Here it is, your moment of zen
If you have ever watched the Daily Show on Comedy Central then you have experienced some zen. At the end of almost every show since it’s inception in 1996 has been a segment titled “Your moment of Zen”. This is comprised of the host showing a random clip of a funny video or a clip related to one of the topics on the show that day.
Thinking back over the countless watched episodes, that phrase has stuck with me. I often find myself relaxing into my own personally identified daily moments of zen. Sometimes this occurs when checking off a particularly difficult task on my tasklist. This could occur when randomly seeing someone with a Star Wars rebel alliance tattoo walking by. These moments are random by definition and serve to provide a spark of calm and peaceful fulfillment in an otherwise chaotic day.
It is due to the random nature of these small moments of zen that I was completely unprepared to be enveloped by this feeling for a full hour this morning while watching a 3D printer create something from a spool of plastic thread right in front of me. As I sat there transfixed in front of this machine while sipping coffee as the motors hummed and with the printing head hypnotically traversing back and forth, the moment of zen stretched out into the minutes of zen.
It was peaceful. It was wonderful. It engineered calm into the deepest reaches of my soul.
Humanity is constantly searching for information and explanations as to what drives us, why we are here, and what this all means. There is a large percentage of humans that are driven to create and build. This drive to actualize the thoughts in our heads into real life manifestations of products, hobbies, and software is a key element to what I define as being an Engineer. You don’t need a fancy degree to achieve this title. However it does take the curiosity to ask a question and the drive and motivation to seek out the answer.
Understanding what makes a group of people like this tick is a fascinating exploration of a particular segment of society. To a person with an Engineering mindset, others like us make total sense. To others we often come across as very strange and unfathomable people. This same mindset has in the past collected monikers like “geek”, “nerd”, and sometimes “weirdo”. If you are struggling to understand the psyche behind someone that can experience zen while watching a 3D printer disgorge small plastic shapes then you might be on the outside looking in.
To anyone asking why we need to understand these types of people my simple response is, why not? I am simply curious to understand more of the ethos that drives many people like me and also to gain a better understanding of my fellow human beings. If that is not enough to create interest for you then that might hint at where you fall in the engineering spectrum.
Engineering Is An Act of Creation
Creating a 3D print is an act of pure creation. An Engineer may not have much of an artistic streak when it comes to the traditional artistic skills, but an expression of form through technology could be considered stock in trade for this mindset. However, this comes with a caveat. For every minute of watching the X-, Y-, and Z-axis machinations of the busy printer head, at least 3 times that has been spent simply searching for the perfect thing to print and in getting it set up.
For most Engineers the journey to creation is at least, if not more, fulfilling as the destination. While we love checking that item off our list, the meat and potatoes of a project is in the anticipation, preparation, and execution. This can lead to unintentional inefficiencies when completing a project. While Engineers don’t have much trouble making decisions, getting to the point where the individual believes that there is enough information to make that decision can sometimes lead to some very deep rabbit hole traversals.
While there are some people more inclined to researching and starting new projects and others with the intense drive to wrap things up and mark things as done on the never-ending task list of life, projects drive who we are and provide a means to improve the world around us.
We Engineer To Learning Something New
There is absolutely nothing on this earth that can keep a dedicated Engineer away from a specific solution to a problem that they are wholly invested and interested in. It doesn’t matter the education or the workplace projects, the greatest and fastest learning that takes place is focused around intense self-interest.
This drive for self-learning can lead to unexpected places. For instance, after sitting this morning staring at the 3D printer in a zen-like trance, I went out and acquired a second printer this afternoon from a discount shop selling returned Amazon orders.
First — if having one 3D printer is cool then having two 3D printers is totally awesome.
Second — the second printer has approximately 16.7% larger build volume and now bigger stuff can be printed.
It is perfectly OK if the logic does not make sense to you while reading this. However, I know that some of you will understand.
Engineers Love To Complete Tasks
Oh that itch. That incessant itch. Knowing that there is an open item on the task list where we strive to find that dopamine hit that comes with checking that box and marking something as done.
Many Engineers are level-up masters. They are expert grinders with the perseverance to wait out the most tedious tasks just for that teensy little bit of validation that comes with closing a task. Then we put it behind us and go searching for the next hit.
Yes, it is true, Engineers can easily fall into the trap of being task junkies.
Engineers Are Always Right
You will never hear a more lively debate than during what happens if you put a bunch of Engineers in a room and ask them to come to a consensus on a process or a standard that affects all of them. Politicians could take lessons from the egotistical soapbox grandstanding over the most minor of trivialities that occurs when attempting to convince one’s own peers that their method of 2–4 spaces for indentation is somehow mystically more efficient than someone else’s single tab spacing for a coding standard.
Engineers love to argue and we love to end the discussion agreeing to disagree so that we can get back to work in order to complete more tasks. And once that meeting is over, we get to check another item off our list. Ahhh.
Engineers Create Art
The term ‘Art’ is used loosely here. Don’t get me wrong, beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder when it comes to art. Anything could be art to anyone — what is art is not the point here. Carrying around a two inch long small model of a boat to show off how well a 3D printer works is just one way to show off something and proudly proclaim to the world: I made this!
Yet in the grand scheme of things it took very little effort on my part to create that little boat. Yes, it was a good initial print and a great stress test for 3D printers. I was little more than the curator who re-arranged all of the pieces together into a more pleasing form that resulted in a cute little boat melting into existence — yet I take full ownership over this creation as it was my assembling of the printer and my selecting of the model and copying it onto a micro SD card and my breathless, hovering anticipation over the birth of the boat that created my art.
No matter how rough around the edges or elegant the code, Engineers create things. Once spawned, these creations are nearly universally loved by their makers and can easily be considered to be artful masterpieces — at least in the eyes of their beholders.
Engineering Often Automates Solutions Into New Problems
How many people live with someone that has a semi-smart home that is totally dumb every time you want it to do something smart? Yes I have assorted automation devices here at home and no, nobody ever seems to really use them. I will even admit to researching automated 3D printer automation within the past few hours as well.
Engineers are masters at not only creating solutions, but also in coming up with problems for those solutions. We just can’t leave well enough alone. There is no such thing as ‘good enough‘ when it comes to an engineered solution.
While at a winery somewhat recently I heard a very interesting statement from the gentleman who created the wonderful flavors and varieties that we were drinking (who happened to be a retired engineer himself). He stated that while he practiced the art of winemaking, he never tasted any of his creations. The reason for this, he explained, was that he had learned a lesson many years before that conversation from an old winemaker in eastern Europe who stated that one should never drink one’s own wine as they would never be satisfied with the results.
Engineers are never satisfied, and to be honest, that is not a bad thing as it always provides us with something new and fun to explore.
Engineers Always Find An Excuse to Drink More Coffee
And last but not least, we get to the black gold that fuels our creative engines. The caffeinated rush of joy coursing through our veins as we embark upon yet another iteration for the perfect 3D print. Coffee is synonymous with Engineers in a way that seems almost visceral — a deep dark yearning for more of the dark creative juice.
This deep connection seems like an intensely interesting topic to explore and determine where this deeply rooted perception came from. Yet, I can’t bring myself to dive into this topic. For one, my coffee cup is empty. Also, my boat just finished printing. I think it is time to go get another cup and start the next exhaustive search for the next perfect 3D model to print.
Do you still think I am a big nerd for finding zen experiences while watching a 3D printer? Yeah, me too. Thanks for reading!
Originally published at kevinwanke.com on January 14, 2020. Kevin’s blog focuses on advice for new Engineers and for Engineering Managers.