Purpose in Engineering

IMG_0265It’s all about the money.

One of my engineering co-workers received a survey from his alma mater. They were having an unusual problem with their engineering students: either while working on internships or in the first years of employment, they were becoming disillusioned with the profession. This statement– “it’s all about the money”– along with others like “nobody believes in the product” and “I want to help people” was being fed back to the university as students left for medical school and other professions perceived as being more service-oriented.

I couldn’t have been more surprised. So while I didn’t receive the survey (not my university), I’ll answer here, to engineering students and recent grads anywhere who feel like their purpose is diminished to just making money for a large corporation.

First, it is about the money. Part of your responsibility to your employer and its owners or shareholders is to make them money, whether that’s by finding efficiencies, designing a high-return product, or solving problems. Each one of those  tasks represent a puzzle, with economics as a scorecard.

But it is not ever only about the money. The real beauty in being an engineer — absolutely my favorite part — is that you have a responsibility to improve safety, protect the environment, and protect the public all while meeting financial objectives. Now, it’s a multidimensional puzzle. This is why we have professional licensure for engineers, and why we take a pledge that promises in part  “to place service before profit, the honor and standing of the profession before personal advantage, and the public welfare above all other considerations”.

Any bozo can build a project; engineers optimize their solutions for all of those objectives. And that’s a beautiful thing.


 photo courtesy Bart McGuire, Flickr

Thursday Quotables: A Quiet Heroism

It’s a quiet sort of heroism, the making and keeping of books.

You don’t get medals for sitting in the library each day, scratching away, writing it all down. Still less for dusting the shelves. But it is what civilisation is made of: the collective memory, passed on, passed down.

— Katherine Swift, The Morville Hours


Thursday Quotables is a weekly event hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies!

Quick Lit: A Flight for Career Change

I didn’t do it on purpose.24968034

I’m the sort of reader who has several books going at once. I’d been on a slump, so I ordered a few based on recent recommendations. Picked one or two off my bookshelf, too.

They all came in at once and I dove in. That’s when I discovered I had accidentally put together a book flight for career change.

  1. The Professor. Charlotte Bronte attempted to publish this slim novel before reaching success with Jane Eyre. A disgruntled Englishman works for his abusive brother before deciding to take his fate in his own hands and move to Brussels, where he becomes an English teacher. For such a slim novel, the author spends a lot of time at the beginning on the psychology of why people stay in bad jobs.
  2. The Undomestic Goddess. Sophie Kinsella’s hilarious take on what happens when a London Biglaw lawyer flips out, runs off into the countryside, and becomes a housekeeper. Pure fantasy about leaving it all, finding your hot gardener, and taking your destiny in  your own hands after all.
  3. Biglaw. Clearly a debut novel, but with first hand insight into New York biglaw.
  4. Garlic and Sapphires. Memoir about a food critic who moves to New York, finds and loses herself as THE food critic in the NYT. The driving force of this narrative is career change and the many disguises we all wear. (It’s also fabulous as an audiobook.)
  5. Miss Pettigrew Lives for A Day. I hated the movie, but this was a fabulous and refreshingly modern little book about a tired old babies’ nurse who becomes a ladies maid – no, housekeeper – no, friend, and reinvents herself in the process.

I’m on a roll! What other books have you read with themes of career change?


What an Engineer Looks Like (on the inside)

IMG_0191The ILookLikeAnEngineer buzz this week has been amazing. If you’ve missed it, here’s the short version: An engineer (young; female; pretty) is featured in a job recruiting campaign in San Francisco. The local community reacts by saying she “doesn’t look like an engineer”. In response, engineers everywhere, of all gender, race, age and background, respond with selfies tagged #ilooklikeananengineer.

What I’ve noticed most of all, though, is not the pictures. It’s what the engineers choose to include on the signs they’re holding. As it turns out, not only do engineers all look different – we have different interests and personalities, too.

For me, the assumptions about who I am and what I should enjoy are potentially more damaging than the assumptions about what I should wear and how I should look. So in that spirit, here’s what I “look like”, as an engineer:

  •  I’m a runner,
  • a backpacker,
  • a volunteer,
  • a Christian,
  • and a writer.
  • I crochet. I like to crochet while waiting for economic models to converge.
  • I love shoes, but I don’t like wearing anything that makes me prance at work.
  • I don’t love makeup. My face melts if I have to go out in the plant.
  • I’m not really good at math, but I can do it.
  • I AM really good at patterns.
  • I get bored doing one sort of thing for too long.
  • I’m more productive in late afternoon / evening.
  • I’m an introvert.
  • I’m also the social planner in my group.
  • I love pedicures.
  • I hate manicures.
  • I do not wear dockers and polos to work.
  • I am still figuring out what I do wear to work.
  • I’m also an MBA. I’m good at economics.
  • I love being outside.
  • I’m an organizer and a coordinator.
  • I’m a collaborator and a teammate.
  • I’m creative.
  • I love projects: serious work ones and silly home ones.
  • My ideal place: a library with a coffee shop inside.
  • I love books. Physical books. Especially when they’re smelly.

Do yimage_medium2ou notice that the usual high school guidance counselor criteria, “loves science and math (and – subtext – star trek)” are not on my list? Yet I can’t imagine any career that would suit my personality better than engineering.

Readers: Any surprises in the above list? For my STEM readers — how do YOU look like an engineer?

Library Loot: New Release Loot


Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by The Captive Reader and Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries


I picked up two new releases from the library, and can’t decide which to read first!! Malice at the Palace is #9 in what is probably the most consistently good series I’ve ever read, set in 1930s Britain. And Circling the Sun is new historical fiction  by the author of The Paris Wife about a real-life aviatrix from the 1920s: Beryl Markham. If you haven’t heard of Beryl Markham before, or if the library wait is just too long, I recommend her autobiography, West with the Night.


circling Malice


What did you pick up this week?

The Artsy Engineer, Seraphina, and a mini-review of Shadowscale

sscaleAre there any Seraphina fans out there? I just finished reading Shadowscale and was reminded of how much I love the concept behind this book. (Very mild spoilers for Seraphina follow).

Seraphina is half-dragon, half-human. So she has this wonderful, human artistic side that she pours into her music. But her half-dragon side is brainy, analytical, intellectual. It’s a perfect band-nerd dichotomy that she struggles with every day.

As an artsy engineer myself, I struggle with this dichotomy every day, so I identify intensely with Seraphina. It’s what made the eponymous first novel so compelling for me, and it got me through the somewhat rougher second novel, Shadowscale, too.

All-dragon types should avoid Shadowscale, as it has some plot inconsistencies and other technical issues. On the other hand, those of you who loved Seraphina’s garden in the first novel will love exploring it further. And my half-dragon, half-human, mixed up engineer friends out there will love it most of all.

Readers: Any half-dragon / half-human types out there? Or is it just me and Seraphina?

Library Loot: Back for the Summer

librarylootnewLibrary Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by The Captive Reader and Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries!

I’m back to the library after spending a month or two reading through my backlist of ‘owned’ books. It feels wonderful, and so RIGHT, to be hauling out sacks of books from the library on a hot(ish) summer day!! Here’s a few selections:

What did you pick up this week?


From a favorite blogger


I forgot how annoying teenagers are!


A new – and bookish – release