Many of the guys who dropped out of my engineering program at Clarkson did
graduate with a degree in "Industrial Distribution", which we engineers thought
was kind of a second- rate major. We were wrong. They've already retired,
very wealthy, as Caterpillar dealers and such. I'll be working until I die.
Don't go into engineering for the money; it goes elsewhere.
DO graduate. The specialty on the ticket hardly matters, but the ticket itself
matters a lot.
These days, I engineer exhaust systems for yachts. My crew figures out how to
snake large rigid pipes through a maze of stuff, and then they build the pipes,
from scratch. I figure out how big the pipes have to be, and how much water
must be injected to keep them cool, and think up new ideas and improve on old
I like the fast pace and the visible results. I went on a sea trial on Tuesday
morning, then thought up a fix for a difficult hot spot, specified
modifications to the boat and banged out a couple sketches in the afternoon.
On Wednesday, I coaxed the job through the shop, set up, ran, and photographed
a quickie test, and put the parts in the salesman's hand for personal delivery.
That was for just one of a dozen projects I'm working on. We don't usually do
stuff overnight like that, but we'll try if you ask nice. Usually, we quote
fifteen working days, which is pretty fast for custom pipework, especially
considering that we make the actual pipe and elbows ourselves. (The exotic
alloys we use are available only in sheet form)
A sea trial, which I do maybe twice a month, is like half a boat ride. We go
out and beat the crap out of a thirty million dollar yacht, to be sure that our
parts will work right under all conditions, or to figure out why they're not
working perfectly. To do that, I stumble around in the engine room, which is
incredibly hot and noisy, taking data for an hour or two. Then I go topside
and enjoy the ride back to the dock, and start mentally composing my report, or
explaining options to the owner or his representative, or talking with the
engine guys to figure out what's really happening.
The deskbound part of the job can be fun, too. Textbook problems always give
you exactly the data you need. Real world problems don't come nicely packaged
like that; we have to work with incomplete and often inaccurate information.
Many times, we'll guesstimate something, and the result will not be what we had
expected. But the test that tells us we're not where we want to be also gives
us at least one new data point, and I can often work with that, and tell the
owner, "This is what we'll do to correct the problem, and this is what will
happen as a result."
And like any guy who got rich by not trusting anyone's word, he'll put some
gages on the system, and we'll do our thing, and the system will behave exactly
as I predicted, and the owner will be impressed, and we'll have gained a
customer for life, and a lot of very valuable free advertising. It feels like
hitting a baseball just so. Not that I was ever any good at baseball, but I'm
okay at engineering math.
Before that, I worked a decade in hydraulic systems design and electronic
packaging for military products, and two and a half decades in blood cell
counters, which contain an extraordinary amount of tiny plumbing. I'm really
sort of a high- tech plumber, I guess.
All of that was fun in its own way, too, but I want to make a comment about
working on big projects or for big companies: You have to get your job
satisfaction internally, e.g., producing a really nice report, or coming up
with an elegant solution to a tiny problem. I've worked on projects for
upwards of ten years, and seen the result of my work go into the dumpster
because of a marketing decision to just not bother selling a perfectly
functional, useful product. It takes "fire in the belly" to get over an insult
What have you got "fire in the belly" for?
Chief Mechanical Engineer
(Only Mechanical Engineer)
DeAngelo Marine Exhaust, Inc.
Fort Lauderdale, FL, USA
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