Saturday, September 25, 2010

Drafting, and Forcing a Break

Am I dreaming? Am I really seeing the door of opportunity crack open? Am I actually finally finding the way back to my original career goals? I can hardly believe it myself.

I am getting the chance to learn SolidWorks. I am getting back on course to being a drafter after many long years of doing other things.

Back in high school, I had the idea I would be an architect. I took drafting, placed 2nd place in the competition with my house design and plans (probably could have taken first easily if my line work had been stronger, bolder). But when I began applying to colleges, my counselor pointed out that I needed to submit a FAFSA form. My parents refused.

I had an older cousin who had gone to college and ended up dropping out after too much partying, so that was used as an example of why. And me being the timid, accepting type, I did not press the issue. Although OSU gave me a scholarship, I did not go to college as I needed to complete the federal loan form for them to allow me admission. I took the counselor's advice that I would have to be independent for two years before I could apply on my own, and I moved out of mom and dad's the day after graduation so I could get that two years over as quickly as possible.

Two years went by and I enrolled in Platt College, thinking this the fastest way to get my foot in the door somewhere as a drafter. I found myself interested in structural and mechanical engineering, although the instructors were pushing us toward electrical engineering instead. I applied at one job and was so eager and excited to begin drafting that I think they thought I was a little crazy (I still remember the one lady looking at me as though I had fallen off an alien spaceship - I was grinning from ear to ear I was so excited) and so needless to say I didn't get the job. I kept going to Platt for a year, and completed my certificate in AutoCAD, but not the remainder of the program. Instead, I moved to Washington state to be with my love.

At that time, I wanted to find a similar program in the area, but I did not know that "community" college was the same as "junior" college, and this was back when Tulsa Community College was still called Tulsa Junior College. My sweetheart tried to convince me to enroll in Everett Community College, but I didn't know that "community" college was an accepted, normal introductory college type place - the "community" word made it sound like a social program to me. I shied away and found the Art Institute of Seattle as the closest thing to Platt College (see I didn't know the Platt was basically a rip-off and non-transferable and that I should have been going to TJC in their drafting program all along).

But I digress. I took Interior Design at AIS since it was the only thing even remotely related to drafting; it wasn't really what I wanted, but I thought it was still my only path to a drafting job at the time. Youth and ignorance, right?

Anyway, financial troubles came about and we married and moved back to Oklahoma where jobs were more plentiful, this was in 1991 and computers were just beginning to be of widespread use in businesses, and I because I had taken a couple classes in word processing and spreadsheet use at the Everett Goodwill as a displaced worker, I was able to get a job as a secretary here in Tulsa, where I stayed till we had kids. I quit to stay home with them, but quickly found that wasn't financially feasible, and when I found a great-paying job at WCG, the kids went to daycare.

Then when daycare turned bad - our son got bit and then four weeks later he bit someone else and I was not going to have my kids learning bad manners - we pulled them out and I was going to quit, but when I told my boss I was going to look for a part-time night job, he asked me to work for him at night. So I did that for two more years, going in all alone and going through stacks of invoices and contracts to find discrepancies, and even got to help my boss recover more than $4 million for the department, and then the fiber optic construction project was completed and the whole department was closed down.

I kept working nights as I could find work, just anything I could do office-wise, and soon the kids were both in school, so at that time I began looking for part-time day work, and continued doing more secretarial type stuff as that was all I could get. I kept applying for every entry-level drafting position that came up in the paper, but as the years kept going by, time inexorably increased the distance from my schooling in drafting, and conversely increasing my experience as a secretary. I felt doomed to a life of mediocrity, running spreadsheets and financial figures. It was okay, but I at least wanted to get back to being near the engineering department like I was at WCG.

I had loved my time at WCG and had learned a lot of complex research and organization skills from my brilliant boss and another co-worker who I referred to as the Excel Goddess. So those skills were an invaluable asset to me; I just was not so fortunate to find someone looking for a data guru on a part-time basis.

But now my kids are older. They're teenagers. They don't need me here every waking hour and I am free to pursue my career again. I thought I would find work doing something again like I did for WCG - cost analyst or something similar. I still kept applying for entry-level drafting too, and also looked at combining my spreadsheet skills with engineering and inventory type needs so as to at least work with an engineering type group of people again.

But the economy and job market is horrible right now, and it took me three months to find this reception job I have now, so I figured it would be a couple more years before I could really find an opportunity to get back into an engineering department. It had been so many years I had grown accustomed to the idea that I would never get to draft anyway, I just thought I would eventually find work in engineering support.

So it was to my great surprise (almost five months into the job) to learn they have SolidWorks. They are a manufacturing facility, so they don't actually do much drafting - most customers bring their own print in, and we manufacture their part. But it turns out that we do have occasion to draft something up once in a while. We have a guy who board drafts in the tooling room as needed where they build the molds. They don't generally use SolidWorks except for opening files, and so lo and behold, they're going to let me use it to see what I can do.

I am so shocked that I've stumbled upon this chance, that I barely can breathe for fear I will jinx it. After I learned they had it, I wasn't sure what to do or say to get the opportunity to try it. A couple weeks ago, I checked out a tutorial book from the library, and I read through the entire thing, and kept looking for an opportune moment to talk to someone about it.

And then I heard one of Dr. Tom Harrison's "Perceptions" on the radio - he's a local minister that broadcasts these great, short, inspirational tidbits on regular radio stations - about "forcing a break." It was something from a football coach, but it got me thinking. I drew up my courage to ask about it again.

And so inspired, I asked if I could try it out on the computer at lunch time, and they let me! So on the days when that computer is available (it's not always), I will be working on SolidWorks.

So far all I've done is change the dimension settings from decimal to fraction, the tolerances, sketch and dimension four lines, two angles and two fillets on the front plane. The tutorial book is written for an older version of SW, so I'm having to search for many of the commands and buttons that have changed. The next step is to extrude the sketch into 3-D space and then add further details. I ran out of time on my lunch break and I don't think the computer is going to be available to me at lunch next week.

I suppose I could ask, but I don't want to push my luck. You'd think I'd learn that having courage has its rewards. While I know this logically, my heart is still timid.

But still, I am so very happy that my career is coming back on course after being sidetracked for so many years. I promise myself to keep touch with my courage now that I've found it.

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