Friday, July 07, 2006

Realizations of the week

Realizations of the week:
  1. Ergonomics are important.
  2. Embedded systems are awesome.
  3. I am female.
Ergonomics are important.

I used to laugh at people that bought expensive chairs and keyboards, and weird curvy mice, and wrist braces and such. Three years later, I now have a funky ergonomic keyboard, a weird curvy mouse, and wrist braces. My body is much happier (my back and wrists are learning). I've also learned that spending an hour or two setting your workstation up just right is time that's more than gained back in the increased productivity later on; I don't care if you have to prop your monitor up on textbooks to bring it to the right height; just do it.

Embedded systems are awesome.

I've rambled happily on this at length, I'm sure, but I've found my Happy Place (tm) as a Real ECE - or at least I know how I might become one. I've been around long enough to pick up the words that I need to understand in order to learn how to be a proper ECE. Never mind that it feels like I should have reached this point at the end of my freshman year instead of the beginning of my senior year. I'll make the best of it.

Electrical engineering is a hard thing to start learning. With software, you can use a relatively high-level language like Python, click and install, type "print hello world," and you're in business. With something mechanical, where you might get some helpful klunking noises and can hear/see/feel what's broken or not working.

The trouble with getting started in electrical engineering is that you need to have started in everything to get started in anything. If something tiny - be it software, hardware, high or low level - in an electrical system isn't working, nothing will work. It will just sit there, leaving you to curse the LED for not blinking. Chicken and egg.

But I now have something to start with, and having learned to flounder in the completely nonintuitive (to me) Pool of ECE with no background whatsoever, I think that I can be thrown into the deep end of any pool and be expected to learn how to flounder in a productive manner that will someday emerge as swimming. If that's all I learn or remember from three years of Olin, I'd say it was time and sleeplessness well spent.

I am female.

Unfortunately, these sorts of things appear to matter when you're in a technical discipline.

When I (a not entirely incompetent ECE) go out with a bunch of male MechEs, and we run into other tech geeks who wants to talk about engineering or similar, I expect them to speak to the MEs more when talking about ME stuff, since they know about that kind of thing and I don't as much. Echo for bio stuff for BioEs, matsci stuff for E:Matscis, and so forth. This does in fact happen; it's logical.

I also somewhat stupidly expect them to talk more to me when speaking of ECE stuff, since... ah, I'm an ECE. Instead, what usually happens is that they speak entirely to the MEs (if the MEs happen to be male) when speaking about ECE stuff, despite my introduction as the only ECE of the group, and several interjections of "yeah, Mel's done that" or "actually, one of my projects was..." It is only when I am in a group of entirely female non-ECEs that I am actually spoken to as an ECE.

I used to carry around math textbooks, science classics, and Shakespeare when I was in elementary and middle school so nobody would make assumptions and start speaking in monosyllables to me because of my hearing aids. Do I need to start toting the Art of Electronics around and wearing a Maxwell's Equations t-shirt in order to be seen as an electrical engineer?


Grant Hutchins said...

The Maxwell's equations are quite fashionable. But imagine if only there were a Grand Unified Theory, its fashionability would shoot through the roof!

Ditto on the ergonomics by the way. Get organized next. I bet you might like GTD, although warning it is trendy and business people buy books about it.

Cheryl said...

Not trying to jump on you, but I feel slightly bad for the MEs. I'm sure their discipline is complicated too. :-P

There's been lots about femaleness lately. I can't wait to see what my engeering experience in industry will be like. Raython IDS is about a quarter female, but I have yet to actually see for myself.

Mel said...

I've read GTD, although I haven't actually tried it - thanks for the reminder, Grant. I'll need to do that.

And Cheryl, you're right; ME, BioE, E:Sys, and any other discipline (engineering or not) has its own complications and difficulties - they're definitely not "easier" things to learn/do than ECE by any stretch of the imagination. Having only really experienced the ECE side of things, I can only be frustrated by she sheer difficulty of getting a jump start in this particular discipline... although if a lot of disciplines have this problem, that might be a signal that we need to rethink how we're teaching 'em.

Looking forward to hearing those stories from the Real World, by the way.