Computer technology has advanced dramatically over the past ten years.

Technology has advanced from computers the size of a room that can only perform

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one particular task, to personal computers (PC’s) that will fit on a desk and

perform multiple tasks. Understanding computers and their programs and being

able to apply that knowledge is very important in today’s workplace.

Engineering is a field that requires an extensive background in computer

technology. Future engineers will benefit dramatically from having a strong

background in computer technology. In order to understand why computers are

important, we have to understand what a computer is and what it does. A computer

is a device capable of performing a series of calculations or logical operations

without human intervention. The computer is characterized by the number and

complexity of operations it can perform and by its ability to process, store,

and retrieve data (“Computers” 1). The development of computers began in the

19th century by British mathematician Charles Babbage (Eadie 3). Babbage

designed, but did not build, a mechanical digital device capable of processing

information as a modern computer does (4). In 1930 American scientist Vannevar

Bush built a mechanically operated device, called a differential analyzer (4).

It was the first general-purpose analog computer. Analog computers will be

discussed later in this paper. The first information-processing digital computer

actually built was the Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator, or Mark I

computer (4). Completed in 1944, this electromechanical device was designed by

American engineer Howard Aiken (5). In 1946 the Electronic Numerical Integrator

and Computer, or ENIAC, was put into operation (5). Using thousands of electron

tubes, it was the first electronic digital computer. In the late 1950s

transistors replaced electron tubes in computers, allowing a reduction in the

size and power consumption of computer components (5). In the 1960s hybrid

computers were tried that connected analog computers to digital ones. Later

integrated circuits were developed that allowed further reduction in component

size and increase in reliability. The introduction of a relatively easy to use

PC in 1981 began a period in the rapid growth of the computer industry. The

computer industry is still thriving today with the introduction of faster

processors such as the Pentium II and now the Pentium III, high tech printers,

scanners, and of course the Internet. There are two types of computers, analog

and digital. An analog computer is designed to process data in which the

variable quantities vary continuously; it translates the relationships between

the variables of a problem into analogous relationships between electrical

quantities, such as current and voltage, and solves the original problem by

solving the equivalent problem, or analog, that is set up in its electrical

circuits (Eadie 9). Because of this feature, analog computers are useful in the

simulation and evaluation of certain complex situations. Analog computers do not

play a role in engineering today, but without the introduction of analog

computers PC’s would not be what they are today. Digital computers are

referred to as PC’s. PC’s are used everyday in the workplace, at school, and

at home. Many programs can be accessed and loaded into a digital computer. Most

technical jobs, including engineering, require experience and understanding of

PC’s and the programs that are related to the field in which the PC is being

used. A digital computer is designed to process data in numerical form; its

circuits perform mathematical operations of addition, subtraction,

multiplication, and division. The numbers operated on by a digital computer are

expressed in the binary system. Binary digits, which are also known as bits, are

0 and 1, so that 0, 1, 10, 11, 100, 101, etc. correspond to 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5,

etc. A series of eight bits, called a “byte”, is the basic data unit of

computers. A digital computer can store the results of its calculations for

later use, can compare the results with other data, and on the basis of such

comparisons can change the series of operations it performs (“Computers” 2).

PC’s would not be useful if it were not for the information that we enter into

them. Input to a computer can come directly from people. Human beings can

directly communicate with the computer terminals, entering instructions and data

by means of keyboards or by using a mouse and receiving the information through

a printer. Entering data into a computer can be extremely complicated for

someone who is not experienced in downloading. In engineering understanding how

to download a program is not as important as knowing how to run a program

unless, of course, you are planning a career in computer engineering. When the

necessary programs are loaded into a PC it can be used for tasks such as

computer-aided design. Computer-aided design (CAD) is used frequently in

engineering. CAD is a form of automation that helps designers prepare drawings,

specifications, and parts lists for a wide variety of products. The technology

is widely used in architectural, electronics, aeronautical, naval, and

automotive engineering and design. At first CAD programs only performed less

complicated automated drafting projects. Now they include computer simulation as

an important component. Rather than having to build “bread-board” circuit

prototypes and change components to determine effects of tolerance ranges,

engineers can use computers to simulate circuit operation (Ferris 19). As

microelectronics devices have become smaller and more complex, CAD has become an

especially important technology. The introduction of CAD’s have lowered costs

and shortened the design cycle in many industries. The understanding of CAD’s

and similar programs are a vital component to any engineering career. Other

programs that are related to engineering are ones that help create blueprints,

estimate production costs, and simulate certain situations that will help in

production. There are many different programs that correspond to each field of

engineering. In today’s society computers are taught starting in elementary

school. Computerized instruction continues all the way through high school. Now,

many engineering degrees require certain computer classes. Today’s students

are going to have an advantage over the engineers of the past. Design and

planning will become easier even though the designs may be more complex. The

advancements in technology have contributed greatly to the field of engineering.