For the last 3 years I haven’t been able to figure out exactly how I ended up in an engineering program. My background is in history. It is something that I have always loved and always will love to learn about. Yet, history and engineering don’t really have a lot in common.
Physically I know how I ended up in Sydney. There was an application process, an acceptance letter, a 5 hour car ride. But after all that why exactly did I stay?
For one I’ve always loved school and learning, this program just gave me something new to learn about. When the classes started to become difficult, and mentally exhausting, why didn’t I just leave? Well my stubbornness helped for one thing, there was no way I was going to give up on my own (excluding a close call I had in my first summer of school).
Growing up I always saw my dad working on things around the house. He was always working on something, never seemed to take a break. Later when I was older and I got to see him at work, it was similar and yet different. There were problems he had to solve in which the answer wasn’t always clear, not that anything is really clear when you’re 12 anyway.
But today I fit some puzzle pieces together, that certainly helps explain why I’m currently on a Coast Guard ship in Quebec City.
Last night an issue occurred with our switchboard system. Typically the auxiliary generator will run both the main switchboard and the emergency switchboard. For whatever reason last night the electrical tie between the auxiliary generator and the emergency switchboard opened. When this occurs the electrical system is designed so that the emergency generator will come online, preventing the ship from losing essential electrical services. So the aux. generator was powering the main switchboard and the emergency generator was powering the emergency switchboard. The emergency generator is only ever run during emergencies and testing, so the problem needed to be solved so it could be shut down. However, the electrician couldn’t get the emergency switchboard to run off the emergency generator, the breakers kept opening every time he tried.
I reported to work at 8am the following morning and learned about this whole situation. As a cadet I’m pretty intrigued. I’ve spent a lot of time with the electrician this trip, so I’ve very interested in seeing how the problem gets solved. This was the best part of the day for me. We have the electrical diagrams laid out, looking at the wiring diagrams for the breakers and emergency generators. We know what the problem is and all we have to do now is find the solution. This is what I love about engineering. There is a problem that has a solution, you just have to find it. It is about understanding how a system works, how a problem can occur and what can cause it.
It is like all the puzzles I used to do as a kid. The pieces are all available in front of you and you just have to be able to put them together.
I wish I had a sweet ending to the story, like Super Cadet solves ship’s problem, but no such luck. Yet, while I didn’t solve the problem I followed the wiring paths and looked at contacts, breakers, coils, and switches and I reasoned out where the problem should be. After the fact, when the electrician had solved the problem, I got him to go through the whole process with me, and what he did to fix it. And you know what? Where I figured the problem should be, is exactly where it ended up being. I narrowed it down to an area, and if I had some more hands-on electrical experience I might have been able to figure out exactly the solution myself.
This is the best part of engineering, knowing there is a problem, knowing that you are smart enough to find it, and better yet, you’re smart enough to fix it too.