“Why are you an engineer?”

It’s hard to keep up this blog without a promise to blog every day. Okay, it’s not like there was somebody forcing me to write in Osaka, but I know there are a lot of people expecting to see a new story every day. Here, it’s on my own time, and especially with my busy work schedule, it’s too easy to say ‘tomorrow’… you know, the day that never comes. Nevertheless, I’m still trying my best to reserve some time to get my thoughts and feelings across.

Speaking of my job, that’s what I want to talk about today! My project is the Midfield Concourse at the Hong Kong International Airport, which you can find information about here. If you don’t want to read, basically we’re constructing a new concourse building (but no new runway – there’s no room). The only advantage is that they can park a lot more airplanes at HKG. I’m actually studying aerospace engineer, and hoping to get into aircraft design, so this isn’t exactly the same thing, but the proximity to Hong Kong International Airport already gets me quite excited. In fact, my work place is just a few minutes walk away from Cathay City (where they train their aspiring flight attendants and pilots). Just the building is quite fascinating for me!

2013-09-06 10.43.37

Last year with MTR, I worked with a client company – they hire engineering companies to do their work for them. It’s a completely different style of work. I’m not actually doing any engineering design. I still have to understand the language of engineering, but that job was a lot more about project management rather than math and physics. This year, I’m at Gammon Construction, which is a contractor company. They take up jobs offered by other companies (such as MTR) and come up with a design. It’s a lot closer to what I enjoy doing: hands-on, engineering design work.

Being an engineer in Hong Kong is not an easy job. I often get people asking me, “if you studied outside of Hong Kong, why are you an engineer?”. Their mentality is that engineering is only for students that can’t get into any other faculty. If I attend school outside of Hong Kong, then I have the freedom to choose so many other courses and programs – there’s no need to choose such a lowly job.

Furthermore, it completely does not help that the entertainment industry is causing more confusion to the definition of ‘engineer’. One of the popular Hong Kong TV dramas that just ended today is themed around the airline industry, and their official title for aircraft technicians is ‘engineer’. Okay, it’s not at the fault of public media – this really is the official industry title in Hong Kong. It just so happens that this TV show is airing, and it’s helping spread the message a lot faster. So now, I have tons of people with a mental image of me holding a wrench and fixing airplanes at the sound of “aerospace engineer”.

triumph in the skies

As a female working in this industry, it’s an even bigger challenge. No matter where you are in the world, I’m sure female engineers are always in the minority. In Asia, the different just happens to be a lot more significant – it’s maybe a 90-10 split here compared to 70-30 back at home for me.

In addition to all these downsides of being a female engineer in Hong Kong, my job also features long hours and quite a hectic environment. Long hours are typical for Hong Kong jobs, I guess, but it never seems to be worth the time if you compare it to a comfortable minimum wage job in Vancouver. Nevertheless, despite everything I just said, I love my job. It’s what I want to do. The people are friendly, and even with the gender difference, they help me feel a sense of belonging. In the end, that’s always the top priority for me: is it something I enjoy doing? When I enjoy the subjects that I’m learning, the many hours put into incredibly hard problem sets are hours well spent. If I don’t like it, that’s when it feels like a bitter prison.

So while I have this chance, I’d like to answer these recurring questions once and for all. Engineers are not technicians, nor construction workers! We don’t fix or build things; we design them. We work in front of a computer 90% of the time. Yes, we have to go see the actual site, but we don’t carry materials around and do the hammering ourselves. Yes, we have air conditioning where we work. (There are more questions, but those are the most common ones).

Anyway, that’s my blog vent for today. I actually have a lot of writing topics in mind, but no time to write. Hopefully I can settle down my schedule soon!

2 responses to ““Why are you an engineer?”

  1. Aerospace engineer is a very impressive job. And even if you were a normal engineer/mechanic, there is nothing wrong with that! It’s still better than a lot of jobs out there, even if the people of Hong Kong might not think so.

    • Thanks! I agree… like I said, in the end, it’s a matter of your own interest and enjoyment. As long as you like it, anything can be the best job in the world!

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