Monday, December 1, 2008

Confessions of a Recovering Engineer

Discussing texting and the abbreviations 'NASA' and 'NACA' with a friend the other day got me to thinking again about how I miss being part of the space program and the aerospace industry. A life regret I guess. I suppose I could still pursue it.

I am still – to this day – intensely proud of my degree in Aerospace Engineering & Mechanics, a true dual degree (aerospace engineering is one discipline, and theoretical mechanics, a discipline which no one really understands when you tell them about it, is another) and the last one offered by the University of Minnesota's Institute of Technology in 1981 (I don’t know what they call the degree these days). My diploma hangs in my home office where I can see it as I sit and type. I still love to tell people I’m an engineer by training, and when they ask what kind of engineer, I feel a flush of pride when I tell them, "Aerospace." This is not an ego thing, this is a validation-of-self thing.

As a twenty-something young man, all I ever really wanted was to be an engineer. In those days I was always happiest while working alone in my office, doing design calculations. I remember late afternoons, sitting at my desk, with a set of blueprints effectively forming a desk blotter, and with my trusty Hewlett-Packard calculator and a yellow pad of my company's custom printed engineering paper, figuring out the geometry or calculating the stresses on whatever part I was designing at the time.

Of course, the calculator and pad of engineering paper were soon overtaken by the PC and spreadsheet programs like Excel, but – indicative of my true nature – these days I enjoy working with Excel and my CAD system at work. I design jewelry with the CAD system and I do all my custom job costing and other financial analysis with Excel templates I’ve set up.

I suppose I should be paying close attention to these feelings as I contemplate the next phase of my work life.