I don’t know about you but I used to break into a sweat when I’d meet someone new because invariably they’d ask the question.
What do you do?
Since I love what I do, I’d always go into a speech about computational fluid dynamics (CFD) until a chance occurrence at a party made me change my behavior a few years ago. At his birthday party, an English friend of mine introduced me to one of his friends who happened to be an American. After the initial pleasantries (you’re from California? I’m from Ohio!), she told me that she had just finished a stint as a project manager at Microsoft and asked me what I did for a living. When I told her that I was also in software and explained what I did she grabbed her husband who had caught some of our conversation and mockingly said “listen to this. C F something or another. I’m pretty sure she’s making this stuff up”. Upon seeing the shock on my face, her husband apologized profusely and ushered her away. After that night I stopped automatically telling people what I did. Whenever somebody would ask I’d say marketing for an engineering software company and leave it at that. When some people hear that magical combination of engineering and software they are happy to move on to a different subject. But sometimes they ask for more. Like last Friday.
Last November while on a business trip I got sick. Nine weeks, 7 doctors, one CAT scan and 4 ultrasounds later, I found myself checked into a hospital being prepped for surgery last Friday. The surgeon stopped by my room to discuss the procedure. When he was done answering my questions, he asked what I do for a living. So I gave him my stock answer, stopped and smiled. The surgeon, a rather kind-looking older gentleman, looked over his glasses (the way fathers do) and said “why do people always respond as if they’re talking to the secret services? What do you do and who do you work for?” He seemed genuinely interested so I let loose and since I like using examples that people can relate to I spoke about how our technology can help minimize infections in operating and hospital rooms. That piqued his interest so I pointed to his mobile and started talking about how manufacturers use our ears as glorified heatsinks. Twenty minutes later as he was leaving the room he had an amused look on his face – I had either fascinated him and he couldn’t wait to tell his financial adviser to add some Mentor stock to his portfolio or he thought I was a raving lunatic making it all up.
Funny enough I get that now. No, not the raving lunatic bit (ok, that too). It’s ok. I don’t mind anymore because despite this technology being around all these years most people whom I meet outside of work have never heard about CFD. But the cars they drive, the planes they ride, the mobiles they use … they’ve all been touched by CFD in one way, shape, form or manner. So I don’t mind describing what it’s all about. More often than not I leave people surprised that a lot of thought has gone into designing whatever product they’re using. And maybe, just maybe, they look up CFD and learn a bit more about the wonderful world of simulation.
CFD. The unknown engineering hero. My one woman crusade to educate the masses continues one person at a time.
Until next time,
PS. In case you’re wondering the procedure went without a hitch. I can hardly wait to get the clearance to start hiking again in a couple of weeks time