4 Celebrities you didn’t know were engineers

These engineers changed the world not with their technology, but with their personalities

History is full of important engineers, who made great contributions to society. Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, Steve ” the Woz” Wozniak and many others made changes to society that altered the course of human history.

But there are other engineers who have made their impact on society not with technological innovations, but simply by virtue of their personalities. World leaders, actors and comedians have started their careers with an engineering degree. It’s not hard to see why. In addition to logistical thinking, engineering graduates leave school with a remarkable–and somewhat unique–sense of humor.

Bill Nye, Mechanical Engineer

After receiving a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Cornell University, Bill Nye took up work with Boeing. Boeing video taped him in a number of training films. Years later, this experience spun into work at on local comedy TV show, where the character Bill Nye the Science Guy was born.

He started hosting his own show, where his “Science Guy” character brought science learning to family TV audiences. He’s now a writer, an actor and a public speaker.

Ashton Kutcher, studied Biochemical Engineering

Image credit: Tom Sorensen

Fashion model and former engineering student? It worked for Cindy Crawford, who also started in chemical engineering. “I wanted to be a genetic engineer. That was my goal in college. I wanted to figure out what the codon sequence was that causes replication in a cardio myopathic virus,” Kutcher told ESPN.

Kutcher’s career path took a sharp turn one night in a bar, when a talent scout came over to talk to him about modeling. The rest is celebrity history.

Rowan Atkinson, Electrical Engineer

Image credit: Jack Pearce

Rowen Atkinson studied electrical engineering at Newcastle University. He then went on to earn a Masters degree in Electrical Engineering from The Queen’s College, Oxford. Of course, we all know Atkinson better for the character he plays, Mr. Bean.

Atkinson says he based Mr. Bean on what he was like at nine years old, when he was picked on by other children for his looks and intelligence. Despite his insistence that he is a quiet, introverted person off stage, Atkinson is arguably one of the greatest communicators of our time. As one internet meme points out, he’s made three generations laugh hysterically without even talking.

Alfred Hitchcock, Mechanical Engineer

The legendary filmmaker studied at the London County Council School of Engineering and Navigation, but also had a talent for marketing. He worked as a draftsman and advertising designer at a cable company. There, he started to submit articles to the company’s in-house magazine, The Henley Telegraph. After his first story for the magazine, “Gas“, he wrote a second and a third.

He became the editor of the magazine. Reading his articles, it’s easy to see the “dark suspense with a twist” theme that would transition Hitchcock from a engineer and draftsman into one of the most iconic film directors of all time.


Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, didn’t study engineering, but worked with closely telecommunications engineers in his career.

Yasser Arafat, Palestinian leader and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, studied Civil Engineering.

Neil Armstrong, an astronaut and the first man to step on the moon, studied  Aeronautical Engineering.

Montel Williams, Tom Scholz and others also share an engineering background. See more.

Who else?

Tell us which engineers deserve recognition for their technological contributions, their personalities or both.

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About the author

Gavin Hudson

Global social media manager at ABB headquarters in Zurich. My background is in blogging and print journalism, covering renewable energy and the environment. At ABB, it's fascinating being surrounded by experts in cleantech and energy efficiency technologies. Outside of work, I enjoy running, swimming, cycling, skiing, and most other outdoor sports. I did the Ironman Zurich in 2012, and have run several marathons. I also enjoy learning and sharing languages.
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