Escape (144 pages, 14 euros), an independent publishing house specializing in essays with a libertarian tendency.

The political project of the book is also described by its author, 44 years old today : “This book is addressed to engineers who doubt, with the intention that they recognize themselves in the characteristic traits of the dissonant engineer quickly sketched out, and that by identification mechanism they envisage themselves crossing the threshold of their cage. » What are these characteristic traits? Interview with the author.

Testimonials from young engineers explaining why they are deserting the profession have multiplied in recent years. Why are you interested in what keeps all the other doubters in the profession without taking the plunge?

This question came to me in 2019 after I left the company I worked for as a robotics engineer. I needed to understand why so many former colleagues or friends felt the same cognitive dissonance as I did between their values ​​and their work, this impression that their professional activity participated in unsustainable trajectories for humans and the Earth, but without seeking to free themselves from this situation, resigning themselves to remaining in their golden cage.

Read also: Article reserved for our subscribers Faced with the ecological emergency, how the discourse of the “bifurcating” students of AgroParisTech has spread

It seemed to me that the brakes linked to the social prestige of the profession, or even to its material comfort which it would be difficult to abandon, were not sufficient to explain this resignation. I don’t know how many doubtful engineers there are, but my experience leads me to believe that more and more of them, perhaps even the majority, say to themselves that their job is more part of the problem than part of the solution.

How, in their professional life, does the cognitive dissonance you speak of arise and manifest itself?

It generally does not take very long to discuss with an engineer for him to say that he is aware that technical development, often primarily at the service of the profit of the company for which he works, is not neutral for humans. and the planet, that his profession is, in this sense, “political”. Our lifestyles have been transformed by digital and smartphones more than any law could have done, and engineers are the architects of this. But, aside from the case of the engineer I talk about in the book, who demonstrated for the climate at the weekend and returned to manufacture planes on Monday, the expressions of this cognitive dissonance are often discreet.

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