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The phrase "most engineering PhD's are bogus" is astoundingly ignorant of the excellent work that goes on in the systems community (assuming by "engineering" you're referring to application-oriented CS research?). "Building prototypes that aren't quite useful but not quite that novel" is bad systems research, not all systems research.

I agree with you, but I do think it's incredibly hard and almost unnatural to do great engineering research, and that's why it's so rare. It's straightforward to solve someone's problem, it's also straightforward to study a phenomenon in nature (or computers) and learn something about it. It requires a very special type of person to create a new way of thinking that sets the groundwork for building systems that solve people's problems.

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