Work

When It Snows, We Shut Down

Five years of driving in Colorado winters is great preparation for times like this in Seattle:

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40.0 mm || 1/800 || f/4.2 || ISO100 || NIKON D7000
Seattle, Washington, United States

Last week1 Seattle got an amazing 2-5″ of snow.

Unfortunately, while I can get around with such practice, my experience is unable to magically transport itself into others. Thus I am still stuck in a city that can’t clear roads with drivers who still do stupid things:

I digress.

The snow started in earnest Monday morning. We were in a cold snap the previous weekend, so I was pretty sure the snow would stick. I left work early on Monday so I wouldn’t get stuck in the traffic, which turned out to be a good call. I heard it took some people as long as 12 hours to get home.

I decided to work from home on Tuesday, which was a good call as things remained frozen overnight and I heard it was a nightmare to get to work.

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35.0 mm || 1/800 || f/4.2 || ISO100 || NIKON D7000
Seattle, Washington, United States

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70.0 mm || 1/640 || f/4.5 || ISO100 || NIKON D7000
Seattle, Washington, United States

Meanwhile, I commuted five minutes on foot my local Starbucks and camped out.

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18.0 mm || 1/50 || f/3.5 || ISO640 || NIKON D7000
Seattle, Washington, United States

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  1. November 22-24th 

What Are You Going To Do?

On Monday, I found out that I guy I worked with1 who retired earlier this year was diagnosed with kidney cancer a week ago or so. By time the doctors found it, it had already metastasized to the rest his body and doctors were giving him three weeks to live (without treatment) or up to three months with chemo.

Just this morning I found out that he had passed away.

Fuck.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Death is a bitch, cancer even more so.

My heart is heavy this morning and my prayers are with his family.

I think this also points out an important aspect of life that we sometimes like to overlook: tomorrow could be your last day. We are pretty fragile beings, all things considered.

I once read a report detailing how placing the human head at the top of the body was the worst design flaw ever2 because of how much it exposes a supremely vital organ to all sorts of dangers (falling, impalement, low-hanging ceilings, etc).

I’m not saying that tomorrow is going to be your last day, so don’t act like it is. Just recognize that it could be.

Do I really want to spend all my time working so I can retire and really start living? Shouldn’t I really start living right now, if I’m not already?

Carpe diem; ad proximum convivium.

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  1. I knew him by name, but I didn’t work with him on a regular basis 

  2. well, maybe not ever 

What Science Knows and What Businesses Do

This post was originally just going to be a link to a video. Then I started doing some more research and some more digging and this post is what I’ve come up with. I think this is a testament to the magnitude of the idea I’m going to be passing on. Thus, whatever you are doing, stop now and pay attention.

“There’s a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.” – Dan Pink

Dan Pink will describe in 10 short minutes (along with an awesome animation) the truth about what actually motivates us. Surprisingly (or not), money is not what motivates us (generally speaking). Instead, the three factors that lead to better performance & personal satisfaction are:

  • autonomy
  • mastery
  • purpose

Not only that, but we have the research1 and data2 to back this up.

The following animation is adapted from Dan Pink’s talk at the RSA3:

Note: you may need to click through if you can’t see the video above.

Dan has a book that recently came out, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, that I believe goes into more depth. I already had Drive on my book list, but after watching that video I’ve moved it to the top. One of the research papers Dan talks about was completed by behavior economist Dan Ariely, who also wrote Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions and the follow up The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home4.

This all leads to a point.

As much as like doing what I do, I also feel like I’m being stifled, especially as a result of old-fashioned nine-to-five, carrot-and-stick incentives. Thus, when I think about wanting to work at a small company, it’s not because I don’t like people or want to work with fewer people, it’s because there is more freedom to do what I want, more freedom to explore, to freedom to innovate, and that’s what I want.

To be clear, this isn’t about working less, it’s about working best. If I can get done in six hours what you think should take eight hours, why can’t I go home early? Am I being paid to be available to solve problems or to actually solve problems? Work that requires even marginal amount of thinking should5 be Results-Only Work Environments, not Presenteeism Work Environments.

All the money in the world can’t buy happiness and I’d rather being making $10k (or whatever) less and truly enjoy what I do; and this is the problem.

From experiencefreak.com:

Currency for motivation is becoming more intangible. … [A] fun/surprising reward can be more motivating than a functional cash incentive or discount. A competitive, peer interaction and temporal element drives motivation. Case in point look at how 4Square drives engagement.

I think the current generation of engineers6 gets this idea. We aren’t as tied to money as we are tied to autonomy, mastery, and purpose. I like purpose, it makes me feel like I’ve actually done something useful. And I like mastery, because I’m sort of anal like that. And I like autonomy, because I’ve found ways of doing things that work really, really well for me and get the job done. And money can’t buy any of that.

I see this at play in my own life in literally everything outside of work (i.e. my seven-to-three job): writing plugins for WordPress, running a triathlon, leading a Bible study, taking photographs. These are the things that make me happy. Engineering makes me happy too, but not as much as I think it could; which I believe has to do with the current method that I practice it.

See also:

Update:
From www.acceleratingfuture.com:

Why Intelligent People Fail
Content from Sternberg, R. (1994). In search of the human mind. New York: Harcourt Brace.

  1. Lack of motivation. A talent is irrelevant if a person is not motivated to use it. Motivation may be external (for example, social approval) or internal (satisfaction from a job well-done, for instance). External sources tend to be transient, while internal sources tend to produce more consistent performance.

via Kottke

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  1. Large Stakes and Big Mistakes 

  2. “A long history of research has demonstrated that rewards can decrease motivation and attitudes (Festinger & Carlsmith, 1959), alter self-perception (Bem, 1965), increase overjustification (Lepper et al., 1973), and turn feelings of competence into feelings of being controlled (Deci & Ryan, 1985).” Source: Effort for Payment: A Tale of Two Markets 

  3. The original talk is about 40 minutes long and is pretty much an expanded version of the talk Dan Pink gave at TED on motivation 

  4. these two books are also on my reading list 

  5. generally; there are, of course, exceptions to the rule 

  6. et alii 

A New Project

I signed up for a new project at work. It’s a part time position that also requires some volunteer hours, but I think that it will be an excellent experience. It’s part of an engineering career development program that allows engineers to gain experience by working on projects outside of their assigned program. I’ll be working as a test engineer on a project to develop and execute a R/C aircraft flight test program.

We haven’t started yet, but I’m already looking forward to it!

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The First Two Years, Sort Of

Today marks, among other things, my two year company date at Boeing. I know what you’re thinking: It hasn’t even been a year since you graduated, how can you have two years at Boeing?

Behold, the power of the internship. I actually started at Boeing on May 26th, 2006 as a summer intern for the next three years. I started full time on August 14th, 2009. Anyway, my company start date is 5/5/2008, which makes today my two year anniversary.

I’m expecting my china plates in the mail any day now.

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A Note On Internships

As the school year winds to a close, the summer intern season is getting ready to kick off. Having once been on that side of things as a college student and intern, it’s now a great experience to be on the other side of that fence, being a college graduate and helping to bring the future in. I feel very strongly about internships and about what makes a good intern.

I was talking to a student from the Colorado School of Mines the other day. He called me as part of the Digger Dial, which is a fundraising effort put on from Mines students to Mines Alumni. He’s a sophomore majoring in Geological Engineering. We got to talking about internships and if I thought there were valuable.

“Absolutely,” I told him.

Internships are not only a way to get experience, but to also help set up your career. In 2008, the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that 50 percent of graduating students had held internships, up from 17 percent in 1992.1 With 50% of students holding internships, you really can’t afford not to have such valuable experience.

And I think the earlier you can get an internship, the better of you’ll be. I started as an intern at Boeing after my sophomore year. I ended up interning for three summers (which is kind of unusual) before eventually being hired. But having that experience that early my college career was immensely helpful. It helped me understand what engineering really was (or wasn’t), it helped be understand why I was going to college, and it helped me make better decision while I was in college.

Here are my pointers for being an intern:

  • Apply early in your career. There’s no reason you can’t try and get an internship the summer after your freshman year. As a freshman, I talked with every company I was interested in apply to, even if they were only looking for juniors or higher. If you have what it takes to compete at that level, the company will find a way to get you hired as an intern.
  • Apply early in the year. Don’t wait until April to start apply to internships. They’re probably all gone. Start looking in October or November. January at the latest.
  • Be well rounded. Your education is worth less if you don’t know how to have a balanced life. What do you do for fun? Are you involved in the community? Are you consistent in your level of involvement? Do you take on projects outside of your curriculum and regular education that show your interest in the field? My sophomore year I worked on building up the Mines Internet Radio studio and web site. Amazingly, what I did there transfered quite well to my internship.
  • Have a good resume. There is no template for a perfect resume. Personally, I think my resume is pretty good; although it hasn’t been updated in a while. Here are some pointers: Keep it professional. Lead with your education and then experience. Don’t lie. One page only, please. Spell check. Date check. Fact check. And then spell check again.
  • Be yourself. If you think you’re hot shit, and you’re not hot shit. I will know.
  • Ask questions. We know you don’t know all the answers. We know you have questions. Just ask them! There really are no silly questions. And don’t feel like just because you took Circuits 2, Mechanics of Materials, or Fluid Dynamics that you should how things work. College will teach you some basics, work will teach you how to use those tools. Someone once told, “School is about learning how you learn.” That statement fundamentally changed how I looked at college.
  • Be aggressive. There are plenty of other people who want an internship. Trust me on this. You’re going to need to be a bit aggressive (ladies, I’m looking at you here) if you really want this internship. It’s a fine line to walk, but you’re going to have to walk it.

Finally, make sure you’re getting paid. Yes, some people will take exception to labor laws requiring interns to be paid. But since the law says you get paid, you should get paid. The New York Times recently ran an article in their business section, The Unpaid Intern, Legal or Not, stating that “some experts estimate that one-fourth to one-half are unpaid.”2

From www.nytimes.com:

“If you’re a for-profit employer or you want to pursue an internship with a for-profit employer, there aren’t going to be many circumstances where you can have an internship and not be paid and still be in compliance with the law,” said Nancy J. Leppink, the acting director of the department’s wage and hour division.

Ms. Leppink said many employers failed to pay even though their internships did not comply with the six federal legal criteria that must be satisfied for internships to be unpaid. Among those criteria are that the internship should be similar to the training given in a vocational school or academic institution, that the intern does not displace regular paid workers and that the employer “derives no immediate advantage” from the intern’s activities – in other words, it’s largely a benevolent contribution to the intern.

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  1. Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/03/business/03intern.html 

  2. Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/03/business/03intern.html 

Working with My Former Self

I’m doing some verification of specifications at work that involves going through documents and making sure that stuff is up to par. A couple of times, I’ll come across a document and think to myself, this is a pretty good document (i.e. it looks well formatted, has at least most of the information I need, etc) and I’m generally impressed with this persons work.

One of the other things I have to do is go through and update the document properties, and this is when I see that this persons who’s work I’m so impressed with is me! As an intern! Some three years ago!

Kind of crazy.

I think this is an excellent example of how long projects can last, especially at a big company. It’s also amazing to think back four years ago and how much I knew then about this project and how much I know now. It’s a pretty complex project and understanding how everything fits together, from a technical and from a business standpoint, takes lots of time.

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Apply for My Old Job

My group at work, Mission Computing Hardware, just had a requisition posted for a new intern! The last intern was hired in 2006 and would later go on to get hired to full time. The last intern also happened to be me.

Now, I obviously can’t make any guarantees about you getting hired (or even getting the internship). However, I would recommend that you apply if you are at all interested. And if you do get the job, you get to work with me! But don’t delay; the position closes by June 10, and I think it can close earlier if they find someone earlier.

From jobs.boeing.com:

Position Description: Engineering College intern to support 40/45 AWACS Program Mission Computing Hardware. This individual will work with guidance from other members of the IPT framework, supporting the development of Qualification Procedures, Analysis, Test Reports, Data Packages, Safety of Flight Memos, COTS equipment evaluation and selection prior to technical refresh cycles, Ethernet architecture development and implementation, Storage Area Network and Network Access Storage architecture and implementation, encryption/firewalls, and servers.

Competencies:
Collaboration, Communication, Continuous Learning, Customer Focus, Managing Work

Other Job related information:
Prefer candidates seeking electrical engineering degrees.

Image: Air Force file

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