Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Wicked Mad Skills

When I redid my resume this spring I took out the “Skill” section. It is for the better. I like my new resume better than the old one. That being said I have quite the assortment of skills. I like to think of myself as a Renassiance Man. Not a Jack-of-all-Trades but someone skilled at several things rather highly. For this post I am going to ignore engineering, running and mountaineering entirely. Although those are three of my greatest skills most of my potential employers know about the engineering and don't care about the other two. Another clarification is that this post is the result of reading “What Color Is Your Parachute? 2010: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers”.

When I say “wicked mad” that is New England speak for really good, hard to achieve, rare and valuable, or hard and crazy. When I say skills I mean something I can do that most people have not done. Skills are something that has taken some practice. I define them as things that would stand out if I was compared to my peers.

Some of my skills:

I can drive and operate a backhoe, specifically a Catepillar 436 Series II. I just learned over a month ago and I have to say it is a whole lot of fun, yet it is also very tiring. As far as difficulty goes this is about a two out of ten. If you can drive a manual transmission you can drive and operate a backhoe. The main differences are that you can’t see very well when you are driving forward and when using the backhoe it is very sensitive so you have to pay attention where you are swinging the hydraulic bucket. Why is this skill one I consider valuable? Simple, I know a lot of engineers and many of them know how to man a computer better than construction equipment. I have a good friend who told me about how he did his job so well and part of it was that he worked WITH the people under him long enough to really understand their problems. So I can work a Cat backhoe. I’m still having a little trouble driving forward and picking up large things in the front bucket, but I think that is because the backhoe is actually fairly light.

I can sharpen (or tune) a cross cut saw (and chainsaws and other sharp implements). I do not know the numbers as far as how many people can do this but I would guess than less than 100 people in this country are as good as I am. Most people I meet who own one say it has never been sharpened or never been sharpened by someone who knows what they are doing. It is a fairly simple process that demands a lot of consistency and patience. Why is this skill one I consider valuable? I am a pronounced conservationist and as such I like the idea of a muscle powered saw compared to petroleum consuming machinery. It uses less fuel, is less complicated, and will probably last longer than a chainsaw. This skill is one of the skills I would like to practice when I am 78 years old. Sharpening a cross cut saw is a valuable skill because cross cut saws are the only way to cut really big trees without a motor.

I wrote a book, with my sister, and it has an ISBN number and everything. I had always wanted to “write a book” and now I have. Coming back from Pakistan I realized that my “skills” were not enough to keep me alive. If I had a life goal I had to get it done because I could die sooner rather than later. Writing a book is similar to any big paper. There is the writing, the proof-reading, more proof-reading, the editing, and then the publishing. Why is writing a book that fewer than 80 people have read a skill I consider valuable? I learned the process. I did all sorts of research. When I walk into a bookstore I respect all of the authors who have books there because I have an idea of what they went through. Having a book published and stocked in Barnes and Noble is not easy.

I have created websites. I know that is about as simple as it comes but it is my own website and I have changed the html code until I am happy. This is the 21st century and html is like a third language after two spoken languages. Anyway, I know a lot of people (over 600 according to Facebook) and I can only think of a few that “own” their domain name or maintain a website. Why is this a skill I consider valuable? It’s the 21st century. The Internet is kind of a big thing. It’s only going to get bigger and we are only going to be able to access it better. Having Internet “savy” is a way of saying “here I am, this is the way it is, and the buck stops here.” Breakthroughs are going to happen faster and in all parts of the world and the quicker we can learn of those breakthroughs the quicker we can make more breakthroughs. The days of a few dozen scientists and engineers all in the same lab working on a project with no competition are over. If you don’t get this breakthrough before your competition, get the next one first. Without the Internet how would you ever know that they did some new thing in India at some lab?

I went to Pakistan. Simple enough except most people seem to think they are having a violent civil war and all westerners get kidnapped or killed. While going to Pakistan isn’t a skill it is an experience. Why was that a valuable experience? To be honest, I was very afraid that Americans would be hated over there. Except for my passport, I brought nothing at all that said I was a citizen of the United States. As it turns out, Americans and Westerners are well liked, at least in the mountaineering part of the country. So when I was able to interact, at least on a small level, with the locals and get a better feel for the actual situation of the terrorism it was very educational. Most Pakistanis are more opposed to the Taliban and Al Queada than Americans. Why are they so opposed? The terrorists bomb mosques and kill mostly Pakistanis. Terrorism is not good for tourism. Instead of Pakistan taking one step forward and becoming as popular as Nepal for tourists the terrorists take it two steps back.

I swing a mean sledge hammer. Sure I’m good with an axe, a polaski, a mattocks, a McLeod, and a shovel but I’ve put in hours with a sledge hammer. I’ve also handled a jack hammer and those are very heavy, at least 70 pounds. I also oversaw the movement of a 16 ton rock with pry bars and muscle alone. I don’t like to get dirty but I will put my body through the ringer. Why is the ability to swing metal valuable? Because I know several hundred people and only a few can swing better than I. I am not a muscular guy. I am just a guy who’s work has involved some very physical days. I feel than rough manual labor complements mental strain very well. My running is a great complement to my thinking. After a long day behind the computer and two hours of running I sleep like a rock.

I am a good teacher. I've shied away from admitting this or publicizing it because I don't really want to be a teacher in the traditional sense. This summer rock climbing teaching 11 and 12 year old boys to climb and rappel I had many complements from older scoutmasters about how well I did. I even had a complement from a University of Colorado professor about how well I taught. Now my preferred method is one on one or maybe two students to one teacher. When I think about teaching I laugh a little. My freshman year in high school my geometry teacher had to be away for a day and I taught the class. Most of the class was sophomores and juniors yet he picked me to give the lesson. I've taught people how to use complex finite element software, swing a sledgehammer, run better, climb harder, and solve fluid dynamics problems among other skills. My key is standing or sitting there beside the student, shoulder to shoulder, and explaining it differently than anyone else has ever explained the concept to him or her. As an example, one of the requirements for the rock climbing merit badge that I taught this summer was coiling a rope. Two years ago I did not teach it very well and the scout coiled ropes were always terrible. This summer 90% of the coils they did the first time were almost as good as the ones I do after five years of coiling ropes. I think that in industry where I will hopefully be a mentor to younger scientists and engineers this will be a great asset.

I paint, or at least create things that I consider art. I have always liked making art and I've been oil painting more in 2010 than the other years of my life combined. This is totally subjective, however, I think it gives me a different view on things. I feel that it helps me to appreciate the work of others more. Everyone is an artist of some sort. Wether that is with words, plowing a strait line in a field, making a decisive move in a race, or brewing the perfect mocha. For me admitting, or pretending as it may be, to be an artist forces me to try harder to make my "art" better.

I don't sit still. I have a very hard time not being productive. Now often that productivity is selfish, such as running, climbing, reading a book, or having a two hour conversation with a friend. However, I see things like that as mentally or physically productive. How do things like that help my employer? It keeps me sane and motivated. A four mile morning run, mocha and chocolate croissant, get me more motivated to hammer away at the computer for nine hours better than anything else I have encountered thus far. Is it selfish for me to spend that time making myself happy if it inevitably benefits my employer because I work more efficiently and get more done during the day? I feel that it is the way for me to live, but an employer could easily argue that working 11 hours a day instead of nine gets more done. Even though in that case I am likely to waste a lot more time. It's strange the more I run the harder I work when I am not running. I think and talk about running less when running is going well because I am not worried. The point is I don't like to sit still.

I am not sure what skills an employer looking for a hire with my kind of degrees desires. Otherwise I would probably have an engineering job by now. Fortunately, I have a skill set that is a little out of the ordinary. When I do find my place I feel that it will be such a great situation for both my employer and I that we will make great things happen!

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