Getting Paid to Break Stuff

I get paid to break stuff.

Or, at least, that is what I tell my friends and family when they ask what I do for work

Now most of the stuff I work on I can’t discuss, but my faith and walk with God is something I called to share everyday.  Often I ask myself…

God, why have you put me at this company?

I’m a mechanical engineer working at an environmental test lab where we perform all kinds of tests for clients to discover how temperature, shock, vibration, and other conditions impact a product. All companies want to know the same thing: will their product survive the intended environment.  Who would ever guess a mechanical engineer working the cutting edge of technology would see parallels to their vocation and their ancient Christian faith?

FEEDBACK LOOP AND CIRCLE OF EXPERTISE

I have never worked with a product that had only one engineer.  In both engineering and life, a team is needed to navigate challenges that God brings. For every designed product there are power, heat dissipation, size, material, ergonomic, and other constraints that must be managed; if one person tried to manage every aspect they would go nuts! A group of people of different backgrounds must be able to come together, trust each other, and must work towards a shared goal.  Reliable products that take a long time to develop; final designs should always be researched, tested, iterated, and tested again. Criteria, technology, and customers are changing all the time long-term support and continuity in the thinking process and ownership is not just documentation but, more importantly, an honest understanding it works in the real environment.  

Given the complexity of living life in Silicon Valley as a young Christian engineer, I take all the help I can get in my life.  I have been incredibly grateful for the community of peers and mentors that God has blessed with me.  A bible study with older men has taught me a lot about manhood and marriage.  My old youth group leaders have seen me grow, kept me accountable, and provided adulthood guidance.  A business mentor, who is a part of the Fuller De Pree Center, has helped me find ways to integrate my Christian faith with my mechanical engineering work. My peers come alongside me to encourage and empathize with me as we journey through life together.  Unfortunately, I do not talk to every single mentor and peer every day, in the same way that a company board of directors might meet only on a quarterly or yearly basis to discuss strategy and company vision.  I am thankful to have developed a “Board of Directors“ for my life who can utilize their life experiences to facilitate discussion of my own life direction and Christian faith.  I know I would not be where I am today without these people. In both life and engineering the lesson comes after the test.

Sometimes the product that took months of planning and preparation can be broken or engulfed in flames in a matter of minutes -quite literally sometimes.  During testing it is important to gather data to validate assumptions made during the brainstorming session.  Sensors placed onto the unit are necessary for the feedback of the design and flaws can be detected through data analysis.  When damage occurs, the team who are not able to provide root cause soon find themselves out of a job.  In both engineering and life, a team is needed to navigate challenges that God brings.  A group of people of different backgrounds must be able to come together, trust each other, and must work towards a shared goal.    


LITURGY OF THE ORDINARY AND FASTENERS

Everyone wants a revolution. No one wants to do the dishes.  Or for the world of engineering, Everyone wants a product.  No one wants to do the testing.  Companies which take the time to record painstaking detail in their documentation during the manufacturing and set-up process avoid the most problems during testing.  

A lot of problems can come from simple errors, and habitual, boring steps can solve those problems.  Loose fasteners account for many of the problems found in automobile field failures, and those loose fasteners cause other components of the car to break more quickly.  This problem also affects other industries.  I witnessed one company, who did not keep notes about fasteners and connectors before and after each test, must spend many months redesigning a certain assembly.  When they had run out of ideas to address the issue, they brainstormed with our company’s senior technical engineer, and he proposed best practices followed by the automotive industry.  Meticulous notes may seem like a waste of time and money when testing is going well, but when something breaks those notes become paramount in root cause analysis. 

How about Who knows more about habitual, boring steps than Christians? Good God for thousands of years we have been reading the same book! I want to live a life that radically changes the people around me, and I would like to go on mission trips around the world in order to help people and share the Gospel. Every day I pray and hope to be a part of great things. Yet, I find excuses for why I do not read my Bible every day, why I do not need to have intentional quiet time with God every day, and why I do not need to have a daily prayer of thanksgiving for everything in my life.  It is hard to keep a “mountain top experience” in daily life after going on retreats or trips.  I recognize that I am not alone, Tish Harrison Warren writes in “Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life”

“A sign hangs on the wall in a New Monastic Christian community house: “Everyone wants a revolution. No one wants to do the dishes.” I was, and remain, a Christian who longs for revolution, for things to be made new and whole in beautiful and big ways. But what I am slowly seeing is that you cannot get to the revolution without learning to do the dishes. The kind of spiritual life and disciplines needed to sustain the Christian life are quiet, repetitive, and ordinary. I often want to skip the boring, daily stuff to get to the thrill of an edgy faith. But it’s in the dailiness of the Christian faith—the making the bed, the doing the dishes, the praying for our enemies, the reading the Bible, the quiet, the small—that God’s transformation takes root and grows.”

Tish Harrison Warren, “Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life”

It has taken me awhile to shift my perspective of experiencing God – retreats, mission trips and serving the homeless are not the only ways. Reading my Bible daily, having reflective quiet time, and giving thanks are just as important, and an often-neglected aspect of a personal experience with God.   Christian’s core identity is not that of a thrill seeker: we are a body of image-bearers that worship and praise God, created to know, enjoy, and glorify God and love others.  An honest Christian faith involves attention, awareness, and discipline in mundane, little unsexy ways,  every day.   My faith must be rooted in the unseemly hallowed day-to-day trenches of adult life – calling me to community and privacy, vocation and Sabbath, experience and doctrine.


IMPROVE THE PRODUCT, NOT THE PACKAGING

A great product can survive many different environments and cannot be in the lab forever. It must go out to the customer in the real world. 

While it is exciting and interesting to see things break and explode during testing, often testing is quite boring and long. Safe producers and great test plans include meticulous notes and patience to endure long, boring testing. One example is the ISTA standard; the ISTA standard is used to verify the product to survive transport. When the testing is complete, and the client sees the brown corrugated box damaged, they assume that the product is damaged as well.  One suggestion that we give to clients when both the product and packaging is damaged, is to improve the product – not the packaging.  It might be easier to spend the money to upgrade the packaging, but (for almost all products) the packaging is a one-time transaction cost that does not add value to the product.  The corrugated boxes and packaging material are meant to aid the product in absorbing the shipping process’ vibration and prevent scratches onto the product.  Ruggedizing the product to allow for any combination of packaging material  is a good result.

How rugged are we as believers? The Biblical story of Job highlights the importance of having a strong faith and trust in God.  Job is presented as a good and prosperous family man; everything was blessed in Job’s life.   It is written in Job 1:3 that he was regarded as “…the greatest man among all the people of the East.”  God allows Satan to test the faith of Job with horrendous disasters. His offspring, his health, his property, and all that he holds dear taken away.  God worked and wrestled with Job to come to terms with his faith after God stripped everything from his life.

I have been guilty of judging the strength of my Christian faith through the external aspects of religion.  I was worried about listening to the right worship music, the size of the church, and going on the right mission trips.  This resulted in pride and excitement about all the things I was doing for God. I also felt my anxiety and the uncertainty of the future would take me over rather than my faith and trust in God. I am grateful that I had those experiences and tests of my faith because it highlighted the importance of how to know God – rather than how I was to be known in the Bay Area Christian community.  It is hard to not get lost in the details of life and pride amidst the material wealth of the diverse, ambitious Bay Area. It is vital to have a faith like Job that stays strong whatever happens.  I now focus on having a strong faith to endure a tough life rather than having an easy life. 

No one wants to buy a phone that cannot be dropped, or that has battery issues in cold or hot weather.  Rather, a great product can function in many different environments.  A product cannot be in the lab forever. It must go out to the customer in the real world.  While I wish I could be at church all the time, it is important to my faith to be in fellowship with non-believers. It is important to have deep conversations about why God allows pain and suffering, they like Jesus but not the church, and why I believe the Gospel to be true. We are commissioned to go out and make “disciplines of all nations.”  


For a Christian, there is no secular life; we know this deep down, although we often forget it.  Engineering is all about understanding how things break or fail; learning from failure is central to engineering. Tod Bolsinger reminds us that “we don’t learn from experience, we learn by reflecting on experience.” I want to live a life that radically changes the people around me, with the help of my network of mentors, colleagues, and friends. It takes a tribe of people of different backgrounds to come together to develop a product as well as help a person grow.  It is in the quiet moments that God transforms us; I do not want to neglect reading my Bible daily, quiet time with God, and sharing my gratefulness with God.  I want to continue to have a Faith that can survive whatever happens.   I am excited about what God has in store for the rest of my career, and how technology and my faith come together.  These are my reflections, what is God showing you in your life?

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