Monday, June 25, 2012

Reflections: When I Grow Up

For most of my childhood I wanted to be a civil engineer. My understanding of what civil engineers did was create software programs. (I'd learn at the end of my freshman year in college that I really wanted to be a software engineer (CS degree path not CE degree path).) While I no longer work as a civil engineer what I loved about it as a child is central to what I do now.
Heirloom Child's Growth Chart
In high school, I was lucky to participate in a summer internship my junior year through Enterprise for High School Students at an architecture and engineering firm. In college, I became an engineering aide at the firm. Working in civil engineering helped motivate me to keep going when coursework got tough. When I graduated, civil engineering jobs were in short supply; I joined a high-tech start up as a technical writer. I wondered what it would be like to work as a full-fledged civil engineer, and two years after graduation landed a job as a civil engineer.
Public works projects move very slowly. Many get tied up in litigation, putting them on hold indefinitely. After actively working as a civil engineer, I discovered a large part of the job was waiting. (I was one of many engineers assigned to work on the international terminal at SFO. A lawsuit delayed the project start, and we were furloughed.) A lot of projects for one reason or another never made it from design to construction; a project's future depended on politicians and lawyers -- not engineers. (Two projects that I worked on in the early 90s, the Benicia-Martinez Bridge and the Carquinez Bridge, weren't built until the mid 00s.) I wanted to know that my efforts mattered; I wanted to see concrete results. (If lives and/or property were threatened, projects went from design to reality quickly. Raising the face of the Mokelumne Dam to account for revised 100 year flood statistics took less than five years from design to construction.)
Recently I thought about why I wanted to be a civil engineer, specifically, what it was I liked doing and how I felt when I enjoyed being an engineer. I loved tackling complex problems, researching options, and testing and building a solution. The "ah ha" moment of figuring something out and the sense of pride that wow I built xyz and it works were really what drove me. The moments where I thrived were ones in which I felt challenged, part of a team, and proud of what I/we accomplished.
Now I'm in marketing at a high-tech firm. It's fast moving, and there's lots to learn and to figure out as channels and tools for reaching those channels evolve. I'm part of a team that implements campaigns leveraging the web, social media, email, print advertisements, direct mail, and live events. Results are actively reviewed and variables tweaked; there are many "ah ha" moments.
Are you doing what you dreamed of as a kid?
Ciao Bella!
Credits: All images taken by Eden Hensley Silverstein for The Road to the Good Life.