Getting Paid to Break Stuff
I get paid to break stuff.
Or, at least, that is what I tell my friends and family when they ask what I do for work. I’m three years out of school working at an environmental test lab as a mechanical engineer Quanta Laboratories is where I run temperature, humidity, altitude, shock, vibration, drop, and many other types of tests for clients. There are many standards and test plans that are designed to provide a laboratory simulation of the damage-producing motions, forces, conditions, and sequences of specific environments. Clients from the customer products, medical device, government, and other industries approach us when they want to understand characteristics about their prototype or ensure their product will survive the intended environment. I would like the reader to take away engineering and work insights that have deepened by Christian faith from this article.
Feedback loop and circle of expertise
There are power, heat dissipation, size, material, strength, ergonomic, and other constraints for a product. Clients put sensors such as accelerometers, thermocouples, battery management systems, and strain gauges to capture acceleration, temperature, voltage, strain, and displacement data during the test. Without these sensors, the engineer cannot understand the product’s physical characteristics – natural frequency, battery life, and other properties. It is also essential to have this data to capture a baseline performance for comparison analysis when changing manufacturers or design modifications. These tests can be used to test the craftsmanship of the product; flaws or variations can be detected through the data. It is impossible for one person to know each field of science well enough to fix issues that may come up. Rather, there is a project lead – with an entire team of engineers, designers, and others with various skills and expertise working together.
The same idea has been true in my life, where a community of peers and mentors have helped me grow and develop. A bible study with older men has taught me a lot about manhood and marriage. My old youth group leaders have seen me grow, kept me accountable, and provided adulthood guidance. A business mentor, who is a part of the Fuller De Pree Center, has helped me find ways to integrate my Christian faith with my mechanical engineering work. My peers come alongside me to encourage and empathize with me as we journey through life together. I am thankful to have people with different backgrounds and life experiences to guide me through the different challenges and situations that life brings.
I meet with some of the people listed above more regularly and some not quite as often. That is perfectly fine. I do not need to talk to every single mentor and peer every day, in the same way that a company board of directors might meet only on a quarterly or yearly basis to discuss strategy and company vision. I am thankful to have developed a “Board of Directors“ for my life who can utilize their life experiences to facilitate discussion of my own life direction and Christian faith. After all, companies which take the time to record painstaking detail in their documentation during the manufacturing and set-up process avoid the most problems during testing.
Liturgy of the ordinary and fasteners
Loose fasteners account for many of the problems found in automobile field failures, and those loose fasteners cause other components of the car to break more quickly. This problem also affects other industries. I witnessed one company, who did not keep notes about fasteners and connectors before and after each test, must spend many months redesigning a certain assembly. When they had run out of ideas to address the issue, they brainstormed with our company’s senior technical engineer, and he proposed best practices followed by the automotive industry. Meticulous notes may seem like a waste of time and money when testing is going well, but when something breaks those notes become paramount in root cause analysis. A lot of problems can come from simple errors, and habitual, boring steps can solve those problems.
This same concept applies with Christianity. Tish Harrison Warren writes in “Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life”
“A sign hangs on the wall in a New Monastic Christian community house: “Everyone wants a revolution. No one wants to do the dishes.” I was, and remain, a Christian who longs for revolution, for things to be made new and whole in beautiful and big ways. But what I am slowly seeing is that you cannot get to the revolution without learning to do the dishes. The kind of spiritual life and disciplines needed to sustain the Christian life are quiet, repetitive, and ordinary. I often want to skip the boring, daily stuff to get to the thrill of an edgy faith. But it’s in the dailiness of the Christian faith—the making the bed, the doing the dishes, the praying for our enemies, the reading the Bible, the quiet, the small—that God’s transformation takes root and grows.”
I want to live a life that radically changes the people around me, and I would like to go on mission trips around the world in order to help people and share the Gospel. Every day I pray and hope to be a part of great things. Yet, I find excuses for why I do not read my Bible every day, why I do not need to have intentional quiet time with God every day, and why I do not need to have a daily prayer of thanksgiving for everything in my life. It is hard to keep a “mountain top experience” in daily life after going on retreats or trips. It has taken me awhile to shift my perspective of experiencing God – retreats, mission trips and serving the homeless are not the only ways. Reading my Bible daily, having reflective quiet time, and giving thanks are just as important, and an often-neglected aspect of a personal experience with God.
Improve the product, not the packaging
While it is exciting and interesting to see things break and explode during testing, often testing is quite boring and long. Safe producers and great test plans include meticulous notes and endurance to endure long, boring testing. As mentioned above, there are many standards and test plans that are designed to provide a laboratory simulation of the damage-producing motions, forces, conditions, and sequences of specific environments. One example is the ISTA standard. The ISTA standard is used to verify the product to survive transport. When the testing is complete, and the client sees the brown corrugated box damaged, they assume that the product is damaged as well. One suggestion that we give to clients when both the product and packaging is damaged, is to improve the product – not the packaging. It might be easier to spend the money to upgrade the packaging, but (for almost all products) the packaging is a one-time transaction cost that does not add value to the product. The corrugated boxes and packaging material are meant to aid the product in absorbing the shipping process’ vibration and shock energy and prevent scrapes or scratches onto the product. Ruggedizing the product so that any combination of packaging material is a good result.
The Biblical story of Job highlights the importance of having a strong faith and trust in God. Job is presented as a good and prosperous family man; everything was blessed in Job’s life. It is written in Job 1:3 that he was regarded as “…the greatest man among all the people of the East.” God allows Satan to test the faith of Job with horrendous disasters. His offspring, his health, his property, and all that he holds dear taken away. God worked and wrestled with Job to come to terms with his faith. after God stripped everything from his life.
I have been guilty of judging the strength of my Christian faith through the external aspects of religion. I was worried about listening to the right worship music, the size of the church, and going on the right mission trips. This resulted in pride and excitement about all the things I was doing for God. I also felt my anxiety and the uncertainty of the future would take me over rather than my faith and trust in God. I am grateful that I had those experiences and tests of my faith because it highlighted the importance of how to know God – rather than how I was to be known in the Bay Area Christian community. It is hard to not get lost in the details of life and pride amidst the material wealth of the diverse, ambitious Bay Area. It is vital to have a faith like Job that stays strong whatever happens. I now focus on having a strong faith to endure a tough life rather than having an easy life.
It is important to design and construct a product that survives many environmental conditions. For instance, no one wants to buy a phone that could only survive drops onto carpeted surfaces, or that has battery issues in cold or hot weather. Rather, a great product can function in many different environments. A product cannot be in the lab forever. It must go out to the customer in the real world. I love the Church and community of fellow believers. They are some of my favorite people in life. While I wish I could be at church all the time, it is important to my faith to be in fellowship with non-believers. It is important to have deep conversations about why suffering happens, why God exists, and why I believe the Gospel to be true. We are commissioned to go out and make “disciplines of all nations”, not spend as much time as possible involved in church activities.
In conclusion, these are some of the things that God has shown me through my mechanical engineering work. There are many good quotes in Tod Bolsinger’s book, “Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory” but this line, especially, resonates with me. He writes “we don’t learn from experience, we learn by reflecting on experience.” I want to live a life that radically changes the people around me, with the help of my network of mentors, colleagues, and friends. I do not want to neglect reading my Bible daily, quiet time with God, and sharing my gratefulness with God. I want to continue to have a Faith that can survive whatever happens. I am excited about what God has in store for the rest of my career, and how technology and my faith come together.
BOLSINGER, T. (2018). CANOEING THE MOUNTAINS: Christian leadership in uncharted territory. Place of publication not identified: INTERVARSITY Press.
NIV Bible. (2007). London: Hodder & Stoughton.
Warren, T. H. (2019). Liturgy of the ordinary: Sacred practices in everyday life. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, an imprint of InterVarsity Press.