professional development

At some point in college, I went from a declared computer science major to a physics undergrad to electrical engineering in graduate school. Today, this progression manifests itself in the fact that I really like to tinker with electronic gadgets and I’m semi-competent in writing limited amounts of computer code. I can also discuss the differences in quantum versus physical characteristics of light photons and I may annoy Rhiannon at times when I note if the fans are running on substation transformers as we drive by. Being as engineering did in fact become my full time occupation, the other two items are more footnotes and hobbies at this point and very few people care if I can still find the rotational inertia of a complex object or not. (The answer is I probably can, but I might need a little computer assistance when calculating multivariable integrals.)

As a power engineer, I work with electrical systems of thousands of volts and a lot of energy. I understand the fact that electricity can be dangerous anytime you get much past yard lighting, but some of the equipment I design can make sticking a fork in an outlet look like putting a nine-volt battery on your tongue.

For those of you who have never put a 9V on your tongue, I suggest it. Briefly. It tingles and might leave a funny taste for a little bit, but it’s pretty harmless. (Repeat, briefly.)

So, we check our work. And then someone else checks it. And then someone puts an official stamp on drawings that are going to be used in construction. That someone is ultimately responsible for the adequacy of the protection and design of the electrical system that has the potential to kill people if something goes wrong. And, in order to have that stamp and ultimate responsibility, there has to be some sort of measure of competence that a licensing institution can rely on to screen candidates.

A little over eight weeks ago, I was in downtown Denver on a Friday taking a test. Five years out of school, spending up to 8 hours in one large room with a bunch of other people from many varied fields of engineering to find out if we could be professional engineers.

If that isn’t your idea of a good time, I’m not sure we should really hang out together.

I mean, who doesn’t want to be downtown by 7:45am to be scolded about having cameras, cell phones, music players, or any non-approved calculators? At that point, I was wondering if I should delete the photos I was just taking and maybe do something about the cell phone in my pocket. The instructions said to leave everything in your car. Except that I took the light rail because a)We had some free light rail tickets and b)no parking fees.

I figured as long as it didn’t ring, I would be fine. I wasn’t really planning on cheating. I spent the day before the test taking a sample exam and I felt pretty good about it. In the modern age of digital technology, it seems that everything has gone to fill in the bubble Scantron, multiple choice testing. It makes sense. It eliminates human judgment on long workout problems and should reduce human error in grading. It allows test makers to run complex statistical analysis on the results. And, it just so happens that I have yet to meet a standardized test that I didn’t like.

(Except for spelling in elementary school. And no, we’re not going to talk about it. I just maintain that, even as a second grader, I knew what the future had in store for us in the way of spell-checking on a computer.)

My particular exam was scheduled to be 4 hours in the morning, 4 hours in the afternoon, 80 questions total (40-40 split). My total time was a shade over 6 hours. And I felt good walking out. Mostly because it was almost 5pm at that point and I was ready to be done, but also because I thought I did well. Like I said, me and bubble-tests, we’re like this.

So, yesterday, when I got the email that the results of the test were available, why did I suddenly get nervous? Maybe I should have studied more than just the day before the test. Maybe I should have used the full time to check my answers more than a quick once over to make sure I didn’t miss any questions.

Maybe I shouldn’t doubt myself so much.

They don’t give out scores for this type of thing. It’s more just along the lines of pass or fail and even the passing score can change each time they give them. So, as far as you or I are concerned, I aced it.

The best part about passing it? I don’t have to do it again.