I think there’s a misconception floating around that everyone things I know exactly what I want to do in life. This is a myth, kind of: if right now was 1959, I’d be working for the McDonnell Aircraft Company building the capsules for Project Mercury. I’d later work on Project Gemini, Apollo, and SkyLab programs before helping design the Space Transport System. If I was lucky, I’d even get to ride up into space to do a stint on the International Space Station.
For the longest time, I thought programs like those still existed. Over the years, I’ve found that the “glory day of engineering” jobs don’t really exist anymore and working at Boeing has proven a big eye-opener to that fact. I think I also romanticized the idea of being an engineer working on the space program.
These two issues put me in what I’ll call my crisis of plan. You see, I had the future mapped out. Not in step by step detail, but more or less what type of job I wanted to do. To discover that I was a half-century too late was heartbreaking. I happened to come across something that I think captures my feelings pretty accurately, on the topic of Engineer at Uncyclopedia:
Star Trek is famous for its unrealistic, but very exciting, portrayal of engineers. In fact, nearly 83% of engineering students claim that they chose to pursue their specialty with the assumption that after passing their PE exam, they’d be assigned to a starship (NCC class or higher) and would spend their remaining days reporting warp core status to smooth, attractive captains or having sex with a diverse array of alien life forms. These engineers are incredibly disappointed to learn that their “captains” are mediocre managers who were promoted so the company wouldn’t have to clean up their engineering.
So where does that leave me now? Well, the search is on. I think I’m in a better position now then I was – even a year ago – to understand how engineering is done. I still want to work on space programs and that’s what I’m going to pursue because that’s what I love, even if it’s not the romanticized engineering I dream of.
I’m still holding out hope, though, that there I’ll be able to find my Shangri-La. I’m confident it still exists somewhere, it’s just not where I expected it to be.
Image caption: An engineer at the Instrumentation Laboratory inspects a mockup of the guidance and navigation system that will be used aboard NASA’s Project APOLLO spacecraft. The spacecraft will carry three U.S. astronauts to the moon and back. Instrumentation Laboratory, together with several participating contractors, is designing and developing the guidance and navigation system.
Image credit: MIT Office of Public Relations, undated MIT Photo