"It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest." - Buckminster Fuller, 1970
Two disclosures. First, I'm an egotist. I've worked really hard to get where I am and that has helped me, but my character is a proud one and I feel like I matter in the sense that my actions have far-reaching consequences, good or bad. I like to think I am a growing influence in the world of engineering, in Kansas City, and in the world. Second, my first engineering job after grad school was laying out ductwork and plumbing at a MEP firm in Lenexa, KS. It was honest work, and I loathed every minute of it. Worse yet, I did not proudly walk out of there to a better job; I was laid off in 2009, and only by a stroke of luck (and a couple good interviews) landed one of the best engineering gigs in the city. It's all been a party since.
All that being said, I want to speak an irritated word of lament for a promising young engineer who settled. I met this young engineer when I was at KU in grad school, and she was an incoming freshman. I mostly noticed her because she was pretty, and pretty girls in an engineering school stick out like the Woman in the Red Dress. I bravely introduced myself, at some point, but that was about it. Four years later, she was featured on the cover of the KU Engineering magazine, carrying the Engineering School banner at graduation, beaming. I found out she'd basically aced life, and had decided to go to grad school. Score! Another engineer bucking the easy way out (entry-level industry) and diving into a more dedicated path of continued specialization. She told me she was going into computational mechanics, or something. I honestly don't remember it exactly, but I got that she was analyzing mechanical designs on very powerful computers using very advanced mathematics. I remember being impressed.
So I hatched a plan. I was going to hire her. Maybe it was selfish of me, but I dreamed that I'd be in a managerial role by the time she finished whatever advanced degree she wanted to get (she suggested she'd go all the way: PhD) and I could hire her. I thought "now there's the kind of human being I want to have working with/for me: a socially adept, genius engineer that excels at basically everything and clearly has ambition.
I found out a couple weeks ago that she took a mechanical design job at XXXXXX.* Two caveats. First, working at XXXXXX is a pretty glamorous job here in Kansas City. It's supposedly a great workplace, it has great benefits, and the company is healthy and vibrant and utilizes leading edge technology. Second, I don't want some XXXXXX engineer to read this and go "what a shitty asshole" because I clearly appear to be gearing up to trash XXXXXX engineers. Look, someone made the computer on which I am typing this, and for that I am grateful. Someone designed the roads on which I drive, and for that I am grateful. Someone builds GPS units that make the world a safer place for transit, and for that I am grateful.
Nevertheless, XXXXXX is a place for engineers who want to do a job designated to them by someone else, making products designed by someone else, so that other people get credit for their hard work. XXXXXX engineers are cogs in a large corporate machine. At XXXXXX, your managers hype team-building nonsense like "Corporate Challenge" and management periodically has all-staff meetings (live-streamed to everyone's desk so they can keep working while they listen in). No engineer at XXXXXX right now, especially not an entry-level one, will make a breakthrough that will support ten thousand.
That is why I lament my young engineer friend going there. The engineering world was her oyster. She had stellar grades, two degrees, was the toast of KU's engineering school (literally) and at the end of that run she planted herself in a cube in someone else's large, ponderous company. She could have been the one in ten thousand that shook the world.
Part of me is bitter. I have high hopes for my company and for the engineering department, and I am irritated a really good engineer slipped through my fingers. But the other part of me is...disenchanted at finding someone with all the tools and none of the ambition.
Granted, it's early in her career. She's been a real engineer 2 weeks. Maybe in a year or two she'll visit my company website and drop her resume. And I'll get my wunderkind.
But please. You in the back. Yes, you. The 19 year old engineering student with the bright eyes and the messy apartment. I read you have a 3.9 GPA and are thinking about double majoring in electrical and computer engineering just for kicks. And because its easy for you.
Send me an email. You'll never be just a cog in my machine.
*The original version of this named the company. After thinking about it, I've redacted the company name out of respect for a great man I knew named Paul. I will say it is a company of about 5,000+ employees that is headquartered in Olathe, KS.
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