Category Archives: Workplace

This week at Engineer Blogs we’re talking about your role as an engineer as your company changes over time. I’m lucky enough to work for a company that has a well established and successful product. We also have lots of specialized support departments that attempt to make the engineer’s life a little easier. But on the other hand we are still rapidly growing. The company has more than doubled in size in my tenure. I’ve talked before about the conflicts between doing the technical work or doing project management work. A company with a reputation and a good administrative staff can be a huge boon to an engineer but if you are growing you need to be careful you don’t rest on your laurels either. (Street sign photo credit) When I had to return something in my personal life and stopped by the local post office I realized how spoiled…

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I am seriously jealous of my male engineering colleagues: it’s so easy for them to pick out clothing, and they never have to worry that someone will assume they aren’t an engineer because of their attire.  I have decided that it is time for a serious wardrobe upgrade, and I am struggling to figure out what kind of clothes I can and should wear. For years, I’ve been quite happy wearing jeans, sneakers and tshirts or sweaters depending on the weather.  This is perfectly acceptable where I work, as there really is no dress code.  Unfortunately, this more often than not has left people believing I’m a grad student, or more often, an undergrad…because that’s how a lot of them dress. When I’ve tried to upgrade to wearing more professional clothes, I am assumed to be a secretary, except when I went to a conference recently.  At the conference, I…

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In this post, I’ll talk a little bit about what it was like procuring parts at my old job, a mid-sized R&D lab. (Or maybe I should say an R&D lab working on a number of aerospace projects and particularly concerned with part traceability). To my childlike eyes, it was a strange sort of magic. I’ll try to elaborate.  You see, as a mechanical engineer, I like concrete, tangible, physical things. The process of going to a store, giving someone money, and getting something in return makes sense to me. There’s been a fair exchange of goods. The procurement process at work, however, seemed like voodoo in comparison. The way procurement would work at my old job was that I would fill out a piece of paper with a list of the parts I wanted (yes, paper! although at some point we switch to an electronic version of the paper, which…

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I started my move to engineering management in earnest last week by paying a visit to headquarters out in California. Before I left, I briefed myself on what to expect by reading a couple of management books. One common theme in both books is how busy and disoriented I will find myself in the beginning. Unfortunately, those books are right. I spent three days at HQ. Before the first day was over, my calendar for all three days were filled with meetings. I felt like a manager already! In the past, whenever I started a new engineering job, there was always a transition period of reading documentation and playing around with the software tools before one really starts to contribute to the design effort. This time around, there will be no such luxury. I am to take over the last phases of a project and to deliver it on time,…

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I’ve been in hiding for the last two weeks or so, as I’m in a fairly intensive coding phase of my research project. While I normally take frequent breaks and interact with my coworkers, during focused coding efforts, I tend to lose track of time and tune out what’s going on in the office/outside world (hence the recent lack of posting…). Cherish has talked before about the effect of office space on productivity. Most of the time, I’m fairly happy with my office space. We’re lucky enough to have windows, and my office mates are all in my lab group. However, what I really want when coding is a cave with no distractions and a really large monitor. I also need enough space to scribble psuedo-code, to make sure it will do what I want before I start fretting about syntax. My prior desk served this role pretty well, as…

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For readers who are old enough to remember Seinfeld, one of the most brilliant episodes was The Contest where the phrase “master of my domain” entered popular culture. And the only similarity between that Seinfeld episode and this episode of What The Flux is that catchphrase. Master of my domain — that’s what it has been for the past decade and a half as a working engineer. I like to think that I know my domain pretty well — analog integrated circuit design. I also like to think that I’ve been a fairly decent engineer, that I’ve progressed and matured, and that I’ve mastered the challenges presented to me over the years. Still, in the last little while, things started to get routine, a bit boring. I felt restless, and that restlessness caused me to consider other career trajectories, perhaps even a jump over to *gasp* management. Eventually, I did…

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When I was job hunting a few months ago, I decided I was less interested in aerospace/defense and more interested in working in consumer product development. I was particularly interested in working at a consulting firm, because the variety of work appealed to me. The thought of working on a single product line for years on end…did not have much appeal. At many of the product design and consulting firms where I interviewed, I encountered a disturbing trend. I had been peripherally aware of it, but finally encountered face to face: Not many consumer products are engineered in the United States. At one firm, for example, I saw a design for a new model blender. The firm had handled the industrial design, essentially designing the appearance of the blender, it’s contours and colors and the shape and number of it’s knobs. A factory in China, they told me, would do…

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I wake up to the sound of music, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, “Let it be.” — Paul McCartney As inclined as I am to favour the Christian faith, having Mother Mary speak to me as I awake would totally freak me out. Which is too bad, because the words she is imparting to Sir Paul is wisdom indeed. This past Friday marked my last day at my old position, my last day with the same local colleagues that I’ve been honoured to have worked with for the past 7 years. It was a day of mixed emotions, though I kept most of that emotion to myself. I called up those I worked with in the US, thanked them for having made my working life pleasurable, and uttering that old clichéd line about staying in touch. As for my local colleagues who are about to be…

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I’ve been on some extensive travel lately and as Chris Gammell related travelling for engineering is no easy task. Making sure you have all your necessary test equipment and access to all the resources you might need involves a lot of planning. But sometimes things just don’t work out in your favor. I’ve talked about testing to failure before. However, plenty of times when you are not anticipating failure it happens anyways: Murphy strikes again. The problem is in dealing with your failure. Very often it’s unclear whether you caused a component to fail or whether you had a bad component to begin with. Miss MSE just talked about how engineers need to be good storytellers. Unfortunately there’s very often no good story to tell. If it was your equipment that caused the failure (but you can’t figure out how) that sort of implies you’re due for future failure. Or…

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DrWife sent me an article that she read titled Why we have to go back to a 40-hour work week to keep our sanity by Sara Robinson at AlterNet which makes a compelling case for why the 40 hour work week was initiated and why it’s need for us to be economically successful as a society. If you haven’t read it, I suggest you do so now. It’s OK, I can wait. … There, all finished. The article essentially discusses how people are not that much more productive working more than 40 hours per week (or 8 hours in a day) and the work efficiency drops off significantly. There are many facets to discuss based on this article, ranging from the current unemployment level in the US to the work-life balance that many of us would like and overall human rights issues that the NY Times has pointed out in articles about China’s…

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