Monday, December 29, 2014

Cars are to Gasoline as Engineers are to... Coffee?

Scene: It was a typical day at the office, 11 am. Sunlight peeked over my grey cube walls, bringing a light touch to the typical harsh florescent environment. I was mid-project and I was in the zone. My fingers were flying across the keyboard documenting new system requirements. I reached for my mug, and took a sip... only to realize that it was empty. It was my third cup of the day. That couldn't be good for me.

I didn't feel like I was addicted to caffeine because I could go days without it, but in the office I would always find myself at the coffee pot as I was deep in thought. I wasn't sure how this had happened, in high school I thought that coffee tasted like mud.



But as a freshman engineering student at a hard-core school, I was often still at school studying when the clock struck four in the morning. The tiredness was overwhelming, and the rest of my study group was chugging free coffee like it was already tomorrow. Between the sweet seduction of caffeine to make up for my lack of sleep and the irresistible nature of free things to a college student, I eventually caved. I began to drink coffee just to survive all nighters, when I was too tired to even process how much I hated the taste.

After I had gotten over the mud-like taste I started to drink it when I had to stay up late, when I needed to focus, when I got up earlier than I wanted to, and even when I was just meeting friends at coffee shops. Coffee became embedded into my every day activities, and like most young engineers I've met was intertwined with my social life. Sound familiar? It's a common story for a lot of us.

And that's how I ended up here as a professional, on my third cup of coffee by 11 am. While I don't  think I was ever physically addicted to caffeine, I also knew that the volume of coffee I was drinking couldn't be healthy. And part of me just didn't like the fact that something I had despised not so long ago had become such an expected part of my day to day life.

So, like any good engineer, I did some research about caffeine detoxes. There is surprisingly little information about this considering the prevalence of caffeine consumption in our society. Apparently while "long-term caffeine use can lead to mild physical dependence", "true compulsive use of caffeine has not been documented" (Malenka RC, Nestler EJ, Hyman SE (2009). "Chapter 15: Reinforcement and Addictive Disorders". In Sydor A, Brown RY. Molecular Neuropharmacology: A Foundation for Clinical Neuroscience (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Medical. p. 375. ISBN 9780071481274). I find that hard to believe considering the number of people in my office gulping coffee like air. Maybe they just need to do a study in an engineering firm.

I'm not claiming here that my propensity towards drinking coffee is anywhere as bad as any "real addiction" that people suffer, but I do find it curious that even in an environment where I am regularly drug tested that it is socially acceptable for me to be at all dependent on any particular substance (other than water and air). At the same time, it makes me wonder why it's socially acceptable for us to have jobs that can be so intense that they are difficult to perform without a caffeine kick to push us through.

Engineers often work long hours with a high amount of mental (and sometimes physical) energy and focus required the entire time. College teaches us that Awakeness = Hours of Sleep + Grams of Caffeine, and real life teaches us that power naps on the job are socially unacceptable. So whether it is a placebo effect or a legitimate solution, when I've worked on the same calculation for four hours without a break and my mind feels like it's turning to mush I reach for coffee. Part of me worries that if I don't have that extra kick of focus, that my work will suffer. The other part of me worries that I (and the others around me) are constantly performing these herculean mental tasks, and that eventually there won't be enough coffee in the world to push us though. And somehow, we (and our respective managements) often don't recognize the increased coffee consumption as a red flag of employees who are overworked, but it's often just an accepted part of our day to day life.

Pumpkin spice lattes could push anyone over the edge
I'm not saying that any one calculation, or design, or problem itself is impossible. I'm saying that the cumulative effect can be exhausting. This is especially true if you have a sales department who promises that you'll walk to the moon by next week, or if you have other external deadlines piling up around you. And, I'm saying that I think that other forms of regaining focus (like taking a walk, or talking to your cube neighbors about nonsense from time to time) can look like laziness to managers (especially those without engineering experience who don't understand why you can't spend every minute making progress on deadlines).

What do you think? Are you and/or your coworkers hooked on coffee? Is that a problem?

Cheers,

Vanessa

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Happy Holidays!

Wishing all of you and your families a happy and safe holiday season (and a well deserved break from school and/or work)!

I know this time of year can be great, but it can also be very hard. If you happen to be having one of those harder holiday seasons (difficult family, couldn't get off of work, living in a new place without any good friends yet, etc.), know that it's just a few days and things will get better soon. But in the meantime, here's a British guy to show you some Christmas science!



We'll be back with posts next Monday!

Love,

Vanessa & Ruby

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.

Jewlery

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!

Love,

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, one of the top questions people ask Google that lead to this blog is "why should you date a female engineer". So curious people of the internet, I will take a break from my normal content and give you a <sarcasm> totally unbiased </sarcasm> answer to your question.

[Note: before you get too upset, read the paragraph after the list...]

  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. 
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. I don't meet many of the items I've listed above myself. 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- you should date someone for who they are. 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).

Cheers,

Vanessa

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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?

Cheers,

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.

Love,

Vanessa

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

Monday, October 20, 2014

Gender in the Contracting World

Everyone in the contracting world knows that a large portion of business is done outside of the office. Whether it is on the golf course, in a bar over drinks, at dinner, or one of countless other ways, a lot of getting and keeping big clients is about forging personal relationships. People are more likely to hire somebody they feel like they know and trust than some random stranger. So when two men go out for drinks or dinner, it is just good business. But when a young single woman goes out with a man for drinks or dinner... What exactly is that?



The first few times a client asked me if I wanted to go out for dinner and drinks just the two of us, I made up excuses not to go. I didn't want to end up accidentally on a date, and something about going out with a strange (sometimes married) man seemed like I would be targeted as a girl who was "asking for it" even if I had completely genuine intentions. I considered asking my management or HR for advice, but I felt like it made me sound presumptuous and I was too embarrassed to ask. Plus everyone in management and HR was male, so would they really understand? Instead, I just avoided the situations all together. But as time went on (and after many lengthy philosophical discussions with my friends in similar industries), I realized I was screwing myself out of opportunities by discriminating against myself because of my own gender.

I began to ask myself, "Would this be inappropriate if I was a man?" and unless the question involved the men's bathroom, if it was appropriate for a man I decided it was appropriate for me. So I started to accept offers for business dinners, drinks, and other outings, even if it was just me and a guy (although if I knew he was married, I usually casually suggested bringing his wife). I was careful to draw a line for myself by reverse engineering all the typical signs that "she is totally into you" to make sure that my intentions were always extremely clear: no physical contact at all, don't touch my hair, don't talk about my relationships, use a napkin instead of absent-mindedly licking my lips (especially if we were out getting wings and beer), keep your distance from him where possible, and be careful about how you tease them. Even when walking on eggshells, there was still always the chance that something I did would be taken the wrong way.


I realize that it's kind of ridiculous that I went to these great lengths when in a perfect world I should have just been able to be myself. And I realize that if my list of requirements for a woman's behavior at a business dinner was handed out that a lot of people would be all over how anti-feminist it was. But the truth is that if things got weird, I'm the one who would suffer the most. If things got weird my clients would be more likely to drop my contracting firm, which in turn would make it look like I wasn't doing a good job. On their end, they could just fill my place with one many other contractors, and there would be essentially no change. Maybe that's not how it should be, but that is how it was.

Even when I was very careful, sometimes I would find myself slipping into situations where I felt out of control. Like the time a client asked me if I wanted to spend the weekend at his cabin. Or the time a different client invited me to stay over to his house at 10 pm when I was in a nearby hotel. Or the time a client was insisting that he come hang out in my hotel late on a weeknight. If the line wasn't at dinner and drinks, than where was the line? On one hand it still murkily passed the "would this be weird if I was man" test (they might really just want to hang out). But in the context of the specific relationship those still just sounded like trouble and I would decline or figure out a way to bring another coworker or client along. 


Even if there is nothing but a completely professional relationship where both of you are extremely clear on the boundaries, there is always the question of "what does everyone else think"? Once I had forged strong professional relationships with clients, my bosses and coworkers used to note that it was odd that many of my clients would call me directly regarding projects that weren't even mine. My coworkers were especially vocal about teasing me for ridiculous reasons why they hadn't been called first like:

"Joe just wants to talk to you because he wants to hear the voice of a woman."  No, he just knows me and trusts that I will solve the problem. 

"Joe and Vanessa went out on a romantic dinner last night, he's just calling to follow up." No, we grabbed burgers after working a 14 hour day. 

"Joe's totally in love with Vanessa." No. No. No. No. No. 

On one hand, there was no real measurable impact of these comments and jokes. My clients loved me (but weren't in love with me), and my coworkers didn't control the business I got. On the other hand, I felt like comments about me winning business because by being a femme fatale (which was ridiculous) instead of an engineer who happened to be awesome at networking would slowly chip away at my reputation. As my friend Ruby has pointed out to me, people only make jokes that they believe are true on some level. And can you imagine these comments being made to a man in my position? 

My point is that for women (especially single women) in a heavily male dominated contracting world, you are kind of damned if you do and damned if you don't. Our business relationships are often tainted with some level of weirdness, whether it is perceived by us or outsiders, that doesn't impact single gender relationships. It's treated as a weirder occurrence than married guys going to a strip club on their lunch breaks. It seems the only way to try to avoid the weirdness is by installing a glass ceiling above your own head as a barrier, and even that doesn't always work. It's one of the reasons I left contracting, and have moved to the other side of the table where there is no way I can be accused of whoring myself out for engineering work.

While I am much happier on this side of the table, I still wonder if there is any way to fix the Catch-22 situation where female contractors are currently stuck. And I know most engineers have never even considered it, or realize how bad it can be. 

What are your thoughts? Have any of the male readers ever felt the same weirdness as contractors?

Love, 

Vanessa


Monday, October 13, 2014

The way-too-optimistic blog post filled with sugar and sunshine

A year and a half ago, I was unhappy with my life. I was unfulfilled by work, didn't like my boss, and was very lonely at home. I went from sitting alone in a cubicle to watching TV at home alone every day. Then, a miracle happened: someone within my company approached me and offered me a new position in another department. Not only did it get me out of my old, depressing role and department, but it was actually in an area of engineering/science that I was interested in. I was ecstatic and jumped at the opportunity.



Switching departments was a tough transition and working in my new department required a TON of overtime to keep up with the new demands and with all the learning I had to do to catch up. But, I had coworkers to talk to instead of living in isolation. Plus I found the work to be not just better than before, but actually and truly enjoyable.



Fast forward to a year and a half later, and I've become a star. I've had meetings where I've gotten so much praise that I literally don't know what to say? What do you say when your boss' boss' boss tells you that you've made a priceless contribution to the advancement of this department and to the science in the field? What do you say when they won't accept your "thank you" because they believe they should be thanking you? I am totally willing to acknowledge that this sounds like I'm ungrateful and am complaining about a good thing. But really - what the hell do you say to that when you aren't allowed to say "thank you"?

Let's just suffice it to say that I'm appreciated at work, get what I want when I ask for it, like what I do, and have a somewhat flexible schedule. Some might say that I have it good. Coming from my first job in the company, I'd have to agree. I'd even raise that to saying that pretty freaking fantastic job. So when I was approached last week unofficially about a position in another department, I didn't jump on it. In fact, I was hesitant despite the fact that I was offered a promotion, which would mean I would get a second promotion only one year after my last promotion. I was hesitant despite the fact that I was offered a position in the group that does the work that I eventually want to do. I was hesitant despite the fact that I would get more freedom and visibility across departments.

What I'm saying is that I was offered a pretty good new job and I made an argument against it because I realized that my job is nearly perfect for my needs right now and is fulfilling both in terms of work projects and in terms of work-life balance.



This is just my long-winded way of saying that I didn't realize how happy I was with my current job until I had this offer come and slap me in the face with my happiness. I didn't realize how happy I was until I was forced to reflect on it. And I realize now that I was right in recognizing my unhappiness in my past job, recognizing what would make me happy, and taking the opportunity when it came to me. Yes, part of it is luck. But part of achieving happiness is taking a moment to reflect on what you need, what you want to avoid, and where you want to go in the future. For now, my current job is taking me on the path to the future I want and at the same time is keeping me fulfilled in the present. Keep an eye out for what can get you both those things, and you'll be happy, too.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Scary Cool Science Projects

October means it's almost Halloween. Which means there is an excuse to embrace your inner mad scientist and make some creepy, crawly, sticky, oozing masterpieces. One of the first ways I got involved in engineering was actually tricking out my house as a kid with special effects to scare unsuspecting trick-or-treaters.

So here are a few fun little projects for you (the kids are totally optional):

Oobleck (a classic)


At Halloween,  a good back story for this (because every good halloween tale starts with a scary story) is that you have found a special material that defies worldy laws of material.



Set the stage by letting your subject put their hand in a bowl of water. Note how the water reacts as a fluid. How motion is permitted no matter the speed. Now have the subject put their hand on a table. This is a solid (obviously)  and note how no matter how fast or slow or how hard or soft you push, the table provides equal and opposite force keeping your hand still. It seems silly to go over these obvious actions, but this understanding is crucial to showing why Oobleck is so unusual (it's a non-newtonian fluid).

Make Oobleck with this recipe (if you are working with a kid,  let them measure out everything and put it together with your instruction).

I suggest using some green or red food coloring.  Once you have the oobleck, remember what you previously determined about solids and liquids, and then explore the behavior of your new alien creation.


Send Letters With Disappearing Ink


Ruby suggests two possible scary set-ups for this project: leaving secret wolf paw prints, or writing letters to Halloween ghosts.You can order disappearing ink online, or make it using these instructions or these other instructions. Make sure to discuss the chemistry behind what is happening, and how it might impact other things in the world around you. Ask them to come up with ideas of when they might want or need to use something like disappearing ink.

Dry Ice Fog and Fun 


Make sure to use proper safety precautions when handling dry ice, and communicate these precautions to any kids involved. Dry ice and hot water can make a cool, creepy fog. Try using these instructions for a basic dry ice fog. 

If you want to step up your dry ice game, Steve Spangler has some great ideas for cool experiments with dry ice. The following video is an example of some of his ideas, no copyright infringement is intended. 


Yes, all of this is fun to play with, but it is also really interesting science. Talk to the engineer-in-training about different forms of matter. A great example to discuss is water. The solid form is ice, the liquid form is water, and the gas form is steam. When H2O changes from an ice cube, it melts to water before it becomes steam. Dry ice experiments are a great example of sublimation, where matter is able to change directly from solid to gas forms. Here is some more scientific information about dry ice if you want to know more.


Electronic Special Effects


If you are looking for an electronics project, this website has some instructions on how to make a rustling leave special effect to spook some of your trick-or-treaters. Be sure to use proper precautions when using soldering irons, or just use a breadboard instead. If you don't want to go through the whole process of making your own special effect, get one of those tacky (read: awesome) animatronic Halloween decorations and take it apart. Figure out what the different parts do, and why they work. Does it use a light sensor? What does the sensor look like? How does the animatronic make sound? How does it move?

Whatever projects or experiments you decide to try, encourage kids to ask "why", and "how" all of these experiments work. If you don't know the answer (or even if you do) go to a computer or a library or a text book, and help them learn how to look up the answer. Perhaps the most helpful part of experiments is teaching them how to question the world around them. It's that questioning attitude that is the foundation of a great engineer or scientist. 

Love,

Vanessa

PS. What are your favorite ideas for creepy science experiments and projects?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Questions to Ask Before Accepting a Job

So you've already owned at a career fair, had your interview, showed off your engineering prowess, asked good questions during your interview, and you secured a job offer. First of all, congratulations! Secondly now is a good time to ask some harder questions, and clarify what your life would be like at the job you are considering. Obviously, you should also be working on negotiating salary and benefits at this point in time, but learning about the work environment, job expectations, etc. is also important at this stage. Some of these questions are less important for internships than for full time positions, since sometimes bad work environments for a short period of time just make for entertaining stories later. So here are some questions my friends and I wished we'd asked before accepting job offers.

What are the facilities like? The environment in which you work can have a massive impact on your experience at your job. Some jobs have you in the field working with or around dangerous equipment with only porta-potties nearby, and others are working in cubicles in shiny office buildings with glass walls. If you are interviewing on site, then this may be self evident. Otherwise, if you have any doubt about your work environment and one of the possibilities is unacceptable to you, ask a specific question to get clarity.


Some people aren't cut out for "roughing it"
What are the core working hours? Some companies require that you be in at a specific time in the morning, others only require a certain number hours of a week. If you cannot function before noon or after 3 pm, this may be a particularly important question.


How much overtime do employees work on average? How much overtime is expected? A lot of jobs end up requiring "unexpected" overtime regularly. The two questions may provide slightly different answers and can help you ascertain if you can maintain the work/life balance you want, and if working 40 hours a week will make you a below average employee.


Is the position exempt or non-exempt? AKA are you paid for your overtime? If not, are there performance bonuses? A lot of times engineers work endless hours and feel like they are taken advantage of. If there isn't a financial award system for people who work longer and harder hours, then there is a good chance there are also a number of dissatisfied employees.

What is the n year attrition rate? Pick a number N that is acceptable to you. I'm partial to 2 years- because many people in the younger generation are only willing to stay 2 years at a job they don't like. This question is important to save until after you've been offered a job, since it may hit too close to home for certain companies.

Am I expected to be on call? How often? This is another requirement that people often find out after starting a job. Some manufacturing, utility, and other engineering jobs require employees to be on call like doctors. That means no drinking and no travelling when you are on call- and the potential to be interrupted from everything from a hot date to a good nights rest. It also means you may not be guaranteed to have regular holidays.

With these questions out of the way and information about salary and benefits, you'll hopefully have all the information you need to decide if you want to take the job or not.

Love,

Vanessa

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Monday, September 22, 2014

How to Find A Mentor

The other day I was telling my friends a story that an old mentor told me, and I realized me saying "my mentor" was about as specific as Henry VIII of England saying "my ex-wife". Even though I learned all sorts of theories in school, the moment I stepped foot into a real office I needed somebody to show me the ropes and teach me how to actually do what I had practiced so many times in theory. Many work environments have assigned mentors or particularly helpful people who will watch out for you. But if they don't, finding a mentor can be a scary proposition.

Here's some tips I've learned over the years about finding mentors:

No "Define The Relationship" talk is required. Before I started full time work, I read a lot of books which suggested walking into someones office and asking if they would be your mentor. A mentor and mentee relationship doesn't have to be a formalized process involving three letters of recommendation, weekly progress reports, and regular meetings. In my mind, a mentor is just somebody who you can count on to provide guidance. In engineering, I've noticed a lot of experienced people can be intimidated by the idea of having a formalized mentoring relationship because of the time commitment required. By just casually asking questions when you need help, you get to avoid an awkward conversation and most people are more than happy to spare a few minutes here and there to help you.

Nobody wants to deal with this awkward moment

Have multiple mentors. In most environments, everyone has something different at which they excel. Each mentor you have can offer a different perspective on your work and your career, and splitting the work of mentoring makes your personal improvement less of a burden on the mentors themselves. You don't have one professor in college, so why learn exclusively from one person after you graduate? Identify what you want to improve about yourself, and find someone (or multiple people!) to help you do that.

Don't limit yourself by your job description. Sometimes the mentor that you need for a specific task is not in your department. Sometimes they are not even an engineer. For example, I've learned a lot from the union workers and technicians about how parts actually function in the real world (not just on paper), and I've learned from administrative assistants how I can fast track processes.

Communicate your questions clearly. If you are worried about seeming incompetent for a question you need to ask, pretending you know what you are doing could lead to disaster. You can always ask questions by saying "I understand that *basic information about how the system works*, but I was wondering if you know how *specific question*". By stating what you know as part of the question it both gives relevant background and shows that you are competent.

Ask your own questions. While asking questions is not a bad thing, being the funnel for answers is not a great thing either. When you are new somebody asks you a question you can't answer, give them the information to try to ask the question themselves.

Thank mentors for their time. It's common sense, but when people take time out of their day to help you succeed, make sure you at least say "thank you".



Mentor somebody else. If you expect for other people to help you, remember to give back to the circle of mentoring by helping someone else out. That can mean helping other people learn something you do well, even if they are generally considered more experienced than you. For example, I taught one of my technical mentors how to write basic scripts in Excel.

Mentors are not always right. Getting mentored is great, accepting facts without questioning and understanding them is not. Like all human beings, even mentors can be wrong. So make sure you think about the advice critically.

Love,

Vanessa


Monday, September 15, 2014

Moving and Making New Friends

When I talk to my friends who have moved to do awesome things around the world, there is one theme that transcends different culture, environments, and industries... everyone feels like they have a hard time finding new good friends. It's something I call the "reverse empty nester syndrome". When people finally grow up and leave the security of home and school, they find themselves excited about their future but very lonely in a strange new world.

In school, making friends is relatively easy. You sit down next to somebody in class, introduce yourself, and you immediately have a ton in common (the class, the school, mutual friends, etc). For seventeen years (give or take for various degrees) you essentially make friends professionally. But as soon as you move the tassel to the left side of your cap, making friends is suddenly a complex game. What's worse is that when you still Skype, SnapChat, Gchat, Facebook message, tweet, iMessage, text, and call your old friends, you often can barely find time to make new ones.

Cue you eating delivery pizza and drinking wine in an apartment filled with unpacked boxes watching reruns of TV shows on Netflix. And then telling your friends who are hundreds of miles away about it on Skype, SnapChat, Gchat, Facebook, and Twitter. Sound familiar?



While a night in can be great and old friends are "gold" (according to Girl Scout campfire songs), making new friends is an important part of starting your new life somewhere. Starting fresh can be difficult, but it is also a great opportunity to reinvent yourself. Life isn't about wallowing in sadness, so take ownership of your move and try a few of the following ways to meet new friends.

Sit With People in the Lunchroom

If you have a lunchroom at work, take it upon yourself to find an empty seat and introduce yourself to some new people. Sitting at a new table can be oddly scary, but it is a great way to get to actually talk to people at work. You will definitely not make new friends by sitting alone at your desk, so what have you got to lose?


Go to a Meetup

Meetup is a great way to find people nearby who are looking to do things with new friends. If you are worried about safety, go to ones organized in public locations. In bigger cities, you can find people who have specific similar interests. In smaller towns... you can find people!

Try Volunteering

Try doing something good for your new community, and meeting nice people at the same time! If you don't have a charity with which you have a particularly strong connection, check out VolunteerMatch to find new opportunities.

Those were supposed to be hairnets, but they came out looking more like colonial garb.  Again, I never said I was an artist. 

Find a Cultural/Religious Organization

If you identify with a specific culture or religion, try to find a branch nearby. These can be easy ready built communities.

Take a Class

Make new friends while you broaden your horizons and learn a new skill. I'm partial to taking art, exercise or language classes since they are so different from my profession. These are offered at colleges, community centers, gyms, art galleries, etc. Poke around and see what fits you best!

Join a Professional Organization

Build a strong network and meet new people in your area be joining and becoming involved with a professional organization. If you somehow made it through college without being inducted into any professional societies, SWE, ASME, IEEE, ASCE, AIChE, MRS, or whatever other organization that is related to your field are all great options.

However you decide to meet people, make sure to take the initiative to invite your new friends to hang out. Don't forget, making new friends is a process. Keep trying new things and you'll find yourself feeling at home in no time.

Love,

Vanessa

PS. What other suggestions do you have for how adults can make new friends after a big move?

Monday, September 8, 2014

The "G-Word"

As I was in the middle of checking a calculation at work today, my phone rang and when I picked it up a woman on the other end said, "Hey girl!"



Did she really just say "hey girl"? I paused, at a complete loss for how to respond. Thankfully, she quickly filled the silence with technical questions and it was back to normal work. But my momentary discomfort reminded me of an incident that had happened years earlier.

In college I was on the executive board of an organization for women in technology that provided a professional and personal support network. I loved the organization, and always looked forward to crafting funny and welcoming emails to go out to our members about the upcoming events we had planned.

One day, my adviser emailed me asking that I come to her office- and the tone sounded more serious than normal. I sat down tentatively, and she took in a deep breath.

"Vanessa, we need to talk about your use of the 'g-word'," she said very carefully.

"Excuse me?" I asked, completely confused.

"The 'g-word'. You've been using the word 'girl' a lot in your emails and I've been getting complaints from some of the members that it's offensive and demeaning. I know you wouldn't intend to offend anyone, but you should probably choose another word."

I was honestly pretty shocked; I hadn't intended to offend anyone. I just wanted to make it sound welcoming and fun.While 'girl' can refer to a child, it can also just refer to a young woman, or a woman of any age. When starting an email, "Hey women!" sounded too formal and awkward, "Hey ladies!" sounded too sassy, and "Hey gals!" sounded like we are from the 1950's. I mean, 'girls night out' isn't demeaning, it just sounds like fun. How else was I supposed to address a group of women? How could a word that I always associated with fun be offending people?

What place would ever advertise a "women's night out"? It just sounds wrong.
I followed my adviser's advice (because she seemed to always be right about these things, even if I couldn't explain it), but it wasn't until I graduated that I began to truly understand why anyone would find this word off putting.

The only time I heard the word 'girl' at work in the first couple of years was dripping in venom. Men who were annoyed with me (or the rare other woman) would say things like, "Tell that girl that I don't think I should have to do that" or "That girl is being unreasonable". The passive aggressive vendor I mentioned in the email blog post is the perfect example of the type of person who enjoyed using the g-word. It was almost like they had done a one for one word replacement with 'bitch', and thought they'd get away with it since 'girl' wasn't technically a bad word.



I suppose they could have used 'woman', 'lady', 'person', 'human', 'engineer', 'genius', or really any word, and you would have been able to hear the same poison and disgust in their tone. But the perpetrators always chose seemed to choose 'girl', perhaps because it had the bonus implication of being young, inexperienced, and immature. As a side note, I always found that ironic because I think that debasing yourself by insulting people at work is rather childish.

That's how I ended up today, answering a phone and feeling momentarily shocked and defensive at a word I used to associate with fun social events. For the first time I can remember in my professional career it was meant in a nice way, so my defensiveness was unnecessary. But I couldn't help but wonder how a seemingly benign word had become such a weapon in the workplace.

I know that there is a pretty awesome, similarly themed P&G commercial about reclaiming the phrase "like a girl", although it mostly has to do with performing physical activities "like a girl". I think it's important to take that one step further; being young woman has nothing to do with competence physically or intellectually. In the workplace, I have been told that the word 'girl' is never appropriate. Admittedly, when it is used by the older generations, it almost always seems to be used in the form of an insult. But perhaps by banning the word we are unintentionally admitting that being a young female is somehow a bad thing.

I am a girl, even though I am not a child. My gender and my age have nothing to do with the quality of my work. Maybe the solution isn't discouraging people from using the word "girl" altogether (and therefore giving it even more power when used negatively), but using it more often in a positive context reclaiming the word and removing the negative stereotypes. What do you think?

Love,

Vanessa

Monday, September 1, 2014

Questions to Ask During an Interview

IT IS THAT TIME OF YEAR AGAIN! Most students are still readjusting to living on campus, but job fairs are starting all over the country and interviews will be soon to follow.

One of the (many) things I used to dread before interviews was what questions to ask my interviewer. I knew that coming in with nothing to ask made you look unprepared, but I never knew what I really needed to know about a potential job (other than a couple questions intended to prove I'd done my research). These questions are an amazing opportunity for you to collect information about different potential careers. Remember, job interviews are a two way street- you need to figure out that you want the job just as much as they need to figure out that they want you.

To help others through the interview question debacle, I've compiled a list of questions which target things that have surprised either me or my friends upon arriving at a new engineering job. A lot of this information may be included in the job description, so make sure to read it carefully and not for information which has already been provided to you. Note that this is most relevant for personal interviews, not technical interviews. If you have the opportunity to ask questions at the end of a technical interview it wouldn't be totally out of line, just know your audience.

BONUS TIP: For those of you who identify closer to the socially awkward end of the spectrum (you know who you are), make sure to consider your tone as you ask these questions. You want to sound conversational and not like you are grilling the interviewer in a murder investigation. If you aren't sure how you are being perceived, practice asking your questions to a friend or family member before the actual interview.


What is the position? 

I can't even begin to tell you how many job postings I've seen that say something along the lines of "Engineer needed to work with cross functional team to develop quality products and solve problems." Note that this could be a description for literally any engineering job on the face of the planet. All it really tells you is that somebody who knows nothing about engineering wrote this (probably somebody in HR who was just told "we need more engineers!"). So in your interview, ask some follow up questions like: What niche are you looking to fill in your organization that has motivated you to hire for this position? What other departments or people would I be working with? What product or type of product will I be working on? If you have technical people on your interview board, you can also ask: What type of engineer are you looking to hire? People with technical backgrounds close to yours will be likely to give you a technical answer to this particular question, while business people will be more likely to give you a general "somebody who can engineer" type of answer that won't really help you.


Use the answers to relate your skills to the job for which they are hiring before asking the next question on your list. Creating a dialogue will make the interview feel more natural for you and your interviewer, and will allow you the chance to sell yourself after the initial round of questions.

In addition to helping you get the job, these questions will help prevent the bate and switch. By this I mean some job titles say "engineer" but you don't get to actually engineer anything. Knowing what work will be required in the position will help you decide between potential offers down the line.

What engineering tools do you use for the job I would be doing? 

Many job descriptions do not list what software programs, lab equipment, etc. you will be expected to use. For these positions, finding out what engineering tools are used for the job you are expected to do gives you insight to how much they are willing to invest in helping their engineers perform their jobs. It also clarifies what the job will actually entail, and gives you talking points to align your skills to the work that they need completed. For example, if one job requires you do all of your sketches in Paint and another requires CAD, this may factor into your decision of where you would best fit.

I wish this wasn't an "engineering tool" I've seen people use.
Tailor this question to the types of tools you would expect to see at the job (especially ones you are trained to use!) since "engineering tools" is a pretty broad category. It will both give you a more meaningful answer, and let you highlight your skills (if they haven't already come up earlier in the interview).

Is there a training program? What does it entail?

If you are going to do technical work at a full time job, there should be a legitimate training program. Some internships include training or a mentoring program, although they are rarely as thorough since companies cannot afford to invest in short term employees as much. No matter how thorough your education is, there is plenty to learn in the specific area in which you will be working. When the training program is more of a "trial by fire" program, consider seriously how much of an issue it would be if you messed up and didn't have a mentor to correct you. If you are working on the landing gear for an airplane, this may be a bigger problem than if you are working on televisions. On the other hand some companies have such rigorous programs that employees are fired regularly before they "graduate", which can be an extremely stressful experience.


How would you describe the company culture?

It's an open ended question that I love to ask during interviews because I find that the unspoken reaction of the interviewer is often more important than the actual response. If they seem to be struggling to say something positive, that's indicative of a real problem.



How long has the position been open? Why is the position open?

These types of questions can help you assess if they are having difficulty filling the position or retaining employees. While these facts don't mean that a workplace is bad, you should take into consideration that there may be a reason everyone is leaving. Be careful when asking this, it can easily sound more aggressive than intended.

What is the career trajectory for this position? Where would you see me in 3 to 5 years? What are the advancement opportunities like?

If you imagine yourself quickly rising through the ranks at a new job, it's important to be sure that this is even an option. Some companies don't promote internally, others will quickly promote you out of an engineering role all together. 

Are there any social activities outside of work?

Some companies have coworkers who go out for drinks weekly, or play softball, or some other type of activity. Others never associate with each other outside of work and pretend they don't recognize each other if they run into somebody at the grocery store. If you are moving to a new town, having a built in group of friends may make a difference to you. If you are a misanthrope, required coworker hangouts may be the worst thing ever.

That's all the questions I have for now, thank you!

Hopefully at this point they'll say something that naturally leads to you asking for their business cards. If you really liked the job, don't be afraid to follow up. Hardly anyone ever does it these days, so this can really help you stand out.

Good luck!  

Love, 

Vanessa

PS. What questions do YOU wished you asked during an interview?