Sunday, June 11, 2006

"But what do you actually... do?"

Sounds like there have been a few rumors about my job that I've failed to clear up. For example, Mike thought I was making about 14 times Oregon's minimum wage (all right, because I told him that, but come on, man), and others think I'm just sitting in a cubicle for eight hours a day surfing Wikipedia. Skylar asked me the other day if I really earned the money I was making, and it only occurred to me a few days ago why I'm earning anything at all--the stuff I do occasionally frees up the time of people who are making far more than I am. In other words, no.

I started writing down a few examples of what I do last week in my gridded, pocket-size moleskine I got back at school. (In a stunning display of boredom and ingratitude I actually decorated it with copper conducting tape that was lying around. It looks pretty cool now.) But if I've learned anything from working so far that isn't related to physics or personal hygiene, it's that I have to have a stake in everything I do if I want to ensure quality work. That's why the list is composed of two parts: the way I would describe it on a resume, and the way an objective onlooker (or my now-defunct and thus hypothetical conscience) would describe it. As follows:

Me: "Researching novel sources for Focused Ion Beam systems."
Conscience: "Watching smart people operate a device you did not help them build."

Me: "Construction of high-frequency oscillating magnetic field source."
Conscience: "Using a hacksaw and electrical tape on a component from Radio Shack."

Me: "Advanced metal deposition for substrate bonding."
Conscience: "Soldering. Failing. Soldering again."

Me: "Testing electromagnetic interference effects on focused ion and electron columns."
Conscience: "Moving Radio Shack component around expensive machinery. Recklessly."

Me: "High-energy fabrication of vacuum probes with sub-micron tip diameter."
Conscience: "Putting glass stick in hole. Pressing button."

Me: "Conductive carbon deposition for discharging of ion-beam target."
Conscience: "Putting glass stick in hole. Pressing two buttons."

Me: "Utilization of focused ion beam system for destructive-sputter machining."
Conscience: "Click. Click. Click. Drag. Play games on cell phone for 10 min; repeat."

Me: "Working toward a mutually beneficial internship involving both learning and service to the corporation."
Conscience: "You're pretty much a dick. I'm out of here."

I also keep a tally page near the end. So far I have worked 14 days, destroyed 3 amplifiers (which may or may not have been my fault!), injured myself twice, beaten 3 cell phone games, and eaten in the cafeteria once. (One time too many.)

I did, however, end up at the Wikipedia page the other day ("Small children run the risk of drowning if they fall headfirst into the toilet"). It was one of those moments that really hits you--one of those "What am I doing with my life" moments that makes you want to throw everything away and join the Peace Corps, or take a two-hour lunch break that involves Washington Square Mall. And by you I mean me. (The guy said he didn't need me until 1:00... well, the economy needs me all the time.)

Anyway, I hope that answers your questions. Meanwhile, don't scorn me. I'm sure I'm just being groomed for the really difficult technical problems that they'll set me to. Next week.

Postscript: Please, feel free to call my office phone at any time. If I'm there I can pretend to have a real work-related conversation with you and boy will my coworkers be impressed. Except the guy in the next cubicle down from me, who appears to harbor some ill will toward me. Maybe it's just that famous engineering social side.


Scott said...

He might be planning to destroy you. Keep your wits about you, and in the meantime make as much money doing nothing as possible. Some make a career out of it, and I feel that they are very happy people.

Misha said...

haha, and here i thought you were important. sure fooled me!

keep up the good work, ken. only don't let these people ruin you. i need you to be just as reckless and unresponsible as ever. for my own sanity. got it?

Katie said...

Mmm, well, at least most of you are getting *paid*. I know, I know, I wasn't gonna work this summer. But Ellie got this internship with the re-election campaign of the state rep for Tigard, and the campaign manager told her that they could use another person to help out (i.e. be the office's bitch), and so I was dragged into it and am now also an intern. Not that I can complain, really, this whole interning thing was pretty simple bitch work (stuffing envelopes, entering phone numbers into voter databases) until Ellie and I just got assigned the planning and organizing of a big community fundraiser for the representative...all by ourselves. Yeah. Guess you do have to "work" at work after all. Should As the only female interns, mostly Ellie and I laugh a lot and are entertaining/disruptive, depending on your point of view.