Variety is the spice of an engineering life

secret engineerA new role working on an unfamiliar product prompts our anonymous blogger to reflect on the value of working in a wide range of sectors 

I can now reveal that the Secret Engineer is moving jobs once more. Hardly unexpected this time as I’ve been working as a sub-contractor and as such, this has been of an intrinsically temporary nature. I have been both a “permie” and a “subby” regularly throughout my career, having found there are advantages and disadvantages with each role. What I have always looked for though is a change from what I have done before. There are industries I’d like to go back to, given the chance but even then I hope that there would be some new challenge involved.

My own approach with regard to seeking variety within my career became crystallised early on. I was working on space related gubbins when myself and a much more experienced and senior colleague were called into the boss’s office. He was looking for someone to work on a new and revolutionary propulsion system, however where I was immediately enthusiastic at being involved in something cutting edge and new to me, m’learned colleague simply replied “I only do waveguides.” I’m actually still quite shocked at him having such a limited outlook even now, about 30 years later.

I can understand the mentality of wanting to be very good, or comfortable within your own particular specialisation but to not even consider the occasional diversion is surely both limiting and potentially tedious? It also seems to reduce options with regard to personal development. To be the best within such a closely defined field should be achievable for most of us but where do we go from there? Where is the challenge and excitement that is at the core of engineering?

Back in the day…peripatetic tenancies were positively encouraged…the loss of this early personal diversification feels like something of an own goal for industry

Worse for me – and I believe I have touched on this before – is how companies seem to restrict the scope of fresh faced graduates. I feel very lucky to have worked on a wide variety of products within a wide variety of companies, but rather than “lucky” I would prefer to feel that I had simply followed a path that is still readily available to those currently joining our ranks. Of course back in the day, with apprentices at least, such peripatetic tenancies were positively encouraged. Once you received your papers that was it, you were off and away. Times may have changed, along with the jobs market, but the loss of this early personal diversification – whether by design or happen-stance –  feels like something of an own goal for industry.

People still move about between companies, if anything we have seen a marked reduction in the “job for life” paradigm but my focus here is definitely towards the youngsters and how they accumulate a broad working knowledge as quickly as possible. After all, what is “experience” other than being exposed to multiple influences and finding out for yourself what works and what doesn’t in various situations?

As regards the latest stage in my own adventure within the realms of engineering, I am (ironically) currently at the slightly apprehensive “should I have stayed where I was comfortable” phase. The new position is below heights I have scaled before and involves manufacturing techniques I am entirely familiar with, yet I still worry that I will find some aspects difficult to master. Look at it it another way though and I will be working on a product I have not worked on before, for a new company and I will have the chance to learn something new. I will of course be absolutely committed in my approach and I hope that this will be the start of a lengthy and mutually fruitful association. In fact I would go so far as to say, at this early stage, that the signs are good for settling in for the long haul. If it doesn’t work out though – well – there are plenty more opportunities to learn and flourish out there.

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