Thursday, June 30, 2011

Young Engineers Correspondents

I've been an active member of ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers) for over a year now-and its taken about that long for me to settle in to my role on the Committee on Student Development. The society is really huge-especially in the States, but one of its major objectives is globalisation and branchin-out into other regions. Unfortunately my country, South Africa have no active student or senior sections of ASME (psst: if you want to start one-I'm the person to talk to!). So things have been admittedly a little slow recently...but all that changed at our Summer (well Summer in the USA) Annual Meeting that was held in Dallas, Texas this month!

EcoHawk and I were just saying how we wanted to get more involved with leadership training within the society, and BAM! I was sitting in in a meeting and they started discussing this committee- the Young Engineer Correspondents - that was on the verge of being sunsetted due to lack of leadership to drive it forward.

Have you ever had one of those, 'OMG!' moments? (Like when you realise that your ticket had been called at a lucky draw, or you walked into your highschool classroom on Valentines Day and thought "Lucky Cow!" to the girl whose desk had on it the bouquet of red roses, then suddenly realised it was your desk!) Well-basically this was one of those OMG moments! Not only were there now two excited new leaders of the YEC, but a THIRD came forward to try and revitalise the group!

And guess who has taken over the blogging for the YEC???

me, of course...


Check it out!!!

I'm actually REALLY excited about something relating to ASME for the first time in a very long time. When you find something you're passionate about, you always give 110%.

I only wish the insurance would hurry up and get me a computer so I can actually do the other half of the work I need to Engineers Without Borders stuff...which is another story altogether!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Project Process

Wow, I'm in Cape Town! The beautiful Mother City and where I got my degree in Mechanical Engineering. Due to the lack of engineering jobs in this 'lifestyle city', I had to move up to the industrial and business laden regions of the country (the Northern part of SA). Ironically, I'm back in Cape Town for engineering work.

My latest project involved the water coolers for the plant we're building. We've been having some issues with the water cooling system, and I've been tasked with finding out exactly why, and recommending how to solve the problem. So I'm down here to visit the manufacturing operations of the supplier of the coolers, chat to the engineers and try and learn more about the science behind the system. Excitingly, this is the first project that I'm responsible for that actually affects the project. 

It really hit me on Wednesday at the weekly progress meeting. This meeting is HUGELY important and is where all the major stakeholders of the project meet and discuss the progress/ problems and major decisions about the project. This week, I was in the agenda as being responsible for the water coolers! I had to give everyone (the client representatives and engineers; the consultant project managers; and the consultant design engineers; planners etc) an update as to the status of my findings. It looks as though I really need to step up my work-after getting back from leave, I'm more than ready to get some serious work done!

Its a weird but cool feeling actually being held responsible for something. Even though its just a small piece of the bigger picture, it affects so many things. Directly, the water coolers are essential for cooling the furnaces and other critical parts of the plant. The civil designs and plant layout depend on the size and number of coolers I will recommend. The planners have worked me into their highly complex schedule and given me a deadline that was determined by all the subsequent tasks that need the information I have. I'm beginning to see how every tiny slice of the project needs to fit perfectly together in order for it to be completed well and in time! Its great to see real engineering at work.

Luckily, the team of engineers are a really awesome bunch, with everyone super willing to help me (the fledgling grad who tends to get ahead of herself from time to time). Its so important that the team works together and communicates their ideas well so that everyone is always clear on what the current plan is (because things change so rapidly and frequently).

My favourite part though is when the design team breaks away after the meeting to discuss some or other detail of the layout that needs to change. I may be doing a lot more of this soon...hint hint...but more about that later ;)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Good, the Bad and the Downright Ugly

In life, things are always going to pop up that you don't expect or that you don't really want. Unfortunately, thats the way life goes and you're going to have to just grit your teeth and bare with it. The past few weeks have been a roller-coaster of emotions- both good and bad. Being a tough, independent young women is fun when the goings good, but there are times for all of us when we have to just sit on the floor an cry like a little girl... I don't often do a personal post, but I think the events of the past month merit one!

So it starts with me trying to move my furniture out of storage and into my friend's flat in Johannesburg. I'd planned everything to the T and even took my lunch-break off to coordinate the moving. And what d'ya know? The moving company (which had already extorted copious amounts of cash from me) had sent a truck that was too big to enter the complex, incurring me costs of around R1500 more to get my furniture! It was just all too much-and I ended up having a particularly ungraceful episode in the parking lot...

This happened the day that I received something very special courtesy of Delta Airlines...or should I say someone? :) So honestly, how could I stay upset? All was well in the world again and for the next two weeks, my foreign 'friend' and I toured the beautiful South African province of Mpumalanga and the Kruger National Park. We saw the Big Five (endangered wild animals) and spent long afternoons meandering through mountainsides, stopping for lunches at waterfalls (which we eventually got sick of) and generally having and awesome time! We even went caving in the Sudwala Caves (scrambling on hands and knees, wading through waist-deep water and squeezing our bodies through tiny rock crevices into a cave! Honestly the best thing I've ever done-true story!

The plan was for us to fly back to the USA together as we were both going for a conference there. The day we left, disaster struck once again! My car was broken into and everything we had packed for the trip was stolen! Laptops, cell phones, camara, ipod, ALL OUR CLOTHES for the conference.Ironically, the only thing we had was our passports (and the clothes on our backs). What ensued in the next few hours can only be described as ridiculous. Fight with useless security guards-waste time at police station-cancel and renew bank cards, visit embassy, shop for underwear-beg/ borrow/steal clothes from friends-rush to airport-get on plane-cry like a little girl. (yeah-I told you it was coming ;) ).

The conference in Dallas on the other hand was very good! I am co-heading up a new committee -the Young Engineers Affinity Group (aka party-planning committee) which should be fun...:) And a bunch of us went salsa-dancing. I got to salsa with a real Venezuelan-which was probably the highlight of my-er-life.. (Just joking!) And finally I returned - very jetlagged - but happy once more - to work...yay.

I get to my desk Wednesday and turn on my computer, and find yet another HUGE surprise waiting for me. Although this one is arguably more difficult and more emotionally soul-destroying than getting everything I own stolen, it is just another challenge that life has thrown at me. I've learned that the more you get out there and strive to be your best, the more you get out of life. That means you get loads of good stuff, and also loads of crappy stuff too. Getting all caught up in the crappy stuff just wastes your time and prevents you from enjoying and striving for more of the good.

For this reason, I plan to hold my head up high, put on my sexy pink hard hat (not forgetting a smile) and take life by the horns. Even though all I want to do right now is cry like a little girl (and I probably will do that a bit later ;) ), I know that life will go on and I will keep living, trying to be the best I can be. Being a woman means you are inherently emotional-which isn't a bad thing, its just who we are- but sometimes you need to put it all on the shelf and as my friends told me, "man-up".

Here's to all my girls out there who are going through some tough stuff! You are alive, you are awesome and you are strong. You will get over this-its only a temporary hurdle. So go out there and show them that smile!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

First-Day-of-Work Wardrobe Tips

Last week I got an email from a young engineer in need of wardrobe help. I was more than happy to offer some advice: 

 I came across your blog awhile ago, and was wondering if you could help me with a little problem. I'm about to start work at my first engineering internship in a major shipping company (and I'll probably be working with the offshore division on design and building of rigs) and I'm not sure how to dress? While studying here in Cambridge, I tend to avoid heels for workshop, etc., but the dress code from the human resource manager sounds rather formal (shirt and pants at least I think). Would it be ok if I wore heels, or would it be more sensible to wear flats?

Would love any advice you have to give. I really like reading your blog - it is not easy to find female engineers here who care about things others would deem superficial. >.<

Jenny W
Here was my reply:
Hi Jenny W

Your concerns may seem frivolous to some, but this can be really daunting when starting a career. Or at least it was for me when I first started work a few months back! Your job sounds really exciting and it seems as though you'll be getting experience in both a design office and on the site. These are two very different environments and require very different clothes.

Generally, on site there will be a set dress-code to ensure you're protected. They may issue you with PPE (personal protective equipment) including overalls, a hard-hat, safety boots as well as goggles and gloves. If not, its advisable to wear closed, comfortable shoes, jeans and a shirt. Don't take any chances in a dangerous environment- here you will unfortunately have to be practical! Some women on the plant however spice up their overalls with a brightly coloured head-scarf to protect their hair. I like pretty, tailored shirts, so at least when I take my jacket off indoors, I can still look and feel good.

On the other hand, when you are in the design offices or in meetings, don't feel you need to keep up the drab appearance. Just because you sometimes wear overalls, don't let go of your femininity altogether! When I'm at our Johannesburg design offices or visiting suppliers, I always dress in stylish, sophisticated, professional clothes and heels. A lot of women prefer to wear flats for comfort and in the engineering world, that's acceptable, but I like dressing up. Heels make me feel tall and confident and it comes across as more professional too.
 In the end, you need to use your judgement to assess what is appropriate for the situation. In our project offices at the site, I wear comfortable pants and shoes that may sometimes have a slight heel, but my safety boots and hard-hat (yes - the pink one) are always close by in case I need to run to the plant to check something out.

My advice is to just trust yourself and have confidence. I a few short weeks you will ease in to a style that works for you and fits into your company, so don;t stress about it too much. Also don't be afraid of being slightly daring and bringing some feminine flair to your workplace.Stay fabulous and update me on how it turns out in a few weeks.


If you have any questions, send them along to engineer-chic1 at gmail dot com