Category Archives: Workplace

There can be few greater misnomers than the title of the course I attended for two days last week: Time Management. Who thought that one up? Not students of metaphysics, anyway. The management of time? We can philosophise it, theorise it, chop it up into humanly sensible bits, run our lives to it; but we certainly can’t manage it. Still, what’s in a name? It’s a pithy title (better than “Trying to make the best of our remaining hours on earth, at work and at home”) and at least sells courses to HR departments, so let’s go with it. Manager-like, let’s also get straight to the core question: why was I there and what did I learn? (Management questions are always double-barrelled). I was there because during a personal development chat with my manager and director, I raised the point that I was struggling to maintain my deadlines; overall we…

Read more

One of the reasons I became a blogger was to become more involved in a community which could offer me advice and support on the problems I face in graduate school and as a woman in STEM. In many cases, others have faced the same types of problems I’m encountering and have found possible solutions. So what does this have to do with open source software? In many cases, there are communities of users that will offer beginners advice and support on starting out with a new software package or help troubleshoot problems. One of the open source software packages I use pretty much daily is LAMMPS (Large-scale Atomic/Molecular Massively Parallel Simulator), developed and maintained by a team at Sandia. While it’s a very well-documented code, the error messages can be vague. This is where the support community comes in. The lammps-user mailing list archive is usually my first stop, to…

Read more

 I always find it interesting how physical space affects relationships, both on a personal level, and a corporate one. For example, the Wall Street Journal, this past week, had an article about a manufacturing cluster developing in South Carolina. The article cites several effects that come from economies of scale in the “cluster,” such as access to a good highway system, shipping ports, and a feeder system of vocational schools and engineering colleges. One thing that’s always struck me is the way logistical problems change when companies are close together or far apart. For example, if you’re in the same building and I need to get you a shipment of raw stock, I’m telling Bob with the fork truck to take 10 minutes and drive it over. If you’re in the same town, Bob’s taking an hour to drive the flatbed with your delivery. Beyond that, I can’t spare Bob for…

Read more

In my last installment of WTF, I briefly discussed the career aspirations of my Chinese engineering team and how they wish they are no longer viewed by multinationals as second class engineers. In the comments section, “Bill” opined that: Hopefully as time goes on they demand increasingly higher salaries as well… I can only surmise the thinking behind this comment is that Chinese wages are horribly depressed and workers are powerless to do anything about it. Perhaps this stems from the well publicized stories regarding alleged helpless workers at Foxconn being paid a pittance to produce iPhones and iPads. Or perhaps it was simply tongue-in-cheek. But whatever…I’ll go with the former because it ties in nicely into what I’m about to write. I’ve been in China for three full weeks now. On my very first day at the company, I already had to deal with my very first major issue…

Read more

As a general rule, I never thought my job responsibilities as an engineer would include HR duties. Admin duties, yes – engineers are not exempt from Excel data entry, scheduling, and organizing forms with pink sticky notes. (I do love my pink sticky notes.) And management duties, yes – many engineers work in teams and need to know how to motivate, collaborate, delegate, and generally navigate in leadership settings. But the thought of hiring folks, paying salaries, crafting policy – that just scares me. What the HR department does deals directly with issues that get to the heart of human emotion – money, titles, benefits, and scope of power. Eesh. No wonder it scares me… Fluxor has recently moved to a job that requires hiring folks, and Cherish and FrauTech have both written about being on the interviewing side of the hiring process. So far I’ve never had to hire…

Read more

That beast being China, the one that’s devouring all the jobs from the West. For the past two weeks, I’ve witnessed my team of chip designers at work, both analog and digital. I must say, they’re really good for their experience level. Companies similar to ours continue to expand operations in China. And we’re not hiring technologist either. These are real engineers with real engineering experience with some of the big names in the industry — Intel, Broadcom, Analog Devices, etc. What most multinationals tend to do is to see their Chinese (and Indian) engineers as mere supporting casts for their team of engineers in their home base, be it North America, Europe, or other parts of Asia (Japan/Korea/Taiwan). The Chinese engineers simply don’t have the same depth of experience when compared with developed nations. Hence, they simply cannot take on as much. But over time, as Chinese engineers gain…

Read more

A few years ago, I had the unfortunate experience of being in a courtroom with two lawyers.  As soon as the judge said that court was in session, both lawyers stood up and began talking simultaneously for several seconds.  Eventually, one of them ran out of steam, and I was left with the feeling that the other had ‘won’.  I’m not sure what they were going for other than some sort of weird attempt at dominance, and it was a very jarring display.  I thought, at the time, that I would never want to be a lawyer. Since then, I’ve been witness to similar things over and over.  However, instead of in a courtroom, these arguments involving a lot of confrontation and rude behavior, have taken place in front of white boards, on Skype sessions, on telephone calls, and even at bars.  And they always seem to involve engineers…sometimes even…

Read more

There have been some great posts on networking and impostor syndrome in the science blogosphere lately, which has prompted me to do some thinking about one of those pieces of advice that always crops up in such discussion: finding a mentor. It’s pretty generally accepted that mentorship matters at every career stage, but as someone early in my career, it seems that the first advice I’m given when I’m struggling is “find a mentor”. One mistake I think most of us make at least once is assuming that because we report to someone, they will serve as our mentor. Maybe it’s because finding a mentor is actually not a straightforward process. I can’t write a flow chart that will consistently find someone a mentor. Personally, I’ve generally found mentors simply by talking to professors outside of class, about something other than class, or talking to professors who I no longer take…

Read more

Back in 2008 I was out on my first co-op working as a production engineer making and documenting custom production test fixtures for a well established household name company. One of the great things about working for this company was that all the departments were housed under one roof – design, production support, marketing, quality control, production itself, and the machine shop – it was great. Whenever I had to ask someone a question or go on a fact finding mission everyone I ever needed to talk to was within walking distance. Not having to deal with pesky issues such as time zone differences like I do nowadays kept communication tight and efficient. I can’t seem to recall a time where I was sitting around waiting for a response from someone so I could move forward on a project. The full-fledged, well equipped, machine shop that was a stone’s throw…

Read more

The graphic to the right is where FluxCorp is at right now. As far as hi-tech companies go, FluxCorp is a pretty old company, stretching back decades, so you can consider it quite established. Still, the company has been doing well financially recently, so it’s also growing, just not in North America. It is, however, growing quite rapidly in both China and India. And this is where I come in. I’m currently in Shanghai to hire a big wad of people to add to an already bigger wad of people here. The growth has been so rapid that FluxCorp China has literally run out of cubicle space. There are plans now to dismantle several recreational areas in order to make room for new hires. Much grumbling will ensue, no doubt. Shanghai is both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. The city is vibrant and is as modern as any…

Read more

30/138