Tuesday, February 16, 2010

How Do They Do That?

A few thoughts about engineers for a Tuesday afternoon.

I am an engineer.  My husband is an engineer.  I work every day with about 40 engineers and I pretty much love every minute of it.  Every once in a while I catch myself stepping back from the task at hand and thinking about the situation (not necessarily the problem) from an outsiders perspective.  I can understand why people have so many stereotypes in their mind when they hear the word engineer.

I hear them often, especially when people find out I'm married to an engineer.  There is almost always a question like, so when you go home at night do you just talk about work non-stop (we talk about work but not about the issues we solved that day – after all Its proprietary – but mostly we talk about a funny thing our co-worker did over the weekend or a stupid mistake a maintenance guy made that sucked up our afternoon – nothing more detailed then I would tell any other person engineer or not) or if we just have white boards all over our house so we can solve any problems that arise on the home front (because everyone knows an engineer is only able to solve issues when writing on a white board).  Or how do you guys manage to put the groceries away (I'll admit my food storage definitely has some elements of lean manufacturing to it but it's a system that works so why not apply it off the operations floor?).

So on that note, here are my random thoughts about engineers:

A few weeks ago while eating breakfast at work someone was eating mandarin oranges.  Now I don't know about you, but since I work in a fast paced manufacturing environment, every time I see a mandarin orange I wonder how in the world they make them and not just how they make them but what the machine that makes them look like (judging by the low price of a can of mandarin oranges one could almost assume with a surety that it's an automated fairly fast paced product).  None of you will be shocked when I tell you that every other engineer sitting at the table had the same exact thought – how do they make those and what does that machine look like?  Do you think things like that when you look at a simple commodity like mandarin oranges?  If you do, you might be an engineer.

Today we had our engineering department meeting.  While all of the engineers working at the plant squeezed into the tiny conference room they scheduled for the meeting I had a thought.  If someone posed a problem to this entire group and the problem involved something we all had some knowledge on, would the entire group be able to agree on one solution?  I didn't even hesitate to answer that thought, absolutely not. 

In college we're trained to solve problems and given a few skills to enable that problem solving along the way.  My college professors were constantly reminding us when the age old question of "when am I going to use this?" came up that they were 99% positive we were never going to solve a problem like ones we solved in class.  But by going through the process of solving this difficult problem in which many things are known and arriving at a logical answer, we should be able to go out into the real world, take an issue with which we have only a few known's and an infinite amount of unknowns and come to a logical conclusion using the same process.  They were explicit that it was not necessarily important that we remember how to calculate the heat transfer to a piece of aluminum in the middle of our classroom.  It was important however, that we remember how to gather correct data about the situation and use a few of the skills we picked up along the way to reach a guess at what the problem could be and how to fix it.  So even if the entire engineering group was given the exact same information for the known's, it's the unknowns that would allow the group to argue and speculate for days and still not emerge from the tiny conference room with one solution to the problem.  But that's also the reason we get problems solved, every solution I come up with isn't going to solve the problem.  Some are going to make it way worse.  If everyone came up with the same solution, we would all be up a creek.

When I was an engineering ambassador at the University of Utah, one of the things we always stressed when speaking to students about what engineering is was the need for diversity amongst a group of engineers.  It was hard for me to see that as easily when I was in school, we were all around the same age, mostly from the same place (Utah), mostly had the same religious beliefs, and mostly were paying our way through school by working part or full time.  We were pretty much the same person and honestly any one that had a few more things different about them typically didn't make it through the program.  So I would wonder, if we're all basically the same and the people that aren't don't make it through the program, is diversity really that important?

I guess in my co-ops I didn't pay enough attention to the diverse groups of engineers around me because since graduating and going to work I know by having people that are different from each other is the only way to really solve problems.  Every day I get to work with engineers that are different ages, have different types of families, grew up in different places, were educated differently and have different engineering disciplines. 

My one last thought about engineers.  For a group of people that is typically comprised of type A personalities we learn to pick our battles very well.  In college by the time we were seniors, we no longer complained about how long or how hard an assignment was, we didn't dread how bad a test would be because at some point we all just stopped caring.  The energy spent worrying and stressing about those things didn't help to get the hard assignments done or make the test any easier so we all just adopted the attitude of it doesn't matter.  We realized that we had done some really hard stuff and if it got worse, well so be it.  Fighting it or arguing about it didn't change it so we all just bucked up and did it. 

I see that at work now.  With every new change – you must attend this meeting every morning, we're making this material cheaper and you have to figure out a way to run it, or we're now tracking all of our assignments on this board so everyone can know what you're working on- the decision has to be made.  Is this worth my energy to fight or would my efforts be better spent getting that down machine up and running again or solving that consumer complaint issue.  Instead of fighting for what we would like, you're a good engineer when you keep the big picture in mind and get down and do your work.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Well I guess first things first. Sundance.

It was a total blast.  I'm so glad we were responsible with the Orion festival to enable us to play on Park City's Main Street during the Sundance Film Festival.  Unfortunately for everyone else, I didn't take any pictures or see any famous people.  Your priorities are a little different when you're trying to find your venue on a long street and Google has no idea where this place is and you are 10 minutes late.  There's always next year I guess.  Anyway, Jake and I played at a place called the Crown on Main.  I guess they do a local artist showcase every year during Sundance.  It was a really cool place with a big wood fireplace and industrial fixtures.  I was actually surprised at the number of people that wandered in during our performance and sat down.  I mean it was only 5:00 in the evening, a little early to be bar hopping on a Thursday night, right?

Saturday night Shad and I went up to Logan for a Utah State basketball game.  Shad's brother goes to school there and another brother just graduated from there.  While we were down at his family's house for dinner a few weeks ago they started talking about how outrageous their student section was.  Shad wanted to see it for himself so we got tickets; I took the opportunity to see our friends Ashlee and Daren that live up in Logan while we were there.  I loved going to sporting events with Ash in high school and she's the one that took me to an Aggie basketball game so I knew I wanted Shad to experience it with someone that could sing the Scotsman the way it should be sung.  I think Shad was super impressed with the ridiculousness of some of the things the crowd would chant or do.  Go over and read Ashlee's blog on the whole experience including pictures.  It was an awesome time.

Last week was my two good work friends birthdays so I had the joy of making them their birthday treats (something the female engineers do for the other female engineers because let's face it, if we made the men treats for their birthdays, they still wouldn't make us treats for ours).  Danielle opted for Rice Krispie Treats with Golden Grahams.  Delicious.  For Jen's birthday we decided on a cake to use up the marshmallow fondant left over from a cake we made for another work lady back in November.  Because Jen wanted to help Danielle and I make the cake, we made an evening of it.  I (and Danielle) managed to actually take pictures of this event.  Here's one for you.

This is the most complete picture of the cake I have.  Here's Jen and I applying cookie cutter fondant shapes.  Apparently we don't care about what the finished product looked like.  For this cake we used 3 9" rounds with a layer of buttercream frosting and frozen raspberries.  One cake layer was just lemon flavor and the other two were lemon with raspberries.  So good.

This last weekend was also really fun and exciting.  Friday night Shad, Jen and I went down to SLC with our friend Jared to get him a suit he needed this week.  We had quite a good time at Banana Republic.  Shad helped Jared with his suit and I dressed Jen up in Banana Republic clothes.  Good times.  It was like having a Barbie doll except this one talked back and had opinions about her outfits.  After successfully finding him a suit, we decided to go to CafĂ© Niche for dinner.  It was wonderful.  Shad and I had previously tried to eat there a few months ago but it was closed when we went.  This time it was open and even had a live Jazz band playing.  It was a great choice.

Saturday was a busy day for my.  Shad's brothers were coming up that night to stay over which meant I had to clean the house.  After accomplishing that, I went down to Layton for a baby shower for one of my co-workers wives, Christi.  She's such a cute pregnant lady and it was a lot of fun to see so many ladies I haven't seen in awhile.  Her and Patrick are going to be such cute parents.

After the baby shower, I came home and started working on dinner for the Settlers of Cattan party we were having.  Now before you judge me for being a total nerd I will say it was my brother in-law's idea.  They love Settlers and Shad and I aren't willing to spend hours at his parents' house playing board games on the Sundays we come down.  This was a good alternative to giving them their way without making us angry.  Shad's uncle came up to join in on the fun as well.  Shad's youngest brother Luke stayed the night with us since both of our families were coming up the next day for the super bowl.  Shad and I almost had him convinced to come to Young Women's with me but he chickened out. 

After church we got the food ready for a whole bunch of people to watch the super bowl at our house.  Both of our families came up to watch and we had a blast.  Dublin was even a good enough puppy to lie on his bed while we watched.  Up until now, new people have just been way too exciting for him to be a good dog (shock collar and all) so I was pleased to see that at a year old, he's finally calming down.