Asee peer logo

The T-Shaped Engineer as an Ideal in Technology Entrepreneurship: Its Origins, History, and Significance for Engineering Education

Download Paper |


2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation Division Technical Session 2

Tagged Division

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation

Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Kathryn A. Neeley University of Virginia

visit author page

Kathryn Neeley is Associate Professor of Science, Technology, and Society in the Engineering & Society Department of the School of Engineering and Applied Science. She is a past chair of the Liberal Education/Engineering & Society Division of ASEE and is particularly interested in the role of liberal education in developing engineering leaders.

visit author page


Bernd Steffensen University of Applied Sciences Darmstadt Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Studied Administrative Sciences and Sociology at the Universities in Kiel, Bielefeld (Germany), and Lancaster (UK). Doctorate in Sociology from the University of Bielefeld. Worked from 1992-2000 with Academy for Technology Assessment in Baden-Wuerttemberg (Germany). Since 2000 professor for Technology Assessment and Social Science Innovation Management at University of Applied Sciences Darmstadt. From 2010 to 2013 Vice President for Research and Technology Transfer since 2012 Head of the Graduate School Darmstadt.

visit author page

Download Paper |


From one perspective, the concept of T-shaped professionals who combine depth of technical expertise with breadth of knowledge appears to be but the latest iteration of the concept of the Renaissance man as exemplified by Leonardo da Vinci. On the other hand, recent interest in the concept seems to respond to needs recognized only recently, especially the needs of firms that seek to distinguish themselves for creativity and innovation. In its original incarnation in a report published in 1991 by the British Computer Society, the T-shaped individual is described as a “hybrid manager” who would combine information technology skills with business skills. Over time, the T-shape ideal has been broadened and deepened—and enthusiastically received on a global scale.

Two of the most prolific advocates of the concept, Demirkan and Spohrer (2015), describe the T-shape innovator as “an alternative paradigm for talent acquisition and management” for firms that need to “find qualified innovation employees [and] to staff, manage, mentor, and retain them” (p. 13). The qualities of the T-shaped professional, as represented in the figure below, are fairly well agreed upon. What is much less clear is how (or perhaps even whether), formal education systems can “produce” such individuals. In this paper, we will trace the evolution of the concept of the T-shaped professional and compare the specific circumstances of its motivation and implementation in Germany and the United States. We will also discuss some specific challenges of and barriers to its implementation and focus on their implications for education for technology entrepreneurship and innovatio.

Neeley, K. A., & Steffensen, B. (2018, June), The T-Shaped Engineer as an Ideal in Technology Entrepreneurship: Its Origins, History, and Significance for Engineering Education Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--31127

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2018 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015