"How I Became an Engineer"
I didn’t always want to be an engineer. At age 8 I wanted to be a veterinarian. Then I found out you have to work with animals other than dogs and cats, like snakes and rats. I was out. I needed to find a new career dream, so I choose teacher. Then it was gossip columnist, then actress, and then at one point all 3. I was going to be a triple threat. By high school, a teaching career mostly won out; my talents in acting were zilch, and my interest in writing about others’ drama dwindled when I encountered my own gossip ring in middle school.
What to teach though? Throughout my childhood, I was told by others how good I was at math and science, so I finally settled on the fact that I’d be a math teacher. I confessed this decision to my algebra teacher, who flat out told me that there was more I could do with my math talents than teach. For example, had I thought about engineering? What? Huh? I had no idea really what an engineer did. I thought to myself, they do stuff with computers, so I should think about working with computers? And here’s a fact that I’m embarrassed about (to this day): my dad was an engineer. Don’t get me wrong, I had heard of the word engineer, but I didn’t know exactly what they did at their jobs day to day. MY DAD WAS ONE. I honestly didn’t know what my own dad did for a living. Ask me what my mom did, and it was easy to describe; she was a teacher (hmm, wonder where the idea for teacher came from?), and teachers help shape young minds. Ask me what my dad did, I could say engineer, but couldn’t give any more details. Maybe it was time to ask him for more details.
Professional Head-shot for a Professional (Or Super Hero?) Engineer
I decided to approach my dad, “dad what do you do as an engineer?” He was super excited to tell me all about his work. He had worked on radios and satellites for space programs, as well as equipment for gathering weather data. He explained that he now taught college students about computers and the chips inside of computers (think the green plastic parts if you open up a computer, he explained). But then he said something along these lines that has stuck with me forever “but engineers do so much more. They build roads, design cars, create buildings, make health devices (like pace maker) and prosthetic limbs, improve the clothes, water, food, and household goods we use on a daily basis; they touch every aspect of our lives without us even noticing. Their work is seamlessly integrated into the world.” And I remember asking, “kind of like the Wizard of Oz? They’re like the people behind the curtain that helps make things better?” He simply answered yes.
I thought it all sounded kind of cool, and I wish I could say that was the point in my life when I decided to become an engineer. However, it wasn’t until 3 years later when I was a senior in high school. I was taking a music recording class at the local community college because I thought it’d be cool to be a music producer. I was really into everything music at that point. As the class progressed, I learned that I was horrible at distinguishing when a note was flat or sharp, which is import skill to have as a music producer. But the profession of the music recording class also taught us the science behind audio and how the audio equipment worked. It was all relating back to the physics class I was taking at my high school: electrical current, resistors, capacitors, electromagnets, and circuits. I realized I really enjoyed learning about these things, and also remembered that these things were what my dad worked on. Light bulb! Maybe I should consider studying engineering in college! This time I told my mom that I was thinking of being an engineer. “Finally!” she exclaimed, “engineering pays so much more than teaching and offers so many career opportunities!” I’ll be honest; she had me at pays more. I was a 17 year old and making lots of money was important to me.
Now as I enter my eleventh year as an engineer (woo 11 years! Go me!), it’s not so much about the money anymore, but how my work saves lives. Yes, it literally saves lives. If you’re lost at sea or in danger of sinking your boat in the middle of the ocean, the engineering system I work on is there to help you. It’s a search and rescue system that uses radio signals and antennas on cells phone towers to triangulate your position and send it to the rescuers. It’s rewarding to have a job that allows me to build and design something that can help others. I guess the high salary doesn’t hurt either. I’m proud to say I’m an engineer.