Take a Chance

Life has been busy lately, and I've been neglecting my writing practice. So, here's an article about life as a new engineer in a new place. This might be helpful for students or other aspiring professionals.

In the beginning...

I was raised in an environment that was often below the poverty line. There were times in my childhood when we didn't have adequate nutrition available to us. We didn't always live in a permanent structure (we spent months on the road camping and doing whatever it took to get by). I've slept in cars. I've lived in rural trailer parks. I've hitchhiked. I've sold stuff on the side of the highway. I protected my two younger siblings from an abusive father. All before I was nine years old.

I don't look back at any of this to excuse any failure in my life. I believe I'm a much stronger person. It made me smarter, more skeptical, and a survivor.

Somewhere in there, I learned that I am the only one to blame for my failures, and my successes. Unfortunately, that means I have very little trust in other people. I don't rely on others to come through on their promises. I don't hold people to the expectations they set for themselves. I don't have very many friends--almost none with whom I would entrust my life. Fortunately, that also means I'm resilient, and self-reliant. If something needs to be done, I simply do it. I almost never wonder if I can or can't do something: I know I can do it. Of course, there are things in this world that require resources I am not capable of mustering. But, I know that if I had those resources, I could do it.

When I grow up...

When I was accepted to college, I literally read the one-paragraph descriptions of each major in the school's catalog, and checked the box next to the one that seemed like the most exciting: electrical engineering. I had no mentors that could give me any appraisal of my interests. I think a guidance counselor would have told me to pursue an acting career. My mother might have suggested a career in science. My best friend might have suggested I become a pastor.

I enjoyed college. I took a lot of courses that were not required for my engineering degree. I found I really liked sociology and literature classes. I took way more computer science courses than I needed. I took an extra math class. Part of me wishes I could get payed my current income to study more advanced electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and high-energy physics. Even after I graduated college, I kept saying, "When I grow up, I'm going to be a..." Until I met my wife, I was set on selling most of my possessions, spending a few months climbing, and then joining the Marines.

I got married. I graduated college. I had a son.

I tried to support my family by taking a job in my home town that had little to do with my education. While I was working there, the company decided they didn't like people messing up all their buzzword synergy back-patting with critical thinking and empirical analysis. I didn't begrudge making a pittance because I enjoyed the work and the people. However, I had to leave before they convinced me to become a lying accountant for that same pittance.

Catching up with Today

I was always a big fish in a little pond. It felt safe. I was on familiar ground. Now, I work with a couple hundred engineers within which I have the least amount of on-the-job experience. I've had to learn proprietary systems, new development/collaboration environments, industry expectations, and a lot of new technologies. The learning curve has been steep, and my productivity expectations are higher than I've ever had (I do something much more complicated than my senior thesis project nearly every month). For all that, I'm an insignificant engineer whose skills are not that special.

It's intimidating living in a new city. The metropolitan area where I live now is 50 times more populated than my home town. There are no friends or family nearby. For a single person, this would be a pretty amazing deal. There's a lot to do and see. For a father of two, however, this can be very challenging.

As I indicated in the introduction, this could be helpful for an aspiring professional. So, let me say I'm extremely happy with the change. I am being challenged professionally like never before. I make considerably more money than the best paying jobs that were available to me back home. I live in a better community. I feel like I'm able to secure a better future for my kids by providing a safe home, and living in an area with a superior public education system. I have resources that I've never had before both due to my new geographical location, and my income (while keeping my budget relatively frugal--okay, I've been buying some nice tools).

I have high hopes (not expectations) for my children. I climbed out of a cycle of near-poverty to become a well-paid engineer in a large city. I'll be able to give my children the opportunity to climb even further into graduate programs and/or becoming leaders in their chosen fields of expertise.

It's not always easy to uproot your whole life and start over somewhere new. It's downright frightening. If you have people that depend on your abilities for their livelihood, it's intensely stressful not knowing if you'll be able to perform your job well enough to keep it. Even though everything still feels new, I will say that I'm glad to be on this side of the transition. I'm glad I risked it. Until I did this, I've never really been set up for much failure.

The moral of my story: The value of a worthwhile accomplishment is directly proportional to the probability of failure.