Sunday, January 17, 2010

I used to be an Engineer

When I was a young girl, I was curious about how things worked. I was good at math and science and loved puzzles. I also loved animals (especially horses) skiing, rocks, hiking and Miss America.

I remember one of my parents friends asked if I wanted to be an engineer when I grew up. I told him that I was absolutely not interested in driving a train for a living.  Then many years later a career councilor suggested I think about engineering, because "engineers solve problems."

Engineering school was challenging for me but I could see how the coursework might be relevant someday. I graduated with a BS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Colorado and completed some graduate study in fluid dynamics and heat transfer.

My first professional job was as a Manufacturing Engineer on the Space Shuttle Main Engine working in Los Angeles, CA. At Rocketdyne we manufactured most of the pieces that went into the Space Shuttle Main Engine, as well as other rocket engines and assemblies for the International Space Station.

This job was like living a dream.

As a child, I remember watching the shuttle launches on TV. Everything would stop.

The world, my world, would stop to watch the launches and landings. Of course that was until Challenger. So to be able to watch the shuttle launches as a contributor to the space program was incredibly special to me.

Alas, my (soon-to-be) husband and I did not enjoy living in Los Angeles. We moved to Albuquerque where I had the opportunity to work with entrepreneurial companies on multiple laser systems, an electric generator, defense programs and an airplane.

These smaller companies allowed me learn how businesses operate. Specifically I have been responsible for purchasing, manufacturing, shipping, customer service and marketing as well as product development and traditional engineering. Some of my favorite accomplishments include developing and certifying two quality and production systems, of course with a team. No one can do everything by themselves.

Today, I work for a young IT consultancy, Astral Technology Group. We develop user interfaces and improve processes for our clients as well as develop and host websites. With ATG, I am primarily a project manager, but as the young companies I've worked with before, I have the opportunity to wear many hats.

To this day, I love the smell of machine oil and I love seeing the progress from day to day. Much like gardening, where the plants look different every day... the assemblies look different every day too. I really enjoy seeing them grow and eventually ship to customers.


Laurie McKenzie said...

What an interesting career! Especially being involved with the Shuttle. I'll have to start on my 'before the mountains' blog today.

Hellchick said...

I think we share some similarities, Kathryn. When I was a kid all I wanted to be was an astronaut and a scientist. While I never became an astronaut (my eyesight was too poor) I did become an astrophysicist. I eventually did leave that line of work (I work in video games now), but like you I've got a science background even though I raise alpacas. I bet that, like me, that makes a lot of people raise their eyebrows when they find that out about you!

Kathryn Ray said...

You are so right.

My day job colleagues are often surprised by my extra-curricular activities, but my alpaca colleagues don't seem to be surprised at all.

A lot of alpaca people I know also play in the IT space. I wonder why.