October 26th, 2011

planet

what I'm doing at work

So I don't talk about work much, I'm not very upfront about where I work, although a number of you know, and that's okay, just keep it on the down low? But I got some clarification this week that the project I'm on is NOT a top secret operation so I wanted to write a bit about it, because it's interesting and who knows what other friends have been involved with stuff like this?

In August, I switched groups. No more electrical engineering, no more designing airplanes. I became sort of a software implementer, I guess.

The project is Product Lifecycle Management, or PLM, you hear it talked about a lot. It focuses on the life of things. At school, I'm assigned a paper, I work on it by myself, then turn it in. That's the "lifecycle" of it, and it's so short and uncomplicated it doesn't need managed. And the more I look at the world, I think a lot of weirdness that comes up in business stems from the fact that we have trouble adjusting our minds to it after 15-20 years of formal education.

At a company your work is assigned by committee, almost, the generation of an engineering product is something akin to the big bang. Requirements cascade down and get translated, it ends up in your group, not just with you. Then there's a lot more than just turning it in, there's approval, rework, a bunch of steps to implementation, then it gets BUILT and that's whole new weirdness.

So PLM is the idea that you take what you're doing, get it into a big database, and track objects by their where they are on their path through the world, who's "inbasket" they're in, what they need to get to the next square.

As a database, it's not a terribly complicated idea. A single "where we at?" column, with software that knows what it takes to get to the next step. But big companies have complicated processes. So we purchased off-the-shelf software to do this, and now a team of us is working with consultants to work the things we (engineers) do into their world.

That's what I do now.

I joined the project because I wanted to be involved in an IT team, I like to write little scripts here and there but any time I've done anything like that it's only been as a hack on my own. Half the time I try to improve something, I get in just as much trouble from IT as I do commendations from my engineering managers. So I wanted to know how this side works, and they wanted engineering expertise. I do still work, org-chart wise, in the engineering department. Just not in avionics engineering. I'm got this vague "improve stuff" department number tied to my name, and I changed two levels of bosses.

A friend of mine says that when people ask what I do, I'm still supposed to say "I'm an electrical engineer" because it's not like I turned my degree in here. But it feels weird, and for a while I was saying "I used to be an electrical engineer" with some sadness. The good news is that even though this team is not designing airplanes, we're still excited about them, we still talk about industry news and there are even other pilots to swap stories with, still. Go figure.