Spacefem (spacefem) wrote,

making big things with lots of people

I've been watching the appendices of Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. I'd have to say that if I'd watched this during college or whatever, a lot of this "making of" stuff would have seemed distant, but now I relate to it all to well. I mean, when they talked about making the movie, they talked about deadlines, project management, group leads, team leads, teleconferences, years out of everyone's lives, overtime... the same stuff we do to make an airplane. They make it all sound so exciting though :) I saw the similarities too when I watched the commentary on Monsters, Inc.; I remember them talking about how they had a "fur group" in charge of animating fur, just like we have a hydraulics group, a pressurization group, an avionics group (the avionics group is the best, of course).

Before I had a livejournal (egads, how was that?) I had an internship at a company that made powerplants. It was miserable. I hated my life. They had over-hired interns so there wasn't much work for me to do. I felt like a tiny, meaningless cog. A powerplant takes 9-15 years to create and I sort of barely saw three months of it, which I spent looking at drawings and entering the parts called out in excel spreadsheets.

So I decided that the villian here was the timespan. Powerplants were too huge. I needed to go into consumer electronics - a world where an idea goes to production in six months, where there's always something new to keep my attention. I got a job... it wasn't exactly consumer electronics, but it was close. I made sure of that and would have really fought accepting it if it hadn't been. We did aircraft systems integration and there were always new things to integrate because customers ordered anything and everything that the general aviation industry could crank out. I had a deadline every three days. It was great! But looking back, after a year and a half, I'd really done that to satisfaction. It could have gotten cyclical.

I moved to this new position almost exactly one year ago. Yeah, I let myself go to a Big Project, where the deadline wasn't every week, it was huge, and we were chipping away at a glacier to try to make an airplane. I wasn't in a cute little group of five people, I was on a PROJECT with hundreds, and more were being added all the time. I had more managers watching me and I've worked more hours and the scary part is where nowhere near the end; the part where we actually have a flying airplane.

And even the end will drag out... just like you see all these parts of a movie but suddenly someone realizes they should watch the whole thing together, some random person will ask, "Has anyone sat in the back of an airplane? Reading a newspaper, so they make sure the sun stays at the same place on the paper and doesn't oscillate back and forth while the autopilot tries to stay level? With a wine goblet on a table?" All the little things.

So it's scary as hell and it's just where I said I didn't want to be, but there's a big difference, and a reason why I love where I'm at and the people who worked on Lord of the Rings said they'd do it all over again if they had the chance, even knowing about all the pain and long hours: when you have an opportunity to dedicate years of your life to something you love, it really is an experience worth everything. Passion is what makes it. The people I work with love airplanes just as much as the people on this DVD love the special effects of a fantasy film, and there's this special bond and you know The Project will take you over, but it'll all be worth it.

It's not how big the project is. It never was. It's how much you've got to put into it. Oh sure, someone will come here with a "Don't love your job, it will never love you back" but I'll have to beg to differ... the right job gives a lot. The right job is worth it.
Tags: engineering
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