I am a systems engineer…

Back in 1997, when I first met Tim Berners-Lee, (now Sir Tim Berners-Lee)…

To be honest, over the last twenty years, I have reflected on and told this story so often I don’t remember how much of it is true. Anyways… it shaped my life.

So, when I first met Tim Berners-Lee, there was one of those rare elevator moments: a moment when I could ask anything. Even in 1996, it was totally clear that that man was changing the world. So what would you ask?

I decided to ask: “what would I have to study to do what you do?”

The answer was:

I am a systems engineer. I care about how people and technologies interact.


But what the h*** was systems engineering?

Now, twenty years later, I find most of the answer in that one sentence:

I am a systems engineer” – not “I studied systems engineering” (as the question suggested), but “I am …”. Systems engineer is what you are, not what you learned.

I care about…” – and if you ever get a chance to know Sir Tim Berners-Lee, you will find: he really cares.

“… how people and technologies interact”. If you read up on systems engineering, you often find notions like “complex systems” or “complex technical systems”. Also, the literature focusses by and large on engineering, as in “requirements engineering”. But here’s a dead-simple explanation of what a system is: “how people and technologies interact”. Suddenly, people come first, and the focus shifts from “complexity” to “interaction”.

And there I had my study plan: I need to understand people. I need to understand technology. And I need to understand how these two interact.

That’s what I did since. Thank you, TimBL!