“It always seems crazy, until it’s not” — Larry Page

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It seemed crazy that two weeks before college applications were due, at the age of 17, a deadline was going to decide the fate for the rest of my life. Little did I know, that this was going to be the adrenalin infused decision making skill I would come to rely on later. Did I dismantle cars and put them back together, before I learned to walk? Did I reprogram my computer? (No, I thought Windows 98 was the coolest thing ever just like you.) Do I like my food with an extra dash of “grease?” No. But I decided then, that I was going to learn to look like an engineer.

Of course this decision was welcomed with open arms by my parents’ career prophesy: “A girl should be anything she wants in life, a doctor or an accountant.” But I had fallen much too in love with the laws of Newton and wasn’t going to settle my debts for granting me life, by budging with this decision.

When my older brother decided to pursue a career in civil engineering, it was called applying for college. When I applied for the mechanical engineering program at my university, it was called defiance; as I went on to be accepted with a small scholarship and still is today; as I enter my final honours year.

I’m periodically reminded how I will not get a job, (yeah me and the rest of the unemployed youth — unemployment doesn’t discriminate) how I will have to work cleaning gears in factories (let’s just say after 2 months of vacation work in 2 different factories — there’s very little that scares me anymore) and reminded by nobody in the field of engineering what my career entails. So, why is everyone telling me about the horrid challenges I am going to face at my future job? I’ve come to the profound conclusion that an asteroid travelling at the speed of light multiplied by pi squared… I’m a girl, and unlike my brother before me, being an engineer would be seen as a burden not a blessing to those around me.

I’m not going to deny, I didn’t pick up a spanner until my first year of engineering, but look around you the world is built by a multitude of people and some are skilled in the art of spanner-ism and others not. But, the real conclusion I’ve made, is that people are afraid of the unknown. We take the same routes, order the same food, choose the same stores, because it’s familiar and safe. However, when clichés become your core source of information you enter a narrow path called naivety. Where the unknown scares some, it is what drives me, fuels my curiosity and guides my lifelong thirst for knowledge.

I shall now attempt to educate everyone, by addressing a list of issues I come across, the next time you find yourself afraid of the unknown, I don’t have to prevent my eyes from Fibonacci spiraling out of control or justify my decision in an open court where the jury is already wondering if I can assist with engine trouble. (For the record, I cannot. Why? Because I’m not a car mechanic. )

Lesson 0 — #ILookLikeAnEngineer

Yes, I’m a petit, 1.7 m, female with short sighted vision, where even my toes are a bit of a blur. I’m assisted thankfully by my black aluminium framed glasses. But, I have no idea what an engineer looks like, so I’m going to be one whether I look like it or not. SPOILER ALERT: The helmet, yes it fits. And the safety boots too. (They make size: girl. Who knew?) Do I dress like this everyday and is this the little black dress of engineering? No, it’s for my safety. And if you visited a construction site or a hazardous environment, you would have to wear it too. And no, that would not make you an engineer.

I too, adjust my choice of clothing to the weather. Becoming an engineer has nothing to do with your appearance or gender. It has everything to do with your personality traits, and your ability to solve problems and welcome complexity with open arms. (or open pliers, yes I’m still on to you, spanner-isms) You need to learn to make decisions where sometimes it is not clear what’s right or wrong, only what works and what works better. You will need to be able to draw strengths from a team and simply do the best you can with what you have.

I didn’t grow up showing traits of a future engineer, nor do I go around tinkering rockets in my spare time. I still jump at every door slam and am a little afraid of uncontrolled fires. (safety first!) So, I must admit maybe my decision was slightly shocking to those around me. But, what I did grow up with, was a home filled with resources that taught me about the world and how it works, and more importantly how to make it better. Maybe I didn’t build an internal combustion engine in a cave with a box of scraps, but it always fascinated me and always will, on how we keep 300 tonnes flying in the air. And as I entered areas of increased pressure, I was able to lift myself out of the challenges of studying a degree in engineering.

So the dream was alive, until I failed my first test and I thought for a second maybe…

I will just take the re-write with the other 2/3rds of my class. I have a curious case of never giving up, I believe every problem has a solution — the trick is finding it. This blind optimism has cost me many troubles, triumphs and sleep. But I’m 3/4 done and I have loved every day. I am inspired by the skills I learn and knowledge I gain. I can do things like write computer programs to help me analyse data, and understand why my laptop heats up when I leave it running on my bed while I type this. (Unknown 0 Me 1)

Sometimes you need to jump into the deep end, and then figure out if you enjoy swimming or not. Sometimes your best advice comes from thorough research in this age of abundant information and not from old generational prophesies.

Lesson 1 — #WorkingLivesMatter

One of the biggest challenges I face is answering the question “What are you studying?” and very often my reply is met with a stare blanker than monochromatic light. Or if someone is curious “What do you do?” to which I am left doing the verbal rebate of a Google search, and the ultimate “Where will you work?” to which I am left wondering, do people just accept the aerofoil shape of an aeroplane wing and not wonder why or how? Where do people think technology (including but not limited to EVERYTHING) comes from?

I have not had this conversation once or twice, I am constantly having to explain myself to different genres of people, a explanation not warranted if I were let’s say of another hypothetical gender. So here it comes, one explanation to rule them all.

There are countless branches of engineering, and all come together to pursue a common goal of making the world a better a place and driving humanity forward. Some of the main branches are civil engineering, mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, computer engineering and electrical engineering. Within these are sub branches that are specialists in certain arts of science. Your degree doesn’t dictate where you will work, (human resources does that, as you will soon find out) but you do. You decide what you want to make, create or innovate. You decide if the toolbox or if Linux or if a toolbox in Linux is your sidekick at work or not. And yes, it’s tiresome dodging the knowledgeable remarks of those un-knowledgeable in the topic, but you soon learn that there are things more tiresome and worth the energy, like finding a “matrix indices” error source in Matlab. (at 3 Am with a deadline at 8 Am. Yes. Welcome)

I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in renewable energy, because three years ago that was such a hot topic in my coal mining –makes -our- GDP -country. (insert sarcasm sign)

So the fear struck again, nobody knew what that meant so everybody told me I won’t get a job, I will end up doing what their version of engineering dictated and I will hate my life. Well, I hate to disappoint people, but I still and always will love what I do. And getting a job is not motivation enough for choosing what career to follow. You’ll get a job or you’ll make your own. What should motivate you is caring about something enough for it to keep you awake at night until it’s perfect.

Engineering jobs are so vast it is difficult to condense it here, but there are fields of design and testing, analysing, building and the list goes on! So do your own research. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which means living with the result of other people’s thinking (rather trust in the result of a search engine — No, we’re not referring to you, Bing.) Yes older people are wiser and they know more about life, but the world is a different place than it was the last time they had to make decisions akin to these and when people offer advice they draw on past experience, and it may be outdated.

So, if I had continued on the path of the prophesy I would have indeed hated my life and continued to internally combust at the sight of blood or agitate my eye stigmatism by balancing copious amounts of ledgers.

Instead there’s an entire world trying to go 100% renewable and I live in a country with 300 days of sunshine. (this is me wondering if I’m going to get a job)

The best advice is mistakes, make them, learn from them and move on.

In conclusion, Google is your friend- read, don’t live in the unknown in an information age. The world is an incredible place and there’s space for you in it, whatever you want to be. Based on the ancient, ever adapting and most reliable prophesy called yourself. In yourself, you must trust.

Technology is changing the world at a rapid pace and I am grateful every day to be a small part of this. (even if it’s opening the jam jar with a spanner.)

Hello world.

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“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” -Steve Jobs

[original photography]

The Year I Journeyed Into Engineering

It was decided upon by the career gods that I would join a fleet of mostly men and a few women to enter the remarkable world of engineering. Through innovation, design and imagination we would create the world of tomorrow. Little did I know that the future would involve grease (And a lot of it.)

Studying to become a mechanical engineer, braving mathematics and science, I would soon have to brave a new world. The disillusionment of first year vacation work.

They say on the first day of work a doctor is handed a scalpel and a dead body, in my world this was exchanged for a rag and a helmet, more formerly known as a P.P.E. I soon realized why factory workers have a ‘distinct’ walk, it’s all due the weight of the metal-tipped boots that make sure I leave with the ten toes I entered with.

Touring the factory (with my newly acquired ‘factory walk’) I was astonished at the amount of work that goes into making a product, in this case our precious sweetener we take for granted, sugar. The amount of man power and machinery, and intricate processes that go into turning the endless hills of sugar cane that surround my home town, into the white crystals we rely on to fully wake up every morning.

Giving new meaning to the term "Changing Gears."

Every man has a place and every job has a man. At nine o’clock a siren – the international sound of danger – sounds and instead of the evacuation which I assumed, here it is music to the ears of everyone as it signals the beginning of the first tea break for the day.
This was my first experience as a worker among foremen and I was soon emerged within the brotherhood that exists between men who spend every daylight together. I was quite envious as I knew that a sisterhood as strong between women could never exist. These men would sacrifice their lives for one another and never ask for anything in return.

Although I got told to stand a little further from everyone when something dangerous was being done, or was frequently referred to as ‘the girl,’ I was genuinely surprised at the atmosphere of this plant. If you walk into an office block of clerks on any given business day, you will soon realize that the people inside are as uptight as the buildings are ‘up..’
I found it remarkable that these men and few women, who work from 6:30 in the morning til 4:30 in the afternoon are as cheerful and carefree about life as someone with no worries in the world would be. It was as if the minimum wage for the labour intensive work they did, did not reside within them. I had to think, are the years of studying and being forced into a money-driven world,  taking the happiness out of us? Every decision we make is centered around how much money the options will bring in. From what career to follow to what job to take. Are we ever truly happy, or are we living on the false hope that money will make us happy, despite how miserable our lives are?

If a job had to be done, these men had to work around the clock to fix it. Sometimes working 12 hours a day and 22 hours in rotation on a break down. Yet every person I encountered, despite their chronic sleep deprivation  were incredibly patient and did not mind the distraction of 3 untrained aspiring engineers lurking over them. They took the time out to explain and demonstrate various skills and share their valuable knowledge.

So if I’ve gotten myself into a complete mess, beginning work at 6:30 am and the end of the day being undefined, I would take being a part of this team, and pushing the boundaries of engineering everyday, than walking into an office and refreshing my Facebook page from 8am to 4pm.

Brace yourself engineering world, I’m one quarter an engineer!

My P.P.E

Be the Blade Amongst Legs

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We often hide what’s not perfect in our lives. We consider ourselves rejects if we don’t contain the normal five senses, boast the “ideal shape,” or differ in any way. During the sporting events of 2012, we watched in awe, as one man illustrated to an oblivious world, that you don’t necessarily need two legs to run, you need a beating heart.

From all the athletes who showcased their talents, skills and products of hard work, one man showed the world that it is possible to achieve greatness, despite disabilities. That night we spiraled into our lounges, tuned into radio stations and the new generation onto social networking sites, to witness the outcome of this man’s determination. It’s is not gold we wanted or hoped for, but to see his blades on a track amongst the legs of his competitors. Our “Blade Runner,” stole the headlines in London, but captured 49 million hearts at home.

Every sport shows us the triumph of man’s determination. We simply watch the drama unfold and continue mindlessly with our daily lives, but this time it was different. A nation cleared their schedules for eleven seconds, to witness one man’s fight for a dream.

During my time as an avid sports fan, I have witnessed many emotional occasions, though none can be compared to the feeling of that night. Nervous with excitement, yet overcome with emotion. A movie martyr might compare it to the feeling during the scene in which the hero dies to save the world. A techno-geek might be more familiar with the feeling when a new revolutionary gadget is released. However, my feeling was beyond the description of words. Every moment of regret, anguish and suffering I had endured, had melted away. If he can run, I can live through anything. The external revelations of my internal emotions were stubborn tears, which no matter how hard I tried to hold back, ran down my cheeks. I can recall and count the number of times in my life, in which I could not contain my tears, each with distinct experiences. This was definitely a new experience. Tears of inspiration.

If your life seems distant from the ideal palm-tree-lined road, it is still possible to walk down that road, even if you don’t have legs. Are your problems really as disastrous as you think? Do you have a life-altering ailment or chronic disease? The heroes of the Paralympic Games could smile and be proud; don’t you believe you can too? These athletes sent a message to the world: stop looking at what makes you imperfect and start looking at what you can do, with what you have.

Emotions during sporting events are not a result of flashing photons on our television sets. They are result of the meaning behind those pixelated pictures. He did not simply run a race, he stood for so much more. They didn’t showcase their brilliant talents for an entire tournament, for us to blindly watch. They showed us that life goes on, run with no legs, swim with no legs, lift a trophy with no hands and see the gold with no sight. Oscar Pistorius and the athletes of the Paralympic Games inspired a generation and made impossible non-existent.

The year in review: 2011

As every year draws to an end, the familiar phrase ‘this year has gone by so fast’ becomes more of a thought provoking sentence, rather than an overused cliché. As you rapidly try to collect your memories in the past 365 days, you realize that it’s all a blur and that the year has in fact gone by incredibly fast. Events start to feel like years ago and you realize once again, your memory has failed you. This was an unforgettable year, as with every year, so dig deep into your memory and let’s try to recount the events of the past 365 days. It was the year of adversity, revolution, possibility and success.

Thankfully, as time goes by technology gets faster, easier, slimmer and smarter…just ask Siri. In 2011 we moved forward through technology once again. The battle of the techno-fruits continued and the iPad proved to be the only screen you required. So, finally a smartphone that can do everything….Wait. Which one is it again?!
The unfortunate death of one of the greatest innovators of our time needed some dual core processing as the world tried to rationalize what we just lost.

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We bid farewell to many in 2011, some good, some bad and some brilliant. Death is the only thing we cannot control going into 2012. As the passing away of some brought about mourning, the deaths of others brought about closure and a revolution. We say rest in peace, Elizabeth Taylor, Amy Winehouse, Sai Baba, Steve Jobs, Seve Ballesteros, Osama Bin Laden, Maummar Gaddafi and many more who lost their lives this year. It was the year we appreciated heroes and conquered things we never thought possible.

The natural disasters came in waves. They caused panic, deaths and left our world devastated time after time. Floods washed away lives in Brazil and Thailand. We once again showed the strength and courage of mankind, when the Fukushima 50 heroically cleaned up the mess of Japan’s earthquake.

We protested to such an extent that Time Magazine named ‘The Protestor’ as their infamous person of the year.
Tahrir Square proved to be more than just a 4 sided figure when a revolution began and freedom was found there. Another revolution changed Tunisia. We welcomed the world’s newest country, South Sudan and said goodbye to the war in Iraq.

We ‘occupied’ a lot of places, through protests and through the 7 billion people that now roam the earth.

We marked 10 years since the tragic fall of the Twin Towers in New York City and the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The last space shuttle was launched into the unknown (….That is not so unknown anymore, thanks NASA.)

Prince William and Kate Middleton captured our news ns the Internet when they got married.
The king of pop can finally rest in peace as his cause of death was vigorously examined in court. The world watched as Dr. Conrad Murray was convicted of involuntary manslaughter of Michael Jackson.

New heroes were born in the world of sport as Novak Djokovic conquered Wimbledon and Sebastian Vettel showed us that speed should not be feared. The numbers 8-2 and 6-1 will never just be numbers in any English Premier League football fans mind. We argued about referees, goal-line technology and match fixing. Racism in sport got the boot, but unfortunately Sepp Blatter did not.

Corruption continued, the rich got richer and the economic crisis made some poorer. We tweeted, liked, BBMed and iMessaged. We travelled and despite all, we had the time of our lives. We realized that there is a whole new year awaiting our experiences, our discoveries and most importantly, awaiting us,

Happy New Year, “Stay focused. Stay foolish.” -Steve Jobs.

Hello, World. [Technology & Connectivity]

In a world where we have been to the moon and back, we have also concluded that snail mail, was just too slow. With the rise of rapid means of connectivity, you cannot help but wonder if it is all just too fast. Is the way we connect in today’s world good for our well-being or should we have taken the oldest advice in the book and ‘taken it slow.’

1Our postal addresses have been replaced by a cyber-inbox and there is no longer a stamp to lick but a mouse to click. There is no doubt that these methods of connectivity are far more efficient, but where do we draw the line between a digitally-driven world and our real world. 3

The options are endless. With social networking sites springing up overnight, our daily conversations are being skewed towards wall posts and status updates. Gone are the days when we exchanged valuable and worthwhile information. Have you ever thought, maybe we connect too much? With instant chat services, you are more likely to see the top of someone’s heads, rather than their face. These instant message services are addicting and leave the victim continuously bowed over their devices. We have lost the importance of why we connect and replaced it with how we connect.

2It is a scary thought that we are turning out a world of digitally-enhanced humans. Behind the computer screen we all appear to be Einstein’s, but within the depths of our hand-writing lies the truth of bad grammar and spellcheck-less words and an array of people who are powerless without their digital half.

Connectivity should be about sharing information which you think would be valuable to the specific recipient. It should be thoughtful, caring and said or written with as much love as a hug. These new powerhouses of connectivity are ruining our creative ability and sucking the compassion out of us. They are beneficial to us in numerous ways and there is doubt that they are more reliable than our traditional methods. But we cannot help but wonder how the negative effects will one day affect us.

[pppppppp Humans need care, love and affection; this is something that cannot be attained digitally. Although ‘Facebook’ tried to achieve the equivalent of it with their ‘Poke’ feature, perhaps ‘YouTube’s’ ‘Like” button or maybe ‘Twitter’s’ ‘Retweet’ command, it will never be as authentic as a handmade card or simple handwritten “I Miss You.’

It is reasonable to conclude that if one of these powerhouses ran for president they would probably succeed. These new methods make it easier to connect, but how much is too much? We may boast countless friends and followers, but fail to remember the reason why we connect.