We all have dumb moments, some that actually pay off. As promised in my previous blog: If you're not feeling dumb, you're not doing it right, this is my dumbest moment.
You'll recall from the previous blog, one of my mentors, John Kerley, had just drug me through one of his whiteboard sessions and I was at my lowest, from the sheer mental exhaustion towards gaining understanding of what we were discussing (he really liked to push). As we reach the end of the session, he capped off the talk by discussing the wavelength of signals, and how - using air as a dielectric - we could propagate signals down a line. Those of you familiar with your E&M will recall that while the wave front moves at the speed of light, the wave lengths are long at a frequency of 1 MHz, and thus the line would spend the majority of its time either in a high or low state.
"However", John said, "If we get up into the 30 GHz range, how many pulses could we send down a 30m line before we see the first rising edge exit the other end?"
I stared at him - my mind a complete blank.
"Oh, come on," he said, "Think! What's the speed of light? One..."
More blank stare from me.
"Nanosecond," John said, "per..." and he points to his boot.
"Shoe?" I said
To spoil the punchline, the answer is: the speed of light in a vacuum travels at approximately one foot per nanosecond. John was using the inverse to throw me off, and in doing so created the fictitious unit (and joke) "One over shoe." This effectively ended our session as he saw how brain dead I was, and created a running joke that still haunts the very mention of my name in the halls of Maxim Integrated's Colorado Springs office.
This month we embark on a new-ish adventure. Over the coming posts I'll discuss how new College Graduates can ready themselves for careers in the field, as well as how to tackle complex problems when first starting out. I cater more of my writing to the Electrical Engineering Discipline, but these techniques can be used anywhere, in any field.
In shamelessly referring back to my own previous post Panic, Cry, Do it Anyway, you'll remember I warned about problems lying in wait ("Thar be dragons..." they say). This post is an introduction to what we'll be talking about, namely how to think about and tackle complex problems, and how to handle (at times the requirement of) biting off more than you can chew.
Let's start with a breakdown. No, not what you and your friends do, emotionally, during Finals week. I'm talking about how complex tasks are handled. This blog was specifically chosen because engineering tasks feel exactly like what I described... allow me to elaborate.
There are a number of various quotes and adages all relating to a more simplified statement: "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time." Likewise, there are a few others all relating to how engineering (or, rather, absorbing any difficult content) is like "Drinking from a Firehose." I'll sum it up accordingly:
As an Engineer, you'll be expected to work on some pretty overwhelming tasks while simultaneously learning about the complexities of the task you're currently working on.
It's a bit of a catch-22 in some respects. "How can I work on the task I've been assigned, if I don't know about the task I've been assigned?" Yes, it'll feel overwhelming, but it's manageable.
In essence, you'll have to "Drink from the Fire hose" (i.e. take in a large amount of complex material), whilst also "Eating the Elephant" (i.e. tackle complex problems in bite-sized, manageable chunks).
Over the coming posts, we're going to break this down a little further by talking about both of these nuances, what they mean, why they're important, and how you can prepare yourself when you enter the Engineering field. Until then, this should give you something to chew on.
As always, if you like reading my blog, be sure to check back or Follow The Engineering Mind, and don't hesitate to comment below if you have questions, or if you'd like to use the "One over Shoe" unit in your latest Research Calculations.
Excellent observation Kristen! I absolutely agree - thinking too long-term can cause (as they call) the "thousand yard stare," wherein the realization of the next year and a half of your life will be dedicated to working on a particular area. It's best to focus on smaller portions and what's manageable in a short amount of time, and continue to keep that moving. After all - how are big wheels turned? By turning smaller ones first.
This is exactly what I am having to do this week. Characterization of a new device can be a crazy time. You have to get it done in a timely manner, but there are many many MANY specs you must collect and analyze at different conditions (and that all has to be done across temperature for space devices!). What's the fastest way to eat an elephant? Two legs today, two more tomorrow...etc. Sometimes the hardest part is not getting overwhelmed with the chunk you have to tackle today (don't even think about tomorrow, it will end badly).
Make plans and it will get done. Well written!