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


What I Loved in Blogs This Week

imageI want to write about things I love in my everyday life. But I want to read about them, too, and connect with other bloggers who are writing about the same topics. Although my blog reading, like my posts, is currently heavily slanted towards books, I did enjoy some really good posts in several of my favorite categories this week.


Adventures in Audio: Bookshelf Fantasies expressed her conversion to audiobook listener better than I ever did. Plus, there’s a great discussion going on in the comments section.

Career & Women in STEM

Barbie, Remixed: I (Really) Can be a Computer Engineer: A real life woman computer engineer rewrites a very demeaning Barbie book more to her liking. Oh, and Ken is a moron. (But we knew that already).


Review of Yogis Anonymous: Broke-Ass Yogi tries out an online yoga class subscription service, and lets us know how she liked it. (Spoiler: it sounds like she had the same problem I do with yoga videos – wussing out in the middle of a long sequence I don’t like.)


The False Gospel of Gender Binaries: Rachel Held Evans asks, “If Jesus started with the outliers, why wouldn’t we?”


Readers: What was your favorite blog post (not your own) from this week?

Thursday Quotables: Misplaced Tolerance

The Buddhist texts mention what is called ‘misplaced tolerance,’ or ‘misplaced forbearance.’ …  the sense of endurance that some individuals have when they are subject to a very destructive, negative activity… The appropriate response really is to actively resist it, to try to change this environment rather than accept it. One should take some action.

— The Dalai Lama

from The Art of Happiness at Work by Howard C. Cutler
Thursday Quotables is a weekly event hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies!

What Works… and how to make it work

Career advice books aim to change you. It’s no secret. The only way they can produce results is to influence the reader, so they’re going to tell you how you’re doing it wrong (whatever ‘it’ is). On the one hand, you have Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office. On the other, Winning Nice: How to Succeed in Business and Life Without Waging War.

On the other end of the spectrum you have the studies in sociology that tell you why women can be at a disadvantage in their careers. Books like Through the Labyrinth: The Truth about How Women Become Leaders describe the world as it exists today, and give you little advice about how to actually navigate it. In my opinion (and despite the titular advice), Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg falls mostly in this camp, too.

What Works for Women at Work bridges this gap. Through an NSF grant, Joan C. Williams and Rachel Dempsey identified four key patterns of gender bias that women face in the workplace. Then – and this is the wonderful part – they advise you on how to deal with them, without making the bias your fault.


The four key areas they address are:

  • Prove It Again bias: women are judged on their performance, while men are judged on their potential
  • The Tightrope: women are either too nice or too mean.
  • The Maternal Wall: how motherhood, or the potential for it, affects women’s career paths
  • Tug of War: how women fight each other

The authors also do a wonderful job of broadening their audience, and along with it, their message. They emphasize that this book is not just written for women, but also for men to recognize these unconscious patterns that play out over and over again.


At the same time, there is recognition that in many cases (as in my example of “too nice” and “winning nice”, above) that opposing strategies can both be effective. It’s all about recognizing the situation and understanding your response to it. For example, they warn against taking on office housework, but also offer ways to turn those types of tasks to your advantage. My shortened version of their list:


  1. Take something else off your plate.
  2. Negotiate for a higher-status team member to help you out, so that you build valuable connections with someone at your company.
  3. Ask for a direct report to a higher-up.
  4. Secure a budget (money is power).
  5. Establish a sunset and succession plan.


And finally – realistically – the end of the book focuses on how to know when you need to leave.

Overall, this book both opens your eyes and puts tools in your hands. It’s enthusiastically recommended for both men and women professionals.


Library Loot: Fixing Genre Fatigue

librarylootnew 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!


This week’s library loot should fix my “too much fantasy” issue. Or at least balance it out.

djacob goblin hyperbole mistakes vicarage

First, I’ll try excitement. Here’s three new releases that I can’t wait to read. There’s the really obvious one: Midnight Crossroad, by Charlaine Harris. It’s her latest after closing the Sookie saga last fall. And then there’s the odd one, for me: a cozy mystery set in a gluten-free bakery, called Murder Gone A-Rye (everybody groan). I enjoyed the first installment in the series, and since I very rarely read cozies, it should be a nice departure. Finally, The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison, which got a great review by In Bed With Books. Oh, wait… 2 of the 3 books so far are fantasy. Is this really helping?


Another way to deal with fantasy fatigue: I’ll read a couple of picks from my book club list. Night by Elie Wiesel, and Defending Jacob by William Landay. Defending Jacob in particular is nothing I would ever read on my own. Nothing against it as a book – it’s just that legal drama has no appeal for me. I figure it will either be a refreshing read, or I’ll really appreciate the rest of my TBR pile when it’s done.


I also picked up a couple of nonfiction books. Hyperbole and a Half has been recommended all over the place and had a long waitlist at my usually generous library.  And Mistakes I Made at Work: 25 influential women reflect on what they got out of getting it wrong. 


 And finally, when all else fails, we geek out with kidlit:  A Vicarage Family, an autobiographical novel by Noel Streatfeild (the author of Ballet Shoes). Yay. I think I’ll go read that one now.

I’m wondering – what do you do when you get tired of your favorite genre?


Giving Back, part 1

Young professional dilemma: How do you give back to your community?


You work all day. So the ladies’ social improvement clubs are definitely off the list. Not that they were ever on the list in the first place, really.

You travel for business, and it’s unpredictable. So anything that requires a recurring weeknight commitment is going to be a problem.

Weekends, well, that MIGHT work – assuming you haven’t relocated for your job. Adrift in a city and away from your support network, you might find yourself traveling most weekends to visit family and old friends.

And speaking of weekends? Good luck finding – and participating in community service with – a church when you’re gone half the time. Even if you can brave the storm of church ladies asking where you’ve been.

So you look for one-time opportunities, and schedule things in where you can. Except for some reason, even after doing buckets of paperwork for the Girl Scouts and the local women’s shelter, who are advertising like mad that they need help, you never get a call back.

You’re about to reconcile yourself to only being involved through your checkbook when you see on the library website: Better World Books community service project. They’re accepting book donations (YES!) and also need volunteers to sort and pack books. Schedules are (wow) flexible. How perfect! Sharing your love of books with the world, uncluttering your bookshelf, and spending more time at the library.

Problem solved. Maybe. (Part 2)

Oh, and in case you’re wondering about Better World Books: “Better World Books uses the power of business to change the world. We collect and sell books online to donate books and fund literacy initiatives worldwide. With more than 8 million new and used titles in stock, we’re a self-sustaining, triple-bottom-line company that creates social, economic and environmental value for all our stakeholders.”

A Stitchfix Alternative

I wanted to love Stitch Fix. I really did. I recieved two fixes, and… well… this blog is about things I love, not things I dislike. So we’ll just leave it there.

I started thinking about the aspects of Stitchfix that attracted me. I liked the surprise, the easy returns, and having five choices. I liked the distribution of items: typically 3 tops, a pair of pants or a skirt, and an accessory. Overall, I liked the feeling of rounding out my wardrobe a few items at a time. And, especially, I liked not having to go shopping.

So, even though Stitchfix didn’t work for me, I decided I could capture most of the benefits by designing my own box. I started with Land’s End, and picked five items without getting into the analytical detail that adds stress to shopping. I tried to stick to the same distribution of items, although I did include a pair of shoes in my box. And I told myself – FIRMLY – that returns were allowed. I would only keep the items I really loved.

Although I missed the surprise element, I still felt excited when opening my box, and I liked the manageability of only trying on 5 items. All of them would technically work, but I kept two items: a long necklace and a shirt.

leshirt necklace

Returns were easy enough: For about $7, I used the provided return label and stuck the package in my mailbox. Although Stitchfix returns were free, the Lands End merchandise was less expensive overall, so I just added that $7 mentally to the price of the items I kept. Still reasonable.

Overall, a success! Although it might sound silly (ordering clothes from a catalog is not a new concept) I think this approach will really help me to maintain my professional wardrobe with minimal stress. I plan to set up one box per month, from different retailers. Maybe I’ll try Modcloth next month. Readers, what are your suggestions?