I don’t tend to write about my day job. There is the obvious reason – while I have no reason to suspect that my boss reads anything I write here, he is, at the end of the day, literate, and I appreciate the whole being able to provide food for my children thing. There is also the less obvious reason – the stuff of my day-to-day usually doesn’t make for great story-telling (and I may or may not be bound to secrecy under non-disclosure agreements for the stuff that does).
On this particular day, I was tasked with inspecting non-conforming material. What is that? I’m glad you asked. It’s the junk that doesn’t make the cut on a production line. When product gets chewed up, blown up, or otherwise ruined on an assembly line it is moved to the side rather than simply thrown away so that people like me can periodically go through it and say, “yup, that’s a pretty expensive paperweight you have there,” and then, in either a threatening or collaborative tone depending on audience and/or situation, ask “how did it happen, how can we improve our process or how can we ensure our suppliers improve theirs so it doesn’t happen again?”
See? You haven’t missed much.
After authorizing the final piece of flawed inventory to go into the scrap heap, I drove to a nearby university and met with a relative who’d nearly completed her first year. She told me she was considering changing her major to electrical engineering. As we talked about how much fun she was having solving problems and programming devices to compete in various robotic challenges, it made me a tad nostalgic for my college days. Building a remote-controlled robotic monstrosity that was able to pick up tennis balls only to then shoot them at high speeds at targets on the other side of the room while being attacked by a rival team’s robot (which was as awesome as it sounds) suddenly seemed light years away from the type of engineering work I was now doing.
After my day, a part of me wanted to tell her, run! run while you still can! At the same time, I know that STEM fields need more women like her, and so I smiled and nodded in encouragement instead.
Gradually, we talked about the friends she was making on campus who hailed from other parts of the world. She asked me if I’d ever studied abroad. The answer is no. At least, that was the answer in regards to her specific question about my experience in college. However, I have studied abroad, albeit not through an accredited educational program.
I’ve visited places several places around the world for fun, but I’ve also experienced the joy of eating a saffron flavored risotto featuring fish freshly caught from Lake Como in Italy and climbed the to the Peak of Hong Kong in between touring factories. I’ve been to several places and met hundreds of people I wouldn’t have ever known even existed had it not been for my day job (even if I sometimes go kicking and screaming – reference most posts I’ve tagged as travel).
However, my day job is more than being crammed into the cattle class of an airplane or overcoming jet leg. I also get to enjoy all the
routine mind-numbing exciting things that come standard with most office jobs: emails, deadlines, phone calls and meetings . . . so many meetings . . . (whoops, I started losing my train of thought thinking about where all my time goes).
But, thankfully, there is usually more to it too. An engineering background has taught me all about the wonderful magic that can be performed with a strong cup of coffee, a roll of duct tape and/or a decent soldering iron. I understand why the it’s not the voltage that will kill you, but the current, and how arcing means more than character development. Even better, I’ve seen how the things we take for granted are made and have had a front row seat to what is coming next in the pipeline.
In the years since I decided to really pursue writing, I’ve found myself occasionally wondering if I would still pursue engineering were I ever able to crack the mechanics of a functional time machine. How would I advise my younger self? Would I have chosen a writing path back then, or would I have picked something entirely different like design? But then it hits me that the hypothetical time machine built in my garage would not exist were it not for the choices I made back then, choices that have made me the person I am today. Lost in that particular paradox, I can only come to the conclusion that while I am a writer, I am a STEM lady as well and equally proud of it.
As we enter the graduation season, I know that there are several others out there contemplating their next moves and worrying what might happen if they make the wrong choice. Don’t. There are few constants in life: death, taxes, and possibly, the speed of light. You can always change course if you need to. If I have learned nothing else in my pursuit of both engineering and writing, it is this, all things are possible provided you are willing to do the work.