Monday, September 30, 2013

How to Turn off Your Inner Engineer

Believe it or not, but when I leave my job, I have a completely separate life. I have friends with different interests, I have creative hobbies, and I am actively involved with a variety of charities. Yet, as much as I try, it's hard (read: impossible) to turn off the engineer in me when I leave work.

In some ways, my "off the clock" engineer ends up being the handy-woman getting calls from single girlfriends to fix everything from broken doors, to flickering lights, loose tiles, virus-ridden computers, and broken pipes. If you know anything about engineering, you know that there is no way I am officially qualified to do all of these things. In fact,  have no clue what I'm doing for about 75% of the problems friends ask me to fix. And yet, my curiosity means that I will ALWAYS try to do it anyways. People know I've fixed and created a lot of systems, so that they will assume I know how to fix just about anything while I assume they know I have no fucking clue.

If you really want to freak someone out, casually mention that you have never tried to fix a phone right after you completely disassemble her Android and have all the parts strewn across their kitchen table. So far my handy-woman work has always worked out fine, but I wouldn't be surprised if there was some minor disaster in the near future.

In volunteer positions, I always end up unintentionally engineering systems when I was just supposed to slap a layer of icing onto some cookies. At one of the events I attended recently, I was tasked with creating a centerpiece for a table related to a nursery rhyme. Everyone else showed up with carefully arranged bouquets and stuffed animals reenacting Humpty Dumpty, or Little Bo-Peep- and I showed up with a star that twinkled with LEDs all programmed with "twinkle twinkle little star" as the initiating frequency. Let's just say my table didn't exactly fit in. In all of my excitement about making a star that would twinkle, and experimenting with different materials to diffract harsh LEDs into the perfect ethereal glow, I had totally lost sight of the fact that this was a centerpiece for a luncheon for old women and not a science fair.
Yes, I made a gif. UPPING THE ANTE!
Even when I'm out at bars, I find myself in an unacceptably high number of technical conversations with complete strangers. I'm never quite sure how it happens. But part of the way through, I usually recognize that I've started to go on some sort of technical rant by the way my friends' eyes glaze over. I totally go out with the intention of having simple, fun, and superficial conversations,  but as soon as I mention my job, I end up in discussions about the Alpher-Betha-Gamow paper and its impact on scientific thinking in the generations that followed.

Any way you cut it, you can take me out of work but you can't take the work out of me. Like most other passionate engineers I know, I'm always looking to learn about and improve a system.



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