Friday, April 06, 2007

Why I won't be earning money this summer

(continuing the long line of "Mel is hyper! Mel can't do work!" posts of the day...)

Note: This is one half of my brain; the other half does acknowledge that I have competence in a number of things and should probably seek reasonable financial compensation for it, but I am taking the summer "off" because I'm trying to make this half shut up a little.

Among other things this summer, I'm trying to find ways to volunteer as an electronics technician and code monkey (and if I can find IDDS teams that need stuff fabricated, a little bit of machining as well). I need to do this and not get paid for a while. It's a psychological block I need to get over.

I'm willing to inhale as much solder fume as it takes. Basically, I want to learn how to Build Stuff, and I'll do gruntwork in exchange for permission to ask stupid questions. (I know I always have permission from other people to ask questions; this is permission I have to grant myself. I always have to emit a net usefulness to whatever group I'm working for. This is how I can get around my perceived net self-un-usefulness.)

I'm trying to quantify how much more I have to learn to become a pragmatic member of a project. I don't feel like I'm useful enough to get paid to do much technical stuff yet. Yes, I know companies expect new hires to need training. I am currently too terrified to be trained as a new hire. This is a personal tic, and my self-confidence in my ability to code or engineer will suck until I somehow get myself past my personal threshold of usefulness/comfort, and I think that a few months of specifically addressing that tic will let me move past it.

This summer I am taking time "off" (read: volunteering at random places) and (re)teaching myself engineering, focusing on EE subjects, until I'm at the level I deem suitable for starting in an entry-level position. It will be the experiment in unschooling I've wanted to do since 4th grade but never had the freedom to pursue. (When you're 10 years old and your parents won't let you drop out of school... well, you go to school.) I want to get a better hands-on feel for how other people design before I go out and make designs of my own.

I feel like I miss so much in my engineering classes because I never got the chance to play with electronics or machines as a kid - maybe my friends who hacked with their dads in the garage don't know as much math as I do, but they sure have a better gut feel for how to slap together an elegant, working board, and they weren't utterly mystified and intimidated by what the heck "solder" was when they first got here. You can cut past the cruft to see the content, the purpose of the things you're learning. You see where things fit into the larger picture of becoming a master in your chosen field.

After a few months of doing gruntwork and quietly watching, then I think I'll be able to really launch out and learn. Right now I'm so afraid of learning engineering that it's ridiculous. I really should have taken that deferred year option before college and trained as an electronics technician, or a junior programmer, or an apprentice machinist - I think it would have given me the confidence to run a lot faster during my four years at school.

But since I didn't do that then, I'm trying to do it now. Anybody need a volunteer?

2 comments:

David Klempner said...

[i]until I somehow get myself past my personal threshold of usefulness/comfort[/i]

This way leads to failure by inaction.

I'm not saying that it's a bad idea to spend the summer "off", but that it will [i]NOT[/i] accomplish this. If you wait until you feel ready, you'll never do it.

David Klempner said...

[i]

Arg, been using too much vB recently. :-)