Weekend Journal: Keep On, Keepin’ On (Engineering Stuff)

Weekend Journal: Keep On, Keepin’ On (Engineering Stuff)

We decided to try out another theme week at Engineer Blogs this coming week. And being an admin, I took the first slot! Bwahahaha. All others will only be a derivative of my brilliant musings! (nah, they’ll be much better)

The question this week is: What keeps you motivated in engineering?

Engineering is a lot of things. Engaging, challenging, frustrating, rewarding, time consuming, under appreciated and often occurs with lots of fits and starts. To be honest, some days engineering really sucks. Yup, a blog about engineering is the best place to swallow a dose of reality. Some days you will bang your head against the desk hard enough to make your forehead bleed. Some nights you’ll rest your head on that desk because you’re still at the office at 10 pm, trying to figure something out.

So what keeps us going? Specifically, what keeps me¬†going? I’ll leave the rest of the week for everyone else to explain their own motivations.

I recently switched jobs. No secret there, I’ve been writing and talking about it for the past few months (sorry about that, I was excited!). And though I didn’t talk about it and I won’t get into the details of my new salary, it was more than the last job. In fact, there are lots of benefits at my new job that I am pleased with. However, this is not the reason I took the new job. No, my primary motivator was design.¬†See, I was working on fun stuff at my last job, but it’s the design that gets me out of bed in the morning. It’s what is keeping me at the office many hours past the requisite. It’s what has been driving me to try out new things and experiment in before untried fields (namely 3D modeling and printing, which I now love).

I don’t think I’m alone. In fact, I know I’m not alone. I regularly talk to “makers” (or whatever you want to call them) all over the world and internet. I get to see what they’re working on and I often can look past the finished product and see the pride and the wonder they have about holding up a completed project. Haven’t you felt that? Perhaps the purely theoretical engineers out there (doing lots of MATLAB simulations or similar) haven’t had the chance, but isn’t making stuff the final product? Isn’t holding your creation in your hands at the end of a design cycle a payoff much more than money or a 401K could provide? I know that’s what drives me. Shoving something I hope will be useful into the world.

I believe I will always remember the day I held my first circuit board in my hand; you could have sworn I birthed that tiny piece of FR4 and hewn the traces manually. No, not the case. I sent it to a quickturn barebones PCB design house. Really, nothing complex in the slightest. And yet, I sat there for hours that day, just turning the PCB over in my hand. Staring at it and marveling at the fact that I had changed my environment. Well, the board itself didn’t do squat, but when I populated it, it ended up being a very useful little tool that interfaced some cables and a development board. But even the recognition from my peers–when they later borrowed this device–had the same effect as just holding a creation of mine. Though I’m not a parent, I have to imagine there’s at least a little similarity when a child is born (though the child is much more important).

These days, like I mentioned above, I’ve been venturing into 3D modeling and printing at work. I’ve been driving my co-workers crazy talking about it, but it feeds my desire to create (and yes, even helps the company!). To be able to conceptualize and quickly push out an idea? It is a mental reward that borders on addiction. My neurons fire as each new piece I dream up is fabricated and I hold it in my hand. However, that rapid feedback cycle also fires my creative neurons. Whereas a parent may create a child and love it unconditionally, I push out a design idea and immediately begin to criticize it (well, hopefully no parents are doing that). The process of creation is also a force of destruction, as I see weaknesses and eliminate them in future revisions. It’s not just models either. If I get a circuit down on a breadboard or a milled copper-clad PCB, I can easily see if something does or doesn’t work; often I can see it much faster and in many more ways than a simulation can ever provide.

So what keeps me interested in engineering and gets my butt to work every morning? The prospect that today could be the day that I make something really great. And if not? I get to try again tomorrow. What about you? Do you find that you’re motivated by making in engineering? If not, stay tuned this week for other posts on engineering motivation!

Thanks to Tom T for showing off his creation on Flickr, because I’m not allowed to show mine (yet, hopefully it’ll make it to production!)


I know what you mean about the rush seeing a completed project. I’m a retired development engineer from a major automotive electronics supplier, and one of my greatest rushes was to take my kids to the auto show, point to a piece of electronics on a car, and say “I designed that.”

I think being a “Motivated” engineer is a genetic disease. My father has it, my grandfather had it and I have it. I used to think it was about finding an elegant solution to a vexing issue or maybe designing a product that rocks the current paradigm (aka lame marketing terminology of the week “disruptive technology”) or even pride in meeting impossible deadlines for the team.

I don’t know why I can walk away from some tasks while others consume my days and haunt my dreams until I finish. Just a glimpse of an IC gets my subconscious working through the possibilities. I’ve generated schematics and worked on pcb’s layouts all night without so much as a yawn. Last week I spent 3 days and immersed in the statistical math of the Poisson Error Process so I could generate a linear polynomial that the SW folks could use in a product. I hate statistics, but I couldn’t stop myself.

I think it’s a compulsion, at least with me. I can’t help analyzing and reverse engineering stuff. I can’t help thinking of improvements, and then trying modifications. Even though I don’t currently hold an engineering job (degreed and qualified, but companies around here are all laying off) I still work on stuff in my garage and home lab. For me, the best thing is seeing my creations work.

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