Further Insights on Industry

I’ve been long due for a post now, but just didn’t think I had anything new and exciting in a my life to write about because I’ve been busy with work and all the lifestyle changes that go along with it. Then of course I realized I could write about the things I’ve learned since my first week. In short, you learn a lot in a short amount of time in the real world of engineering. Since my first week I’ve taken on 5 distinct projects that dealt with rather unrelated material. Excuse my short tangent but in undergrad, you can often hear your peers complain that none of the stuff they teach you in school is how they do it in the “real world” and that they often make it sound like what we learn is a waste of time. Sure to some extent one can argue that’s true. I have no real need to know differential calculus and compute closed surface integrals of a vector field. Or to be able to solve for the allowed quantum energy states of atomic Hydrogen… Or the sheer force exhibited on a beam given the tensile force vectors of an arbitrary number of supports… I could probably even get by not knowing Ohm’s Law. I can go on and on about all the random bits of knowledge and understanding given to me by my engineering education that isn’t absolutely necessary. But to me it was all worth it and I can’t imagine my professional life without it. The things we learn in class, while for the most part aren’t practical skills in industry, give us a strong understanding and appreciation of problems that have already been solved by humanity. It’s how they teach you how to think and more importantly it’s how they teach you that anything is possible (with finite probability). In that sense, my undergraduate education was invaluable to my job.

Coming back to the subject matter, as I’ve said I’ve been assigned to 5 different tasks in the past 3 weeks. That being said, I really love my job so far in that I’m constantly challenged by the task at hand. I’ve pretty much started each task thinking it would be impossible and beyond my ability. My first big project was as I’ve covered before was the PCB and in the end it wasn’t that bad. I learned a lot of good practice and how to think through it. The kinds of things you really just have to learn for yourself. What I can say though is I have a whole lot more appreciation for the PCB designers who route all our high end electronics. The amount of careful thought that must go towards DFM in those devices is really something.

Speaking of DFM, design for manufacture, I had a small side project to research minimizing the cost of some power electronics. Now this is something I never thought about before, but when it comes to costs of $2-3 that’s serious cash in volume manufacturing. Multiply it by however many thousands or millions you sell and that’s a huge increase in revenue. This says a lot about the electronics industry in general, we produce really high quality goods at a ridiculously low cost while still making a great margin. That is the miracle of this age of technology. Think about it, silicon is pretty much one of the most abundant element on the planet and we make processors out of it. Boggles my mind.

That task of lowering cost and the implications of which really got me thinking about my job from the economist’s perspective. I believe it was originally a Marxist concept “The commodification of human labor” where our labor is owned by the capitalist to generate wealth. To put it more bluntly people are only ever hired for a job if they will add value to a company. The value an engineer can add to a company is enormous when you think about it, we have the ability to create something of value from nothing in a sense. That’s not to say we engineers are simply Wall Street bankers in disguise, but I really do see what I do as turning lead into gold sometimes.

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