Not for the weak minded.

The Importance of Knowing Everything

May 27th, 2009 Josh
This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series MMA of Engineering

IMG_0457.JPG When I started at UF, I didn’t really know what to expect. I knew I would learn “engineering” stuff in the “mechanical” category, but really I had no idea what I would learn.

Prior to college, I never had a “normal”  job. Instead of stocking shelves at the local supermarket, or the water park, or bussing tables, I worked for my grandpa. He’s my hero in case you didn’t already know. It started when I was old enough to pull weeds (3 or 4 maybe? it was a long time ago…); he would give me $.50 to fill a bucket with weeds from the shop yard. As I got older and learned to do more demanding tasks, he paid me more. By the time I was a senior in high school I think he was paying me $8/hr, which was pretty good at that time.

It was also fun. I learned to drive a Case 580 front-end loader when I was 8. By the time I was 12 I could safely operate every basic tool in the shop (and there are a LOT). At 14 I could stick weld pretty well, and at 16 I could braze with an oxy-acetlyne rig. At 18 I was cranking precision parts out of a lathe and milling machine and helping with aluminum casting. At this point, I had more practical experience than any of my soon-to-be mechanical engineering cohorts.

Monkey Wrench

Monkey Wrench

As an aside, a good friend of mine (in food science, not ME) took a design class and had to tell an engineer what a pair of dics (pronounced dikes) is; It was rare to find someone who knew a monkey wrench was an actual tool; and to this day, without a picture, no one believes me that I once had a drill that drills square holes.

Needless to say, when I got to college, the engineering theory that was taught in my classes only reinforced the observations of my previous 10+ years of shop apprenticeship. It was actually the testing, and a pesky, well hidden learning disability that almost got me kicked out… but that’s for another post. During the <ahem> 5-1/2 years that I was there, I learned why mechanical engineering was considered one of the hardest disciplines: We were taught just about everything.

OK, not everything, but everything having to do with the physical world, and more. We learned advanced mathematics as the basis for defining and solving problems (I think I was only one class away from a math minor, and 4 or 5 away from a math major…). We learned advanced physics to understand complex moving systems. We learned chemistry to understand material behavior; thermodynamics and fluid dynamics to understand heat, mass, and fluid energy transfer; electrical engineering classes to understand electromechanical devices; control theory to make our devices function. We learned about fixed, moving, and deforming structures; Computer systems to design and analyze in the virtual world before bringing designs to the real world. We learned how to communicate with customers, integrate designs, and troubleshoot problems. We learned everything we need to design anything for anyone.

Now, you may be wondering what exactly mechanical engineers design. Well, if it involves heat, motion, lightweight structures, advanced materials, or phase changes, chances are a mechanical engineer had a hand in it. When I graduated, I really didn’t know that there were so many different career paths that a mechanical engineer could take. I spent a just less than 2 years designing HVAC and Plumbing systems, but then after a career switch I found my true calling in advanced aerospace mechanical systems. Next post I’ll show you exactly what I do… in a very abridged form.

So What Would Ya Say… Ya Do Here?

May 13th, 2009 Josh
This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series MMA of Engineering


In any given week, I’d say I only do about 15 minutes of real, actual, work. The rest of the time I’m just doing my job. And I like my job. 

Many people ask me what I do, and the usual answer is “I design cargo systems.” The usual response is something like “Oh, that’s cool,” but I can see the internal response on their face: booooooooring. I’ll agree that to most people the statement is definitely boring on the surface, which is partly why say it. Most people don’t care, and I don’t feel like explaining to them and watching their eyes glaze over. But since I started this blog as more of a technical blog than personal (though I’ve posted more personal than technical lately) I’ll take the time to go into some details of exactly what I do, while attempting to prevent comatose boredom.

At this point I’ve realized that this post is about to embark on an adventure through the depths of my very being. It is not going to be short by any means. Since I’m normally long worded anyway, I think it will be a good idea to cut this up into a few different posts. 

When you break down the general “Engineering” field, you get a number of specific disciplines:

  • Agricultural 
  • Biological 
  • Biomedical
  • Chemical
  • Civil
  • Computer
  • Electrical
  • Environmental
  • Industrial Systems
  • Materials
  • Mechanical & Aerospace
  • Nuclear & Radiological

Most of these disciplines cover a wide range of studies, and after graduating you either go to grad school or you go to work for an industry for a specific topic within your discipline. However, there are a few disciplines that actually require significant knowledge of other disciplines. I like to call these the MMA fighters of the engineering world. IMO, these are Biomedical, Electrical, Chemical, and Mechanical, but I like to consider mechanical engineering the world champ of the MMA disciplines. 

You’ll just have to wait for my next post to hear why.