Engineering

temporary fresh start

Through the entire economic downturn of the past few years, Rhiannon and I have been fortunate enough to make it though relatively unscathed. It turns out that there is a relatively steady demand for public school teachers. The salary and uncertain future notwithstanding, it's been a steady career choice up to this point. My particular job in engineering has been somewhat tied to the fortunes of the oil companies. Yes, the oil companies that I tend to demonize for the high prices of automotive gasoline and and general use of fossil fuels overall. But, when gas was $4.00/gallon a few years ago, we couldn't find enough people to work at our company. Overtime was abundant and job security was virtually guaranteed. Then the bottom fell out of price per barrel, and while cheap gas was one result, it turns out that big oil doesn't spend money on new development that they can't pay for a lack of increased profits.

I'm currently on a seconding[1. second - to temporarily loan an employee to another branch or business; Yeah, I had never heard this definition before either.] assignment with another company. A couple months ago, when my manager discussed the possibility of a field assignment, I wasn't really excited. Field assignments in my company have generally meant six months in another state which wasn't something I really wanted to do with Brooklynn around. Half a year of her life at this stage is a big long chunk of time. But, if it meant keeping a job...

Turns out the field assignment was with a company that has an office right across the street from where I normally work. I've gone from working one office in a Fortune 500 company with hundreds of people to an office of 45. Things are more relaxed. People have more of a sense that what they do might really make a difference. The computers are a lot nicer and IT is something that tries to help you get your job done efficiently rather than something that gets in the way.

I've been with the same company since I graduated from college and I've been very happy with what I've worked on and I like my department coworkers. I've never considered that I would might be just as happy or better off somewhere else. Until now.

I'm not planning on immediately sending out resumes, but the possibility is there. At least I know that if things ever do turn south, I've seen how someplace else operates.

Now I just have to figure out how to take the two big 24" monitors back with me. There are things I'm definitely going to miss when this is over.

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.

it looks fast

Last week, Mike was in town to audition for a college.  It turns out you don't really need an audience for that, so I had a chance to walk around downtown on a weekday.  Sometimes, I think that whole job thing is hyped up way to much.  (And most days I'm really thankful I still have my job.) I did enjoy walking around during business hours just to get a chance to see the city look like a city and not a bunch of tall buildings with some weekend tourist types.

Lightrail - Denver

I'm pretty sure that the train wasn't moving more than about 15mph at the most, but it was enough to slow down the shutter enough to give it a good motion blur.

Sticking It To The Man

There are several older men in my workplace who wear jeans to work on every Friday. Our company does not have a casual Friday policy.

These men consider themselves rebels. As of late, they are becoming a little more daring – they used to wear black or very dark blue jeans. Now they are getting lighter blue every week. I think I even saw one with the stonewashed pre-ripped trendy style. They like to talk about how they work so hard, they are going to wear jeans regardless of what management thinks about it. I understand the desire to be comfortable in the work place, but I don’t agree with the notion that by wearing jeans I would be standing up for the little guy against corporate America. Corporate America is signing my paycheck.

I hate to break it to them – the CEO sitting in his plush office is still going to get his stock options and healthy compensation regardless if they wear jeans or not. He could probably really care less.

The last time the CEO visited, no one wore jeans.

Rebels.

TGIF

The office I work in was a touch on the quite side today (except for SprinterGuy). Everyone one took the whole Easter Friday thing to heart and decided to stay away or leave early. I attribute this to the fact this has been the week from hell for four days. There is a guy in our office who is in charge of all official documents, and with the way our project goes, this really doesn’t involve a whole lot of work. You can usually find him arriving 15 minutes late and leaving 15 minutes early – except when we get a package ready to submit to a client. Then he gets to scan and file all official paper work, which probably amounts to several medium sized trees, depending on the efficiency of the paper-making process.

I’ve learned engineers are notorious for meeting deadlines as close to the deadline as possible, which doesn’t leave the person in charge of the paperwork a lot of time to collect the signatures he need – thus the creation of SprinterGuy.

Literally.

He was sprinting down the hallways from office to office at various times this morning, posing a threat to anyone who didn’t look both ways before merging into the building walkways.

And SprinterGuy isn’t my creation. One of the other engineers on the floor came up with that and it stuck. With everybody.

I think he has a fan club.

We need a weekend in a bad way around here.

Things Move Faster Than They Used To

A 75 year old man is working in my office. He has retired once and came back after two years because he was bored. He doesn't work full days - he still likes his leisure. He just wasn't ready to be done working. He is great to have around to listen to his stories and learn a little from, but when your project has a deadline and he doesn't think you should really finish because can't remember if everything was finished last week and oh, look at the time, I should go home now...

Sigh.

We’re Engineers?

I know that we didn’t design the building we work in, but why, at an engineering firm, is it impossible to enter the break room if someone is getting or putting away items in the refrigerator? Think of a smallish galley kitchen with a counter on one side and a coffee machine on the other. And then put the fridge so when the door is open, it blocks the only way in and out of said kitchen. That is our break room: a modern marvel of stunning design stupidity. And to the guy down the hall – I think your apples are bad.