koji berry

koji berry

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A farewell

My uncle, the youngest brother of my dad, passed away yesterday very early in the morning, just at the time when you see that the sky starts to become less black and more blue. No, I wasn't there, we are too far apart. He was my favorite uncle and the reason to visit grandma when I was little. He was tall and skinny and he wore broad glasses. And he laughed a lot.

Have a great journey, dear Uncle!

I kept on biting

In the Dutch language there is an idiom "doorbijten", which literally means to bite through. It is a metaphor for someone who keeps on fighting regardless of the bad situation he/she is having. I like to translate is as "to keep on biting".

This idiom came into my mind about one and half years ago. After my PhD contract was ended, I decided to take the job as a project engineer. My experiments were finished but a lot of major corrections on the draft still needed to be done. But my professor had many other overdue students, and there was no sign that he would have time to check my papers soon.

So I took the job. I had to commute with public transportation as I haven't got my driving license yet. The route is: bus + train + train + bike. It took two hours and a fifteen minutes for one trip. It was tough. I was exhausted. It was cold and the days were gloomy. My memories of those days are of me sitting in the train. It was dark outside. I was trying to do a bit of work on my tiny laptop. Waiting for the train in the cold was unpleasant so whenever possible I would look for a shop and entered it. (Some shops forbid people from doing this).

At home, I still tried to write for unless one hour with the help of energy drink and hot tea. The endless supply of hot tea was the one keeping me moving.

I kept on moving. I "kept on biting". It seemed hard and impossible, but I didn't want to let my thesis go.

Another clear memory was the news about the suicides done by two teenagers by jumping on the train. They were bullied and could not take it anymore.Suicides happen frequently in the Dutch railways and are the main reasons for delays. Normally, I will be annoyed by those who were so inconsiderate to make other people to suffer from their weakness, but this time I understood that.

At the moment, what I was really hoping is that somebody would come to me and ask if anything is alright with me. And I will tell him the burden of my thesis and my job. He should be a stranger, a nice person who appears out of thin air, someone unburdened.

He never appeared. Eventually my thesis is finished, I get my driving license, I quit my job. Lrrr and I haven't reached the ideal life we desire, but I (and him) kept on making progress, one at a time. And we have each other.

PS. I am wondering if those with a very mild depression would benefit from a warm and unburdened conversation, offered by people who are just being kind but without any responsibility whatsoever toward the sufferers.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Life as a project engineer ... and why it is not for me (2)

After the post about the daily tasks of a project engineer, I will further give a view on what I like of being a project engineer. The next and last post of this series will be on the things I did not like from that job.

When I first started the job, I was thrilled that I would learn about the new technologies from the clients. The company does not own any technology to make sure that the market is as wide as possible. As the projects are relatively short and the clients are many, there are many technologies I can learn. I cannot expose them here as it is part of the secrecy agreement. However, most of the technologies are standard processing technologies in the oil and gas processing companies, but tweaked a bit - like using new catalysts or new separation technology. Now I really understand how they translate the concept into reality.

And then I learned how to design a plant. I can now arrange the equipment and instruments of a plant in a good order. Like when you connect a gas bottle to the plant, you will need to have at least a pressure reducer, a flow controller, and a pressure relief valve to protect the lines. Many instruments are required for one single gas line. To imagine that I have supervised plant design projects in my former job (I was a lecturer) without knowing any of these!

I learned about standards and norms. Working in engineering means that you have to deal with many safety norms. A few example here is API for the designing of pressure relief valves, and Pressure Equipment Directive for designing a pressurized vessel. Every type of industry has its own set of standards. As I was building a hazardous plant, I had to deal with a certified inspector as well.

I have learned to use Dutch properly. Albeit having mostly foreign clients, all my colleagues and most of the suppliers are from the Netherlands. I spoke quite good Dutch before start working there, but then I also learned how to write a formal letter. I used Google Translate a lot in composing my emails just to make sure that I did not make any embarrassing mistakes.

They treated me like human - they give compensation for overtime, clean and roomy office, fast computers, good managers. The salary standard for a construction company is lower than for chemical industries. I was not really satisfied with my salary. But unlike in the university, I was not expected to make more than 40 hours a week. And when I asked if I could work for 4 days a week to have more time to finish my PhD thesis, they allowed me to.

I brushed up my communication skill. There were a lot of culture difference here because nearly everybody working there were born and raised in the region. They have their accent and their communication style. And there were engineers, technicians, and suppliers. Each group should be treated differently, and I was trying hard to get along well.

I learn to work in a very organized way. That is the good thing about engineering. Because you are working in a team, it is crucial that everybody has access and could understand what the other was doing, so when somebody is ill, the others can pick up the work easily. So every email and every piece of calculation were organized in the Outlook or in the network drive. There is a rule on numbering. Every single step should be documented.

I learn to work fast. There is no time to think.

There were some nice colleagues. The colleagues were very helpful, they will answer any questions I had although I am distracting them from work.