This Saturday I attended the Cambridge University Technology Ventures Conference to showcase our product – a device for monitoring electrical signals in plants. Meeting so many bright, young people interested in technology and how they can use it to make the world a better place caused me to reflect on why I love being an engineer.
First of all it is fascinating figuring out how things work – whether that’s trouble shooting faults in a new product or finding a way to communicate an idea so that it is engaging for someone else. It’s challenging but very rewarding to bring together lots of disparate knowledge and ideas when designing something new. I’m currently working on a clip to attach a wire to a leaf – do you know how many different considerations you might trade off in this design problem? So far I’m up to 23. Leaf size, shape, thickness, topology, permeability, ability to bear weight; material transparency, electrical conductivity, adhesion…. Check out www.phytlsigns.com if you want to see what we make.
Everyday I learn something new – sometimes in lots of detail – other times as superficially as I can get away with but I still love learning and the fact that my work requires me to ask questions, understand theory and apply knowledge. My engineering education focused on analysis rather than synthesis and this continues to shape how I do just about everything in my life. Luckily I work closely with other engineers who are great at synthesis so I can benefit from both of these powerful ways of solving problems and making a contribution to our society.
As an entrepreneur I am lucky to work with great people – universally optimistic, flexible, risk takers who don’t accept the status quo. There’s something to learn from each of them everyday too. As a small business owner I’m also required to do whatever it takes to bring our product and services to market – inputting addresses to a database, filling out a tax return or signing off a big purchase order. I don’t love all these tasks but they remind me why my education is so important – it lets me work on issues that inspire me and that do make a difference in my community.
My hours are flexible enough that I can pick my kids up from school and tend a garden. I make enough money to be able to ski, climb and travel. That’s why I love being an engineer.