Monday, December 8, 2014

Nerdy Christmas Gifts

How frustrating is it when every time you search for "gift ideas for nerdy girls" or "gift ideas for the college student" you end up finding a bunch of electronics or something useful that has been made nearly useless by making it into a Doctor Who Tardis shape or a Minecraft Creeper form? When we am looking for cute nerdy gifts for our girl friends, we want something that has a subtle hint of nerd, not a blaring neon sign saying "NERD ALERT HERE." We're proud of our nerdy heritage, but we still want to be both functional and fashionable.

To help you solve this problem, we (Ruby and Vanessa) created a list of gift ideas for your nerdy girl friends. We aren't getting any sponsorship out of this (even though this seems like a giant Etsy add). Mostly this is a list of things we found to be awesome and would secretly like one of our friends to find, be influenced by, and buy for us this holiday season. *hint hint*  If you don't like Pinterest, then you should probably just come back next Monday when we write something more substantial and aren't just posting links and photos.


Jewelry is a simple gift, but getting something that re-purposes electronics and other engineering things makes it unique and more thoughtful than your standard pair of cubic zirconium studs. It's only secretly nerdy, because most "regular people" don't even recognize this stuff as being related to engineering.
Geekery Heart Necklace - Circuit Board Heart Jewelry - Steampunk Industrial Jewelry - Nerdy Geek Love
This necklace is geeky, but totally wearable. It's $31 on Etsy.  

This necklace is handmade, and can be found on Etsy for $20
If your scientist/engineer is not really into electronics, you could try this cool solar system necklace (which is being sported by the Chief Scientist at NASA so you know it's out of this world)...
This solar system necklace was worn by the Chief of Science at Nasa! It is $400 though, so perhaps out of the average price range.
Maybe that engineer likes cool materials, which would make this glow in the dark necklace a pretty sweet gift.
It's $31.95 on Etsy.

Or you can always go the superhero route. Here is an example of a superhero piece that isn't too bling-y or blaringly obvious.

This Wonder Woman necklace is $49 on Etsy

Other Wearable Things

This T-Shirt comes in all sorts of colors and sizes and cuts, and is $28. 

And while we're still talking about clothes, what about the batman apron. It's not subtle, I grant you. But it is both nerdy and practical if you have a nerdy friend who likes to cook. Or in Ruby's case, if you're a nerdy girl who likes to bake and bake and bake. It also has the added benefit of supporting your friend's habit of feeding all of her friends tons of sugary treats. This means that she (and you since you know her secret) can look good next to them in all the holiday pictures this season. 

Note, these aprons also come in other superhero options like Captain America, Iron man, and others.  

Christmas Tree/Hannukah Bush Ornaments

Einstein Ornament $12.50
Darth Vader Ornament $27

Odds 'N Ends

Okay, I straight up give up on trying to even categorize these things. 
I didn't even know coffee stencils were a thing, but these are $24 for a set of 3
Tap into her creative side with this cool 3D pen. It combines some interesting science (electronics, materials science, even structural stuff), with out of the box thinking and is just all together cool.

Or if your nerdy friend is in the car a lot for commuting to and from her off-site plants, conferences, and meetings, an audiobook can be a practical and thoughtful gift. Plus, something as amusing as "Confessions of a D-List Supervillain" is going to have her considering becoming a super villain herself and joining the dark side of the force.

You can get this from amazon here!

No matter what you get or give this holiday season, we here at Pocket Protector and Heels wish you all a very happy holidays!


Vanessa and Ruby

PS. What "nerdy" things are you hoping for this holiday season?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Company Holiday Parties

It's that time of year... Companies all over are having holiday parties. Whether they are for Christmas, New Years, or generic "holiday", 'tis the season for people getting drunk in front of their boss and regret it for the rest of the year.

So here as our gift to you this holiday season, Ruby and I have compiled some advice on company parties.

  • Always wear something at least as nice as you wear to work. If your company is business casual, do not wear jeans. Company parties are often where management sees how well people can socialize, and determines if somebody can be promoted. If you are wearing a ripped t-shirt and stinky sneakers, you don't really seem like "management material". If you bring a +1, make sure he or she is also dressed appropriately. 
  • How many drinks do you normally have when you go out to dinner? Subtract one, and this is how much you should drink at your party. You don't want to be the drunken mess everyone talks about for the next year.
  • Always be gracious and cheerful. If you're bitter about how little time you get off for the holidays, forget about it for the duration of the party. If you're bitter about your raise, forget about it. If your bitter about your holiday bonus (or lack thereof), forget about it.  If you're bitter about your workload, forget about it. If you're bitter about your seating arrangement, forget about it. If you're bitter that your Secret Santa got you a snuggie, forget about it. Rise above, and be cheerful because nobody likes a Grinch, especially during the holidays.
  • Avoid gossipy conversations. Especially in party atmospheres where everyone is mingling, the chances of you being overheard while you make fun of your manager are dangerously high. So keep your comments about your boss's ill fitting suit to yourself.
  • Keep everything PG. Remember that even though you are in a social setting you are still essentially at work, so now this is not the time for dirty jokes or politics.
  • If you are invited to bring a +1, make sure you only bring someone who will represent you professionally. In other words, it's better to go alone than to bring some guy you met at a bar last week or a roommate who is on the rebound (and likely to hit on your coworkers).
  • Use this as an opportunity to network. Company holiday parties are one of the only times that people from multiple departments and varying levels of standing come together. Brush up on your small talk and try to talk to some people you don't know, and take it as an opportunity to get face time with your superiors.
  • Be thankful, where appropriate. A lot of times management pays for these socials out of their own pocket. Even if it isn't a legendary party it's the thought that counts and nobody likes being taken for granted.

Have a happy holidays!

Vanessa & Ruby

Monday, November 24, 2014

Why You Should Date a Female Engineer

For whatever reason, this is one of the top questions people ask Google that lead to this blog. So, curious people of the internet, I will give you a <sarcasm> totally unbiased </sarcasm> answer to your question.

  1. She's too busy to be clingy. Engineers can work some pretty ridiculous hours, so you can't expect her to be sitting around waiting for your text.
  2. Years of working with socially inept people makes her forgiving of your social faux pas. You'd have to be super awkward in order to make her feel weird. Your bad self can probably still get away with sandals and socks on occasion.
  3. She's trained to consider facts over emotional responses. Contrary to popular belief, this doesn't mean she is dead inside. 
  4. If you are a technical person, she's interested in what you did at work today. No more eyes glazing over, she understands what you did and can ask you questions to show she was actually listening. 
  5. She knows how to be one of the guys. She won't embarrass you in front of your boys because she knows how to blend into a group of dudes. 
  6. She can apply a deep understanding of physics, biology, and chemistry to your relationship. Yup. I went there. 
  7. She likes nerdy movies just as much as you do. She won't judge how much you like the Avengers or X-Men, because she loves them too. 
  8. She's good under pressure. If anything in your relationship is more stressful than her job, then you are doing something wrong. 
  9. She will support you in your endeavors to make your own sandwich. And you should really acquire this life skill and not expect a woman to do it for you. As they say, give a man a sandwich feed him for lunch. Teach a man to make a sandwich, do more useful things with your engineering degree. 
  10. She won't call you to fix things around the house. She can fix them herself, thank you very much. Unless it's a gross bug, or a dead animal. Then all the rules go out the window; they don't teach that stuff in thermo.
  11. She is a pro at building a solid foundation to any relationship, and knows how to make sparks fly. Yeah, I'm not sure what this one ever is supposed to mean. It's 100% here for a reach pun. I hope you enjoyed it.
  12. She will laugh at your lame puns. See the number 11.
  13. She's low maintenance. She's learned to sacrifice wearing fashionable dresses and stiletto heels for coveralls and steel toed boots in the name of practicality
  14. If you have a problem, she'll fix it. Engineers are problem solvers, and we are trained to fix problems instead of just feeling sorry about it.
  15. She's not desperate. She knows plenty of guys, so she won't shack up with just anyone.
Really, why should a female engineer date you?
If you couldn't tell, this list is a joke.  While female engineers are a smaller group than most, there is still a wide range of personalities involved. So, not everyone fits inside the box of what you may think of as a stereotypical female engineer.  There is about as much reason to date a female engineer as there is to date a scuba diver, or a waitress, or a teacher, or anyone else. A woman's (or a man's) chosen profession is only a piece of the story of who she (or he) is, and shouldn't be a deciding factor in whether or not you date her (or him).



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Monday, November 17, 2014

How To Curb Your Spending

It's November, which means it's getting close to the holiday season (Thanksgiving included, of course)! It also means that in the next couple of months that you may see your bank account quickly dwindling from overpriced plane/bus/train tickets home, gifts for friends and family, decorations, a new outfit for your company Christmas party, and having to cook something fancier than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for a house full of people. As a young working professional, this may be the first time you've actually had to chip in and pay your way through the holidays (instead of bumming off of your parents). So here are some tips from Ruby, Vanessa, and our friend Taylor on how we try to curb our spending so we can save up for something important, or just make it through January 1 without zeroing out our bank accounts.

#1 Taylor's trick:
Curb your spending by drafting a budget and sticking to it!

Always make sure you have a zero sum budget going, i.e. your expenses + savings = income. A budget helps you prioritize what you need versus what you want and keep to reasonable limits on a per-month basis. This goes for holiday gift shopping too! Instead of busting out my credit card, haphazardly spending come Black Friday, I plan early how much I want to spend for gifts and figure that into my budget. If that means I have to cut a few corners in December on other expenses like eating out or save up some extra money by working overtime or hustling at a side gig, that's fine. The worst thing for your wallet (and your sanity) is to not have a plan and, come January 1st, suffer from post-holiday debt. Womp womp.

#2 Vanessa's trick:
How many hours would I have to work to pay for this? 

When I'm deciding whether or not I am going to purchase something I don't absolutely need I try to think about whether I would be willing to barter for the object. If time is money, then it follows that money is time. I've already calculated my hourly wage (minus taxes), and I do a quick calculation to see how much time I'd have to work in order to pay for the object. Would I be willing to work two full hours if my boss handed me this pair of shoes instead of a check? Five hours for a dress I might wear once?

If I wouldn't be willing to work for it, I won't buy it.  Because regardless of if I have saved enough to afford a splurge buy, I did have to work a certain number of hours in order to make the money so I would still be essentially spending my time. I still buy things I don't need from time (new pots or pans, impractical shoes, artwork), but it's always something I feel like is worth my time.

#3 Ruby's trick:
Would I rather have this cute sweater or would I rather have an awesome house?

I am a bit of a homebody, so I know that one of the things that will help me to feel comfortable in life is having a place to carve out as my own. An apartment lifestyle doesn't cut it for me because I can't customize in the way that I want to. So as soon as I got a job, I planned my budget (see #3) to include my goal of saving up for a down payment on my own home. However, it can be hard to keep to that budget when you're faced to the day-to-day whims of wanting that fabulous and cheap new sweater at Target. I find it easiest to curb my impulse buys by simply asking myself: do I really want this sweater more than I want my house? The answer is usually no because your big savings goals are by nature a bigger deal that your smaller spending goals.

You can do this with any big financial goal, too. For example:
  • If your big goal is to get a flat screen TV, then you might ask: Would I rather get this DVD right now or would I rather save up for a nice, wall-mounted flat screen to watch it on? 
  • If your passion is combating world hunger: Would I rather get this cup of Starbucks or would I rather pursue one of my passions by donating $1000 to X charity this year? 
  • For those with college loans: Would I rather have this fancy crab dinner or would I rather be debt-free?
When I compare my short-term impulses to my long-term goals, it helps me to put my purchasing habits into perspective. I'm happy to go without the cute sweater because it means I will be happier in the long run when I get my safe, comfortable, awesome home.

With these tools in your arsenal, you should be able to make it to 2015 without breaking the bank. Do you use any other trick to try to keep yourself financially in line?


Vanessa and Ruby

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PPS. Don't forget to check out Taylor's blog for more tips on personal finance, social commentary, and so much more!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Cleaning... Engineered.

This post doesn't have so much to do with being a female engineer, but more to do with being a female who wants to lead a clean, tidy, professional life.

We've already talked about hairstyle in the workplace. But we haven't talked about the bane of our existence: how to handle all of your shedding. If you're like me, then you know exactly what I'm talking about. You lived in a tiny, one-bedroom dorm with three other girls. Your bathroom was exactly 10 square feet. You all shed like nobody's business. And no one wanted to be the one to struggle with cleaning up the carpet of hair that fell out of your heads on a daily basis.

Accurate depiction of my college years by Vanessa
Now that you're living on your own, you still shed. Thankfully, there's not as much hair to carpet the floor as when you had three roommates. Also, you're living in a larger space than that hole-in-the-wall that you used to call your dorm, so your shedding is spread across a larger area (and therefore looks less severe). But you still do shed, and there is still hair all over your floor. So how do you clean this up on a regular basis without wasting too much of your life?

It's a pretty simple answer: you take a hair dryer, use it on your bathroom floor like a leaf blower, and blow all the hair into a corner. Then, you grab a wet paper towel, pick up all the hair in one fell swoop, and shove it into the trash can where it belongs.

Voila! Now you, too, can have a non-carpeted bathroom in less than 2 minutes.

Monday, November 3, 2014

How To Survive Making a Mistake

On this blog we've mentioned awesome performance reviews, bosses complimenting your hard work, and management admitting how much of an asset you are. And yes, we've gotten a lot of positive feedback on our work over the years. But, everyone makes mistakes and I am no exception.

The truth is that making a mistake in the engineering world can be extremely terrifying. In many engineering positions, you are directly responsible for the safety of people. Think airplanes, cars, boats, water filtration plants, and so many other systems. An engineering error in these systems could prove fatal. Even when you aren't responsible for life safety, a mistake could cause millions of dollars of damage to the company. And while engineering organizations have many safeguards in place to make sure their systems are safe, engineers themselves are still human and can make errors. 

As a new engineer, sometimes it's you that causes the error. Usually because no matter how smart you are, you may not know enough about the nitty-gritty details of your new profession to know that you are making a mistake. That's exactly what happened to me once at my last job. 

It was a typical day at work, and my phone rang. 

"This is Vanessa," I said, as I continued typing. 

"Vanessa, this is bad," said a man on the other end, a client from a project that was being installed. 

I stopped typing, and paused for a moment. "What?"

"Did you tell somebody to install this [very standard part you've used in every other design with no problems]?" 

"Yes... Why?" my heart started to beat quickly. 

"Why the fuck did you do that! It's completely wrong. You better pray it works and start polishing up your resume, because if it doesn't work both of us will be out of a job.You know if you screw this up you'll have costed us [unimaginable amounts of money]. Really Vanessa, what were you thinking? I've got to try to clean up this mess." 

He slammed the phone. Stunned, I slowly lowered the phone down into it's cradle. I silently stood up, walked to the bathroom, and immediately vomited. It wasn't intentional, I just was honestly so stunned and terrified, I literally got sick. And then I sat on the bathroom floor (gross, I know) my mind was abuzz. I normally take feedback very well, but thinking that I was the root of a problem this big was causing me to completely unravel. 

How could I have known? College didn't teach me the mundane details about industrial equipment, and nobody had ever suggested that there was a problem. It was such a standard and seemingly insignificant part of the system, I never doubted it would work.  How was I so stupid? If this isn't right, what else is wrong? If I didn't know this basic fact, how many other mistakes did I make in the design? Should I even be an engineer? Maybe I should just give up and do something else. I can write. I should be a writer, then I won't cost companies millions of dollars and ruin peoples careers.  

I wanted to hide, to disappear. I started wondering if I could just leave work, and never come back without having to confront the problem. I was ashamed and incredibly scared of what might happen. 

There, sitting on the office bathroom floor like a complete nut job, I texted a good friend (who isn't an engineer) and told her I was freaking out. She managed to talk me out of my downward spiral, and helped me realize that hiding in the bathroom wouldn't insulate me from my mistake. 

So I sucked it up, went back to my cubicle, and began to research the problem. Within 24 hours, I'd found a way to use the same part in a different way in order to solve the problem. Yes, I may have made a mistake, thrown up at work, tried to hide in the office bathroom, and cried myself to sleep. But in the end, I solved the problem and learned something to help me in the future. Long term, the the part I was most ashamed of was my reaction to the mistake and not the mistake itself. 

I realized from this experience (and others that followed) that some of my clients had a little bit of a flare for the dramatic.Who can blame them? They are all under an immense amount of pressure. and until we had a solution everyone was in the same mistake purgatory. But I've realized that spending time fretting about an error doesn't get me any closer to the solution (even if everyone else is freaking out). So instead, I've changed and adopted a much more level headed approach to dealing with mistakes.

Treat every mistake the same way. Understand the consequences, but treat it like a problem in school. This allows you to gain emotional distance and approach the situation with a clear head.

Assigning blame is a waste of time.  Whether it was the fault of someone you hardly know, your arch nemesis, or even your own fault, assigning blame just makes people nervous and makes it less likely that you'll get relevant information about the problem at hand. That said, do not accept blame for something you did not do. A lot of people react poorly in the wake of an error, and you should not volunteer yourself to be a scapegoat. 

Use your engineering training. I started typing steps for how to identify and solve problems, but as an engineer you already know this.

Ask for help, and fail loudly. If you don't have the tools to succeed, ask for help. Nobody can do everything, and it's better to let management have the chance to step in and help (especially if it is an issue related to safety) than to hide the problem until it's too late to fix.

Hopefully, these tips will help you find your way to the light at the end of the tunnel after a mistake.



Monday, October 27, 2014

How to Accomplish Your Own Priorities at Work

I don't set New Years Resolutions so much as goals/targets for the year. This year, one of my goals was to write a paper for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. I consider it important for my personal growth. Additionally, it is important in helping the company gain transparency with its consumers as a true research organization. I used both of these points to sell this goal to my boss and get her to allow me to put it as one of my official work goals.

My other projects are currently taking all my work time, and this has been the case for the last 6 months, so I have been unable to work on any of the publications I've wanted to. So I made a decision today to work on my paper during my lunch break and after work hours. And then I actually followed through.

While I was working on my paper during lunch, my boss walked by.

Boss: "Oh, Ruby. I know you really want to do this, but I don't think we have the time to focus on this."

Ruby: "But wait, it's my lunch break; I thought I could do what I wanted on my lunch break."

Boss: "Oh, you're right. Go ahead."

I'm grateful that my boss at least admits when she is wrong. And I'm pretty sure I was in the right for speaking up when she tried to micromanage me during my lunch break. At least that's what my friends and coworkers say.

This exchange really irritated me because it should really be my boss' job to realistically prioritize projects such that I have the time to get work done on all of my work goals. I shouldn't have to spend time during lunch to accomplish one of my official work goals.

However, I learned that you shouldn't let anyone, not even your managers who dictate your performance review, walk over you. Especially don't let them take away your freedoms without your say-so. It is better for your own sanity and may even gain you respect for not being the person who lets people walk all over her.

I know this post is titled "How to accomplish your own priorities at work," so I'd better give you some advice on how to do that...

If you truly value something, you had better be willing to sacrifice to get it done. Sometimes it will be as simple as giving up your lunch breaks, but sometimes it will be worse.But if you really want something, don't let anything get in the way of you achieving it.

- Ruby