If you arrived at this sentence by means of Google, you are probably either a photographer or a member of the National Rifle Association. You might even be a golfer looking to improve your game. No matter where your interests lie, there is a very good chance you either have a career, or you will have one at some point in your life.
Back when I graduated from high school, my classmates and I had a simple choice to make. You could either go to college, or accept your Uncle Sam’s offer for an all-expense paid trip to the Far East. The package featured accommodations at an all-inclusive resort along with the opportunity to meet interesting new people from a very different culture, and shoot them. I chose college.
Along with the choice of college came another decision - what to major in? At my high school, everyone was required to take the Kuder Occupational Interest Survey. The scores from this questionnaire were aimed at helping you judge what you really wanted to be when you grew up. Our senior assignment was to locate and interview a practicing professional in one of our three top scoring categories.
My leading professions were Engineer, Physician and Rodeo Clown. My parents were convinced that I hadn’t taken the test seriously, and since I didn’t know any Rodeo Clowns anyway, I went with Engineer. My uncle was a Chemical Engineer, and we cruised through the interview. After a brief flirtation with a pre-med curriculum in my freshman year, I was on my way to becoming a Mechanical Engineer.
Galileo Galilei is probably best known for his telescopes. He also achieved some notoriety for implying that just maybe Copernicus was right, and the sun, not the earth, was the center of the solar system. His book on the subject, Dialogue, was first approved by the church, but later banned when they figured out what he was actually saying. His final and best volume, Two New Sciences, builds a bridge between experimental and mathematical approaches to dynamics; Isaac Newton, who was born the year Galileo died, took it from there.
Galileo studied gravity by rolling musket balls down a ramp and timing them with water dripping from a funnel, or by using musicians to count off a steady beat. In this way, he began to decode the mysteries of acceleration, eventually explaining parabolic trajectories and verifying what artillerymen already knew; the optimal shooting angle to achieve the greatest horizontal distance is forty-five degrees.
Aiming over forty-five will achieve greater height, at the expense of distance. When I first started working as a young engineer, it seemed as though annual promotions and raises were automatic. With nothing to compare, I assumed this was supposed to happen. Although I wanted the boss’s car and his office, I was pretty sure I didn’t want his job. Many careers start out obsessed with a very rapid rise to great heights. It is generally at the apogee of their trajectory, at a high altitude with its attendant clarity, when it becomes apparent they will come thudding down to earth, not far from where they started.
Launching a projectile at an angle less than forty-five will result in premature contact with the ground. This can be likened to beginning a career with meager aspirations, setting the bar low to avoid the embarrassment of not making it over. When I left school with a Master’s, I had full intentions of working for a few years, upgrading my car and stereo, and then returning for a PhD. I was seven years into this two year plan when my wife challenged me to put up or shut up. The antidote for ambition is a comfortable job with a reasonable salary. Ambition-deficient career moves achieve neither height nor distance.
New college grads can expect to traverse a fairly steep trajectory in terms of salary and promotions. The system is designed to reward and retain the brightest, hardest-working individuals. By contrast, most folks in the latter years of their career have accepted the living proof of The Peter Principle, growing accustomed to token salary increases and reclining comfortably on the plateau of their achievements.
I’ve seen many careers, including my own, buffeted by the unpredictable winds of change, a subject to which Galileo paid scant homage. Unlike an unpowered projectile that is at the mercy of nature once launched, we can and must make mid-course corrections.
Gravity and wind can be managed, but what happens when your career gets shot out of the sky by a SAM? (e.g., Gone with the Tide) If you can’t be flexible, then it’s time to brush up on your hunter-gatherer skills and learn to eat what you can shoot.
If that fails, you can always start searching the job boards for “Clown, Rodeo.”
Prior to founding INVENTtPM, Dr. Smith spent 10 years with Seagate Technology in Longmont, Colorado. At Seagate, Dr. Smith was primarily responsible for evaluating new data storage technologies under development throughout the company, and utilizing six-sigma processes to stage them for implementation in early engineering models. While at Seagate, he was a proud member of the team that brought the world’s first notebook disk drive with perpendicular recording technology to the market.
Dr. Smith holds a doctorate in Applied Mechanics from the California Institute of Technology, a Master of Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Santa Barbara and a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Santa Barbara.