Computers have become a powerful tool in the field of engineering. Before
the widespread availability of computers, mathematical models of engineering
problems needed to be simplified to the point that the calculations could
be reliably performed by a single individual using a calculator or slide rule,
and, fortunately, for many engineering problems, simplified models were
adequate. However, as process complexity and engineering design complexity
increased, engineers increasingly turned to computers for help in managing
and automating the large number of calculations required.
The computational tools used by engineers have evolved considerably over
the past few decades. In the 1960s and 1970s, computers were not widely
available, and they were a specialized tool that was operated by highly trained
individuals. In the 1980s and 1990s, computers became widely available, but the
engineering software and computational tools were relatively simple compared
to what is available in the twenty-first century. The individual that was using
the computer general understood the calculations that were being performed,
and the computer was primarily a tool for automating those calculations. Many
engineering students during this time learned to program in either FORTRAN
or C, and the programs written by engineers were frequently limited to a
few hundred lines of code. More specialized and easier to use programming
environments like MATLAB and IDL were also developed during the 1980s,
and they usually helped to decrease the time required to write a computer
algorithm, but they increased the time required to execute or run the algorithm.