March 22, 2009

Geeks on the Mat

Heading into class yesterday, a young woman was wearing a WPI (Worcester Polytechnic Institute) sweatshirt, with the school mascot goat's head. I stopped to chat, WPI is my alma mater. Industrial Engineer, class of 2007, working at Pratt & Whitney. Her yoga buddy was also an engineer at P&W, from Northeastern (I think).

Interesting to meet two women engineers, at yoga of all places. I suddenly felt old with my 1983 degree, realizing that this young woman had not been born as I stepped up to receive my diploma. And it kind of struck me like a bolt from the blue when she asked "Are you still in engineering?" Because I guess it's uncommon for engineers to keep plugging away in a technical field for their entire careers. Skills get old, familiarity with tools and technology slip away, engineers move into management, into other careers, into backwaters.

I remember reading about a corporate culture where senior engineers graduated into a sort of emiritus status, idea men and women, given the freedom to wander around poking their nose into things, napping on their desks, etc. Might have been Peters and Waterman's book "In Search of Excellence", but maybe not. That's rare though, mostly senior engineers get pastured out to doing product support for aging technologies, shuffled into paper pushing jobs, or driven upward into management (where their technical and people skills are often not great fits)

So, yeah, kind of interesting that, 26 years later, I am still doing engineering work. Part of that is an active choice - at my last corporate gig, the annual review would be an exercise in my manager trying to drag me into the management ranks and me resisting with all my might. I left in part because I had for the most part resolved the technical problems that my position was created to address, and I did not seek to become a corporate manager. So if I am still engineering all these years later, I do so out of choice.

So hello, sister engineering yogis. May your careers be long and interesting, filled with projects, travel, adventure, satisfaction. And may you, 25 years hence, look back on your career choices and path happily and with a heart and spirit still curious, supple, and learning.

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