It’s all in a day’s work

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.

Reuse Recycle
How these days can make me feel (image courtesy of flickr)

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).

Finest women become electrical engineers

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.

This is hilarious in my work circles. (image from


43 thoughts on “It’s all in a day’s work

  1. So true! If you choose to pursue a certain field of study or work, that path isn’t set in stone. I changed direction after my undergrad studies (studied film & TV production, worked a bit in the industry, and realised that it was not the right thing for me and I wasn’t enjoying it… but I’m still glad I did those studies). It was a hard decision to change but I know it was the right one. I think society often makes us think we have to choose one path/goal and stick to it no matter what or we’ve failed, but it’s really not true!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree. You meet someone who jumped into a completely different career and think, wow how brave, when we could easily be thinking how smart instead. What made you realize you needed a change?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I realised it was making me unhappy and stressed, and that I was trying to make myself into a person I am not. I think if you want to work as a producer/in production you have to handle stress well and be tough and a bit ruthless when you need to be, as well as highly confident working with/managing/pitching to other people… I’m not naturally any of those things 🙂 Plus in the film industry you have to travel a lot, work very long days and sacrifice a lot of personal time, and it’s very competitive… so unless you really love it, it doesn’t make much sense to do it!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. As someone who pursued a degree in writing, I wish I had chosen something more guaranteed toward employment (other than teaching). And yet, I met my husband pursuing my MFA, and if I hadn’t met him, I wouldn’t have had my daughter, and if I hadn’t have had my daughter, I wouldn’t have so much blogging fodder. So things happen how they are supposed to, whatever you choose to study (or if you choose not to study anything).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I have the same thought process. I likely would have still met my hubby had I studied design as my alma mater has a decent program for that too, but would we have had enough in common to take the next step? That’s even less certain and even more reason not to risk changes with the time machine.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I did a similar thing, in that I did a degree in Applied Arts/Communications, thinking I wanted to work in advertising. The thing that kind of kills me now is that I was also offered a place in a respected Creative writing degree – I do sometimes wonder what if? But once again, my experiences to date are part of what make me who I am, and fuel the stories I write. I found my way to where I wanted to be, eventually, and perhaps that was how it was meant to be. I also think I would have liked to try engineering, but at that time (finishing high school) it just wasn’t on my radar. I’ll echo Kristin in saying ‘You’re so cool!”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! If you only met me in person…

      Unfortunately engineering isn’t on enough people’s radar, especially not in high school, which is a whole post in itself. I remember the first time someone suggested it to me thinking they were suggesting I consider operating a train when I grew up.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I think I thought of it as something to do with cars and factories, neither of which really interested me. Actually, what I really wanted to do and couldn’t get into, despite the fact I was an honour student in art, history and languages, was archaeology. So there you go 🙂 And I’m sure if I met you I’d still think you were cool!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I suspect I may have a bit of a god complex. There is just something so satisfying about seeing something you helped create come to life whether it is book or a machine. However, in both cases a misplaced semicolon can equally bring you to your knees.

        Archaeology would have been neat too, but I am sorry to say I am glad you didn’t get in or Ambeth might never exist and that would be a shame.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Ah, thanks Allie, that’s sweet of you to say 🙂 Though I think Ambeth was always there, waiting – I did find the valley when I was a kid, after all. And I have a book idea burbling around about an archaeological dig, so that experience might have come in handy. Funnily enough, my new sister-in-law just finished her archaeology/anthropology degree and is now doing her masters, so I will be picking her brain for info.
        And I agree – it is completely satisfying to see something you’ve created come to life, and I think that’s what I would have enjoyed the most about engineering 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. You’ve done a wonderful job of melding two different career paths together and I congratulate you. This has made me think of my niece in high school who is trying to decide what she wants to study in college. Half of her is STEM all the way leaning toward applied physics, while the other half of her is all about Liberal Arts with a desire to go into anthropology. She is smart and could do either, but I have to wonder if whatever course of study she leaves behind now, she’ll return to later. Or maybe she’ll find a way to study both, on her way to a PhD, no doubt!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I absolutely agree. You are who you are today because of (not in spite of) the choices you made (although spite might play into some of it). And while I did not understand the doodles at the bottom, it did cause me to wonder if you read xkcd.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I actually didn’t know about your engineering background, Allie. I can’t help feeling a bit jealous that you’ve got the science and the humanities fields covered. I wish I could say the same for myself, but my brain simply rejects mathematics outright and will have nothing to do with it. Anyway, good luck to your relative. I hope she achieves her goals. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. For what it is worth, my brain rejects almost all attempts to learn foreign languages, correctly interpret maps and parking lot layouts, and how to cook a chicken safely.

      Thanks! I’m pretty sure she’ll go far too.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Love this. You’re so right we can choose to start again. I personally am very frustrated with the choices I’ve made that have led me to a work place I am less than happy with. But actually you have a point. if I hadn’t made those choices I wouldn’t be who I am today and possibly wouldn’t have found writing. So basically I need to shut up!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I got expelled from school aged 15 and had to do things the hard way –the University of Life and all that. I finally started getting my act in order aged 26 and got two nursing qualifications. A decade later, I had a go writing my first novel. Would I have done things differently? Who knows? I hated school, but loved reading and reading and reading.
    If I’d gone to University, would I know the people who are important to me in my life now? Probably not. I’m not a career person. Just creative, eccentric, and probably couldn’t deal with the stress of a high-powered job now I’ve reached the age I have.
    You are very clever, Allie, with your engineering. I always wished I’d been better at science, as it fascinates me, or maybe I would have liked to have had the brains to be a super computer geek, but my brain wasn’t wired up that way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, talk about being an inspiration. The formal schooling route isn’t for everyone, especially not for everyone in their late teens/early twenties. You’ve proven that the only route that really matters is the one that drives your passion.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. You’re the funniest STEM lady/writer I’ve ever met. So what if you’re the only STEM lady/writer I’ve ever met. “and then, in either a threatening or collaborative tone depending on audience and/or situation…” 😂 I just want to sit and have a beer with you.
    P.S. I’m buying.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yes, I am quite the intimidator, all me and my 5’1″ self. The people I work with regularly flee from me in terror when faced with my displeasure. Then again that may have something to do with the XX chromosome being to an old school engineer like garlic to a vampire.

      On a tangent, why are vampires so bothered by garlic anyway? I can’t think of a story in which the stuff actually took a vampire out. If anything I would think it would add a little flavor. Perhaps their noses are just too sensitive all with that whole detecting blood type hundreds of yards away thing. We really should discuss. I’d have one expensive cab fare home, but it would be totally worth it. You guys have some pretty good beer over there. (And thanks!)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Personally, I think it would add flavor. I mean, unless one is opposed to the flavor or allergic. I’d imagine any spice would be nice with human. Perhaps it is the smell, as you suggest. It makes sense. I’ll have to ask the next one before I stake it. (We have good beer because we import it.)

        Liked by 1 person

  10. I was a bit lost in university–I couldn’t make up my mind what I wanted to do. I ended up with a Spanish degree kind of by accident. The only thing I had solidly planted in my mind when I went to college was that I wanted to study abroad. My junior year, I looked at all the study abroad options and thought Spain would be a really cool place to go. I didn’t think it would hurt anything since I could take care of the foreign language credits I needed for the English major I thought I wanted. I came back from Spain with so many Spanish credits I almost had a major finished so decided to do that instead.

    I look back and feel like I was floating around, changing my mind on whims, and not really thinking intelligently about long term plans.

    If I could go back in time, I think I could have made some better decisions. But I don’t know that I would change anything even if I could. If I hadn’t have been a Spanish teacher, I wouldn’t have gone to Korea. I wouldn’t have met my husband. I wouldn’t have my two kids. I wouldn’t be in China right now.

    We never know all the answers, and we’ll never know if our choices really are the best we could have made. But we make decisions the best we can at the time and try to see the good in the outcomes. Yes, sometimes there’s frustration in the outcomes, but there is also always good. Sometimes it just takes a while for us to see it all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are small things I might do differently if I were able go back in time, like not eating that extra slice of pizza, or taking fuller advantage of the clubs/intramural events on campus, but I am at peace with the larger decisions.

      It sounds like your accidental degree worked out just fine.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes it did . . . But I’m not teaching at the moment. It all worked out, but I’m still figuring out what I want my professional goals to be. I think that’s okay, though. People change careers all the time.

        Liked by 1 person

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