Green eyed lady

There's this idea out there (stereotype?) that women are our own worst enemies. That when it comes to disagreements or getting along with our bosses we tend to fight amongst ourselves. I've only seen the result of this attitude (my last female boss who told me she had trouble working with female bosses, though I had no problems working for her, or male bosses who have assumed females would not get along) rather than the actual playing out of this. I suppose because it's on my mind a lot I struggle with it. When a man and a man don't get along, they are just people. We women don't have that luxury, so I make an effort to speak positively about other women and get along with them in the few instances I get to actually work with another female.
Over a year ago, a more senior female engineer left my group and company for a job where she's doing something that at the time was more "fulfilling" to her. She took a significant cut in pay to do so and left behind a higher level position, pay and respect than someone with her experience would normally achieve. Because of what she accomplished while here, she has a reputation of awesomeness. So when she had an opportunity to take some time of work recently, she suggested coming back on a temporary contract basis for a number of weeks.
I was going to go into the more personal reasons, that I suspect the significant cut in pay she took is hurting her. That the money she could make here could potentially be a lot more, maybe even more if they'd pay her the money they offered her when she tried to leave. But maybe all that's irrelevant.
The problem is me, and my attitude. I feel like in order to get half the level of pay and respect she got I've had to work twice as hard. I've been with the company a lot longer and really had to force my way into positions and demand higher pay while she was sort of guided into a higher level role. So despite the fact that we got along well when she was here, I now resent the fact that she's coming back. That my company would make the exceptions to get her a whole lot of extra money while I struggle to get paid the same as entry level engineers with far less experience. It's tough because I don't want to discourage another woman engineer. But I feel like I've finally staked out my space in the time she's been gone, and her reputation and how well-liked she was could outshine me in a matter of weeks. Even if it was a permanent move, it could undo all the prestige I've been working away to earn in the last year. I could be pushed back to a lower rung on the ladder while the higher level tasks get handed back to her. And it doesn't help that the powers that be would probably never give another female engineer the same chance they gave her. Just because they made her the token female engineer isn't her fault even if it does hurt me and even if her coming back hurts me.
I wonder if it's the attitude of male superiors and the token-ism that really contributes to this idea that women don't get along. We're lucky to get one seat at the table, and then we're expected to compete over it because we won't get any more seats than that. It'd be easier for me personally to rail against this behavior if it was a guy they were doing this for. I wouldn't feel like I'm sabotaging myself when I rage against the differential treatment.


EPA looks at your fuel use

If you go to www.FuelEconomy.gov you can get a personalized report on your own fuel use, compare government MPG ratings to personal reports, and even look at estimates for your carbon impact and petrol consumption. It's pretty neat. I especially like the crowdsourcing opportunities to compare mileage to individual reports. There are some kinks to be worked out (it says my car is a subcompact right now, maybe subcompact for a boat).
More importantly by 2013 all new cars will expected to come with this label which which shows average MPG in especially large lettering along with a quick EPA snapshot, average money spent on fuel, and how your car ranks on all these things. Kind of like calories on menus I wonder whether this kind of enforced labelling actually results in lower consumption.


Drinking Binge or Company Travel

Now for a more detailed set of my grievances after my cross country vendor visit. The focus on alcohol as a part of the trip nearly overshadows all other considerations. Restaurants are chosen based on the liquor they serve, and hotels are preferred as to whether they are in walking distance of bars or breweries. I am not a big drinker (and generally prefer my diet coke) so this is always difficult. Telling people you are not a big drinker gets you nowhere. Abstaining from drinking garners too much unwanted attention (does she look pregnant? is she a Mormon?) so I have to get through some beer that I'm not really interested in.
But beyond all this, travelling as a woman in a male dominated industry is difficult. Even the Monday-Friday business flying crowd is mostly male. Here are some of the highlights (or lowlights).
  • Recently married male engineer invites a lot of talk about how women beat their husbands and are generally no-fun types of hags, all jokes of course
  • There are no women to engage in similar sexist conversations with though you're not sure why you'd bother anyways.
  • When you're being taken on a "tour" of the facility you must be ready to run to the front of the group as everyone will stop to let the "lady" through the door. Arguing about it will just draw unnecessary attention or waste more time than you already spent jogging to the front of the pack.
  • When men and women's bathrooms are not next to each other, you have to loudly ask where the ladies restroom is since you have no examples to follow to get there.
  • If you are drinking beer at a table with a bunch of people drinking wine the server will mistakenly think the dude with the mustache next to you is actually the beer drinker.
  • Every time you check into a hotel you have to deal with that awkward moment where the person at the counter tries to figure out if you are "with" your coworker.
  • People's overconcern for you carrying things will lead to them carrying your luggage around for you even when you'd rather be carrying it yourself.
  • Guys you meet are more likely to start trying to have conversations with you about their kids rather than about the project.
  • Dare not to drink and everyone will look at your abdomen and wonder if you pregnant.
  • People will assume you are junior, or possibly not an engineer.
  • They will introduce you to the TokenFemale who works at their company, assuming you will all get along with your girl stuff problems and all.
  • Any desire to go home sooner or actually enjoy spending time with your spouse will be seen as female emotional weakness and you will be criticized for it.
On the other hand, I enjoyed both a body scan and a pat down, and the latter wasn't half as bad as I was afraid it would be. Another woman of course did the patting down and it wasn't very invasive (I could have easily hidden some > 3 oz liquids in my bra had I wanted). So not everyone's security story is a terrible one. I'm not saying it was effective, just that as a person who doesn't have any traumatic experiences with that sort of thing it wasn't that bad. The woman looked someone sympathetic that I had to endure it, and kept checking with me whether I had any pain or any place particular uncomfortable for me. So maybe a ridiculous policy, but the TSA employees handled it well in this case.


Catch a falling engineer

CNN International has an article up, why would be engineers end up as english majors. They really mean why they end up as non-engineering majors, but that's besides the point. They follow a student, Amenah Ibrahim, on her journey through her education.

"The first thing the (professor) told us was, 'You should expect to see this class dwindle down as the semester goes on.' It was the first thing they told us," she said.

They article references a study showing that STEM majors take students longer to finish. But it glosses over statistics that show that it's disproportionately a deterrence to underrepresented minorities:

Thirty-six percent of white, 21% of black and 22% of Latino undergraduate students in STEM fields finished their bachelor's degrees in STEM fields within five years of initial enrollment.

I think most of us in engineering would agree that a lot of the academic rigor that discourages people is probably a good thing. As some of the commenters put it, it prepares you for the real world. But more importantly maybe, you want your engineer, or your doctor or a number of other professions, to have gone through a rigorous education. You want the weak to go off to other majors where maybe their real life careers won't have such an impact. Though we know we have a problem that the system is encouragin white people better than it encourages people of other races. And that means we probably need better support systems in place and better university understanding. There's ways of making sure we're not booting out talented people without dropping the standards.

On the other hand, people are focusing too much on the "need" for STEM graduates.

James Brown, executive director of the STEM Education Coalition, said a big problem is that educators don't often realize the urgency of fostering the next generation of American scientists and engineers.

I'm sure they realize the urgency. They realize that the jobs that were available years before are no longer available. That even before this recession, getting a STEM job was not easy. If we aren't funding science, R&D and infrastructure programs graduating a bunch of scientists and engineers is not going to create a demand in jobs that isn't there. I just talked about this a few days ago, how while engineering is still one of the better employable majors out there at under 70% for 2009 graduates it's not a pretty picture.

The guy at the STEM Education group would be better off reaching out to businesses to start spending more of their reserves on research or to anti-tax politicians to start thinking about how we're going to fund future development in this country. We used to be the world leader in manufacturing. And while some might think manufacturing is coming back thanks to the weak dollar we're no longer the science and space leaders of the world. Like the space program and the interstate highway system that all means spending money. So while that's currently out of fashion, I'm not sure we should be putting the pressure on STEM students and universities rather than where it belongs: business and our politicians.


More on the superiority of engineering

Today on Engineer Blogs I talked about interdisciplinary engineering which is the theme over there this week. (See posts by Cherish, GEARS, and Paul Clarke as well). There's other engineering in the news today though, again from the NY Times Economix blog college majors that do best in this job market.
A month and a half ago I had a post on some economic news that included the mention of an article about engineering being the best paying college major. You'll notice some discrepancies. The CNNMoney article touting high salaries for engineers says they all had a higher starting salary than $60,000. However the Economix chart is based on earned income in the last 12 months so the median income for someone with an engineering degree employed in a job that requires that degree is...$35,548. Now probably some dinosaur engineers will show up and say that this was quite normal for them and kids these days are too demanding. Probably haven't read any of my numerous posts on inflation.
Hopefully the low number is due to people starting their job more recently than 12 months and only having a partial years earnings to report along with maybe some people who are working part time. Still, the percentage of engineering graduates who are employed in a job that requires their degree is 69.4%. That's the second highest after teaching at 71.1%. Higher than the oft praised "business" degree, health, or physical science (which will surprise no one in the sciences). Communications, humanities and "area studies" (whatever that it is) make up the bottom of the list. So while you shouldn't always hunt the money, hunting a degree that leads to more full employment might be useful. Though even the numbers of employed grads in the top fields are abysmally low. More victims of this brutal job market.


Inflation and Retirement

There's an article in the NY times Economix blog warning us not to get too over excited about inflation. That at 1.3% it's historically low. Though one could argue the things that inflation does not consider are what's actually important for the people that it most directly affects. Much like federal poverty levels tend to be focused around food as that used to be the most expensive monthly cost to families whereas now housing takes up a huge chunk.
As I was reading the article and thinking about the loose connections to the great depression I wondered whether the poor unemployment numbers were causing fewer people to retire. We've been warned for years about the impending mass retirement of the baby boomers and how that will give us a huge technically educated labor shortage. I've talked about that myth before.
As you can see by the chart above, those 55 and older have been hit hard (as hard magnitude-wise as any other age group) by unemployment. BLS doesn't specifically track retirement, but it does track those "not in the labor force" and "not looking for a job". This was roughly 60% of the over 55 population in 2006 and 59.5% of the over 55 population in 2008. Averaged between 2006 and 2008, the over 55 population grew about 2.7% a year. So you might expect to see similar growth in how many are not in the labor force by choice. Instead from 2006 to 2010 the growth of this possible "retired" population increased 1.4%, 1.88%, 1.06%, 1.42% and 2.20% respectively.
It could be the peak in 2007 was due to the brutality of the recession beginning and a lot of people choosing to drop out voluntarily. Maybe the high number in 2010 can be attributed to people who had wanted to retire sooner but couldn't now being able to once the stock market gains started improving. At any rate, this possible "retired" population is increasing much more slowly than the actual population itself. The question is, as the economy starts to even out, will we see more "older" people trying to return to work or will we see more of these people finally being able to retire? If the stock market finally allows them to drop out of the labor force, will inflation let them have any real security by then?


The friends you make

I mentioned over the weekend I had just come back from some cross country travel. Met some nice folks over there and ate very well. Somewhere along the way I managed to befriend some sort of virus as well.
At first everyone told me it was allergies, which given that there are four distinct seasons over there and a whole mess of pollen might have been believable. But after coming back it never quite went away. So here we are, my Nyquil and me. My coworkers like to schedule work trips around where the best bars and breweries are so they can drink the most possible alcohol on the trip. Me I like to save my drinking until I get back.


Pretty Fly

I just returned from my fabulous east coast tour of some of MegaCorp's suppliers. As an aviation enthusiastic, one of the highlights was a little hopper flight on a De Havilland -8 prop driven aircraft.

It was a nine row passenger aircraft with two seats on either side and much more limited space in overhead bins. In fact on one of the flights they asked for volunteers to take a later flight as with checked baggage included they were over the GTOW (that's gross take off weight) for this aircraft. It took me a few to realize the huge pods under the wings are entirely for stowing the landing gear in flight. All in all it was a fun flight.


Standardized Tests & Cabezones

I can feel the sweaty rage across the cafeteria, where I'm drinking coffee. He hasn't seen me—too busy yelling. His game face is on, and his team is losing. Coach's battle voice pollutes the air. His words slap, bruise and punch in ways you can't see, but will keep me up all night.

"You faaaaaiiiiiled!" He keeps saying it.

The former coach is blaming the students for their poor grades. Some are stupified with shame, smiling, pretending this is cool. They are too old to melt into nothingness and too young to give him the finger.

This is just a snippet from a brilliant article in the Texas Observer on The Testing Machine: or Texas's TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) the standardized test a school is preparing for. The author is Bárbara Renaud González sent from the local university to observe a local public middle school in its effort to prepare for standardized testing that will determine whether it falls into the "low performing" category, lose funding, and possibly lose jobs of teachers and administrators as a result. There are no heroes in this story.
I started to post quotes but you'll just have to go read it, it's that good and I'd end up linking the whole darn article. No seriously why are you still here, click the link, go read the article!


Home is where...

So I was listening to the radio this morning and then this story came on NPR about a brother and sister, both of whom had had to drop out of college and move into their family home. Their mother had passed away when they were both in high school and the eldest racked up some debt in college before they both decided they'd move home and try to get jobs in order to save the family home and keep up with mortgage payments.
The sister, Natalie, came back and was working as a secretary until she got laid off at the start of the recession.

They both need that one job — the one that will get their plans back on track. But neither of them can find it.

Chris is selling TVs right now, but it's part time. Natalie got laid off again. They pool what income they have, allocating it on a triage — to the credit cards, to Chris's dental work, to the house.

"Natalie and her brother, they don't want to sell the house, or they can't sell the house — if they do, they take a major loss," Rogers says. "So in a way, they're limiting their search options."

But while a lot of people out of work are stuck where the jobs aren't...

So I was thinking about them stuck in their house, in an area where maybe it's difficult to find a job even if you have a college degree. A lot of people are there right now, barely making it on part time income or a lower paying job than they wanted and unable to move to find a job because their underwater in the house. Seems like it's only the upper middle class schemers who are walking away from their homes, maybe the rest are scared about the problems with filing for bankruptcy or hear the stories about banks coming after those who short sold telling them they still owe extra money. Or maybe they don't want to throw away their investment, or maybe they want to do the right thing, or maybe they just want to keep their home.
I stepped outside and scared the bird that's decided to nest above our patio. It's right across from the door so every time we come and go it's a game of trying to not disturb the bird enough that it freaks out and flies away to the trees out front. It probably looked like a good place to settle down. The patio makes it relatively protected against the cats but mostly crows that go after small birds' nests. It might have been setting up on a day we were mostly out for a long day at work, it didn't necessarily know two bipedal mammals would be disturbing it a couple times a day.
So it's a lot like a lot of the homeowners right now. Probably just laid its eggs and can't just move the nest. Not always easy or possible to pick up and move where the jobs are. Sometimes you make the best decision you can at the time and can't predict how things will change. Sometimes it's still a good home and worth keeping even if there are problems.


Synergistic Cross-disciplinary Trending

I'm inspired. Fluxor wrote a humorous post on some buzz words he heard around the workplace. If you're looking for more than fluff, go over to Engineer Blogs where I talk about subcontracting for dummies or the art of working with your company's vendors on custom products.
In the meantime, the managerialistic my life becomes the more I get involved in this. And even find myself forced to use the same phrases I can't stand in my email correspondence. So here's some crap I get tired of using (and yet, don't know the workaround):
-Get on the same page
-Touch bases with that person
-Follow-up on that or bird-dog that
-Lines of communication
-We need to have a presence there
-Go make nice with them
-Rally the troops
-We need to massage the message
-I'd like to close that one out
-Are we reading now?
-Oh now we're playing baseball?
-Like that has ever helped do anything but piss someone off, not to mention who the heck in corporate america even knows what a bird dog is?
-Must be a less cheesy way of saying this
-Pointless postering
-Because we're four now?
-Didn't know white collar workers were exactly like battle hardened soldiers
-Shine the shit
-Well we'd all like to clear off our "to-do" lists so yeah, you don't need to tell me
Learn enough phrases and you don't need expertise, you'll fit right in.


Social Networking Mistake or Clever Ploy?

There have been rumours about HP possibly adopting its own cloud infrastructure similar to the services Amazon provides (that were down not so long ago and shut down a lot of popualr sites and services). But HP has been pretty quiet on details or even admitting to developing it.
So when HP's interim VP of Engineering included it briefly on his public LinkedIn profile it caught a lot of attention: "Website and User/Developer Experience. Future HP "cloud" website including the public content and authenticated user content."
So what do we think, HP's clever way of sneaking some information into the public sphere without taking credit for it? Or bumbling pseudo-executive (let's see if he gets past interim) acting typically. I also love the executive's taking credit for job growth ("ramped from 6 to > 120 in less than one year") like hiring is something difficult to do, as well as apparently listing work experience that he hasn't even done yet. Not sure if that's typical cart before the horse executive pseudo-speak or a really interesting move from HP. Probably the former but the latter is more interesting to believe.


Admitting Our Weaknesses

I am not entrepreneurial. In fact the whole concept of trying to develop something and sell something is terrifying to me. Academics are even more entrepreneurial than I am in my eyes because they must develop ideas for experiments and apply for grants. Some government scientists and engineers must also do the same.
I was born to be a corporate cog. I'm not saying I've never had an original idea in my life, but the quick flashes of new ideas I've seen in others is not something I possess. Working for myself doesn't sound like a tremendously freeing and rewarding experience. It sounds like an incredibly draining and exhausting experience. I'm also ready to sell my technical soul when asked and go be a highly paid project engineer. I'm willing to do half the work for twice the pay; I'll start whenever you need me.
Sometimes it's a let down. As in sometimes the creative ideas others have in workarounds or new tests we could try make me jealous. But leave me with my spreadsheets and my matlab and I will methodically get to the answer. It won't be new, but it'll work. I can then package that up in a powerpoint or synergistic memo as needed. World needs more cogs. We can't all be snowflakes.