Monday, February 6, 2012

The Job Search

So... I've begun my job search. The contract for our project ends in May, and although my adviser has offered to help me apply for other funding so I might stay on, we mutually agreed that I'd wrap up lab work and a first draft of my thesis by May, and look for ahhh... one of those... job things and finish my thesis part time once I am already working.

This suits me fine. I enjoy my work, but frankly, I've never worked at the same job for four years in my life, and I'm ready for a change. I'm also ready to bring home some larger portions of metaphorical bacon! Mama likes decent paychecks and ten-dollar copays at the doctor.

So I've been thinking about my career. The Silicon Valley, for me, was a very lively, dynamic, and surprisingly flexible place to work. For the most part, I got along well with my colleagues; we had a lot in common, as it seems to be the case that careers attract their own certain sorts of people. At first glance, it would seem that any career-climbin' freshly minted PhD would be attracted immediately to the Silicon Valley, which is famous for being one of the most, if not the most, exciting place for cutting edge technology on earth.

However, there is one small niggling thing that makes all that sort of not apply to me, and it's this. While it is literally awesome (as in, it fills me with awe) to rub shoulders with such movers and shakers on a regular basis, and while I absorb a lot of the excitement of technology by proximity, most of that excitement is not about mechanical engineers. It's about software and firmware engineers, PCB layout engineers, and even industrial designers (as in the famous case of Apple). Mechanical engineers are critical, sure, but we aren't the stars. We don't get recognition or big bonuses. We are invisible support players.

Our work is very challenging (try designing supports for a 1-kg heat sink that's meant to 'float' on top of a printed circuit board that measures about 20 x 10 cm, while the board layout folks will only let you 'touch' 2-mm stretches of board at a stretch!), but we stand only to get negative recognition. Our work is only visible when it fails. Otherwise, it's covered by a pretty bezel, and the industrial designers get credit for a lovely cover with a nice user interface.

So where do mechanical engineers shine? I have to say, I am at a bit of a loss to answer that question. I do know that several obvious industry candidates do not appeal to me either. I had used to dream of working for the aerospace industry, but I've since met folks whose entire careers "designing rocket ship parts" meant spending years designing things like brackets and custom screws. Not so exciting when you look at the details of how your daily life will proceed!

Well, I hope to get some answers as I proceed through this, my most thoughtful job search yet. Wish me luck!


b said...

They might shine at companies like Tesla. I know someone who works there if you are interested.

Arvay said...

b, your friend is also a friend of a friend of mine, and he got yet another friend of mine a job there. :)

Rena said...

Oh I dunno. There are plenty of grunt-workers that do software in the background that do the equivalent of designing the bolts that hold things together.
In any case, any company would be lucky to have you. I wonder which fields you're looking at and what areas of the country...?!

Vanessa said...

Sonoma County needs YOU!