Monday, April 06, 2015

E is for Engineering

"Oh, you studied Engineering??"

Many people express their surprise at the fact that once upon a time, I used to be an engineer. And the question that usually follows is - "But why??"

Here's why.

I don't know what the situation is now, but when and where I grew up, there were only two ways to make your family proud. Become a doctor or become an engineer. And for heaven's sake, don't go into Arts or Commerce. This was especially important if your parents didn't have any sons. Strangely, no one explicitly said this to me or my friends. We were just wired to think like that. I don't have any memory of my parents expressing any desire to have me take up Medicine or Engineering. But then neither do I have any memory of them asking me what I wanted to do. In fact, I don't think I wanted to do anything. It just seemed like the natural course of life -- Medicine or Engineering. (I did like writing and poetry, but it was laughable to think of that as a career choice. That was a hobby. It could not be a vocation.)

I loved both Mathematics and Biology, so I sat for both entrance exams. I didn't really care which one I got through, as long as I got through at least one. And then the SIA-NOL scholarship came through. Again, I don't know what the situation is now, but back then, if you got a scholarship to study in a phoren country, you didn't think. You packed your bags right away. So once again, I didn't care much. It was an Engineering degree, I was going to be abroad. It couldn't be a prouder moment for my parents.

The realisation trickled in during my Engineering studies, and strengthened during my first three months of working as an engineer. The realisation  that I couldn't do it for life. I'd grown up thinking that nobody really loves their job, but you just gotta do it to stay alive. But I was daring myself to break that notion. Perhaps living in Singapore, away from the pre-wired notions did something to my head. I actually started believing that I could get away with a non-engineering job. Something that I would enjoy, something I would look forward to every morning.

And so I did. After many hard knocks, I bulldozed into the publishing industry. But the engineering skeleton in my closet kept rattling, especially at job interviews. So I got myself a Master's degree in Mass Communication and finally laid that skeleton to rest.

Of course, it does come back every now and then. When someone expects me to know the answer to a technical question or know why an electronic device is not working. Then I just toss my head and proudly give them the one solution to every engineering-related problem in the world. REBOOT. It works every single time, okay?! Okay. (If you don't believe me, ask Viv. He has used this advice of mine on several occasions and reported resounding success.)

Jokes apart, every now and then, someone or the other asks me if my Engineering degree was a 'mistake' or a 'waste of time'. And I shake my head with certainty and confidence. It may have been covered up by a gazillion other things, but it did contribute to making me the person I am today. The four years of studying Engineering has given me many things, all of which are irreplaceable:

- Though I have more of a creative mind than a mathematical one, Engineering did make me a little more analytical than I used to be, and that helped me tremendously in my all jobs. Sometimes the creative space can get too fluid and vague, and you need to break things down mathematically to get the job done. The same skills have also tremendously helped me manage my crazy new portfolio - motherhood.

- It was a lesson in humility. It taught me the important lesson that you can be a superstar in your little pond back home, but once thrust into the ocean, you're just a speck. It was a disillusioning eye-opener for me not to enjoy my studies the way I did in school - effortlessly, devotedly, easily. It was frightening for me not to be able to cope with my professors' accents, follow the rapid dialogues in English movies that I was suddenly exposed to, or speak in English as fast as my classmates from Delhi/Mumbai/Chennai/Bangalore/Calcutta did.

- It gave me the opportunity to enjoy my non-engineering subjects a lot more, subjects that were compulsory even for the Engineering course - Economics, Law, Communication Studies, French. I aced them all and that further cemented the rapidly growing suspicion that maybe I was not for Engineering and Engineering was not for me.

- Because I didn't enjoy my studies that much, I started working harder on my hobbies. I got the editor position of the school of EEE magazine, and had the chance to sing on stage in a university band. Back in school, holding that dilapidated and moody microphone, singing in the inter-house music competition without any accompaniments, I'd have never imagined in my wildest dreams that one day I'd be singing 'Ishq bina' in front of 1000 people in the Main Lecture Theatre of Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

- It gave me a gigantic network of friends (seniors, classmates, juniors) called the IG (Indian Gang) who underwent the same drills during ragging (or as our seniors called it - 'orientation'), who share the same jokes that go two decades back, and whom you can suddenly bump into in any part of the world and start talking to, as if you were just continuing an old conversation. A huge shout-out to any IGs reading this! (I know some of you are silent readers. Out with it now.)

- Big bonus: It made me meet Viv. We'd have had no chance of meeting if we were in India.

- And lastly, it confirmed for me what I didn't want. Sometimes you think you want something, and only when you get it do you realise that you actually don't. It opened my eyes to a different world. A world where you didn't have to be what you were supposed to be, or asked to be. You could just be what you wanted to be.

Any other engineers amongst the bar's bewdas, who are not working as engineers? Holler! 


Keirthana said...

I feel the exact way about engineering. Except for me, it was voiced out that it is either engg or medical and not literature! And it was followed by my brother so impeccably well that I had no choice back then.

After many hurdles, I jumped into the writing industry but thankfully not many question my background as some technology and analytical research is a prerequisite for this job.

And yes, any education relevant at that time or not gives us something to carry forward. It teaches us something which is not always what we expect.

anN-series said...

Dear Sayesha,
i am in love with you! Every time i feel low, frustrated or just immature, i come here and read your posts. The way you and Viv are bringing up Xena in this highly digitalized world is commendable. You inspire me to not get defeated when times are challenging and go the extra mile in life. Some day I aspire to have your enthusiasm for life!

Nikita said...

I did engineering too. Didnt everyone back then? Its been 6 years since i quit my job on the pretext of accompanying my husband on his assignment abroad. then had a kid. the bad part is that i still dont know what i want to do if not engineering!

Shraddha said...

I'm an engineer too, by degree :)
By profession, I am a technical writer. This way, I convince myself that my engineering studies didn’t all go waste...I am using it to understand the technical know-hows of the products I write for...well "self-consolation" you can say… :D


Unknown said...

One more with an Engr degree luckily my first job in India was non-tech. Wanted to do an MBA but with only 2 yrs of exp I wouldn't have been able to get most out of MBA did an Master's in Eng Mgmt and been 4 yrs into Business Operations and Planing. if anyone asks me why I did Engr i have only one answer, to get a groom. At-least that's what my parents thought..


Arun said...

i.e., everybody went through the "3 Idiots" route :) No wonder that movie was a mega-hit!

Varsha said...

Yeah, a computer science engineer and working as a software lead and have done that now for 10+ years. I actually aced at Mathematics and Biology. The only thing was that I liked Maths more than Biology. Hence, what I did, join engineering, a computer science course. I did well. But, I did not enjoy it. I have not enjoyed working too much as a software person, except for few brief years in between. A note to all 'wannabe' engineers. If you are good at Mathematics, does not mean that you shall enjoy Engineering. You require to enjoy Engineering in its entirety.
I am thinking, that I shall have a Bachelors in Mathematics and a Masters even though I will cross 40 by the time I do it. Money is required, so, it is a question of "when".

Sayesha said...

//any education relevant at that time or not gives us something to carry forward. It teaches us something which is not always what we expect.

Couldn't agree more. :)

Thank you! :D

//Didnt everyone back then?

LOL! You said it, sister. :P

Hahaha... valid point. :P

//if anyone asks me why I did Engr i have only one answer, to get a groom.

Hahahaa! :D

Yes, that part of the movie resonated with many!

//If you are good at Mathematics, does not mean that you shall enjoy Engineering. You require to enjoy Engineering in its entirety.

Good advice! :)