Monday, 5 July 2010

Work Experience

So my work experience was meant to start tomorrow. Or, if you go by proper definitions of today and tomorrow, given it's now past midnight, I was meant to start to today. And am I starting then? No, I'm not.

What's really irritating is that I really don't feel like any of it is down to me. I didn't leave it to the last minute. I got in contact with the company six months ago, asked for a placement, the guy I'm in contact with said it should be fine, I just need to send stuff formally to Human Resources. So I did. And HR got back to me, saying I was way too fucking early and they weren't going to handle anything more than three months before the start date.

So I waited, and three months later I sent stuff back again. I didn't hear much, but eventually it trickled through about two months ago that I was probably going to get a placement, and I was asked what dates I wanted. I replied, and then I heard nothing. About a week or two ago, under massive prompting from my Dad, I rang them. Apparently they were going to send me stuff weeks ago to get the placement set up, and... they didn't. I think part of the problem is that I'm talking to one person, who is on the Engineering side, yet it's HR that actually have to set all the stuff up, so this indirect route has massively fucked things up. So after a fairly worried call directly to HR, things have finally gotten into motion. But seemingly not quickly enough for me to be able to start when I wanted to, which means the TC Strasbourg meet could now be a bit tricky, unless I either start mid-way through this week or can get the last day or two off.

For those people who aren't familiar with the whole Cambridge Engineering work experience stuff, you basically have to do some, or you can't graduate with honours (and therefore might as well not graduate at all). If I've not done a total of eight weeks of work experience by the time I sit my exams next year (ie. by Easter) then I'm basically fucked. So this isn't some crap I'm doing just to kill time over the summer and maybe earn some cash. It's massively crucial to my entire degree.

I would say there are three things I've learned from this:

1) Don't ever assume that it work is there to be done, that someone is assigned to do it. This shit comes up a fair bit in various things, including fansubbing and projects and most things. Assigning who is doing what is fucking important, because if it ever gets to the point where something is unassigned, and two different people could be doing it, then each will invariably assume that the other person is doing it, and it won't get done.

2) Don't assume that just because someone is assigned to do something that they're actually doing it. I mean, sure, this work experience shit is hugely important to me, but it's not to the person I'm actually relying on to get things done. Especially my engineering contact, because he's not in HR and it's completely not his job to sort things like this out. He also has better and slightly more important things to do than to chase down HR to make sure they're doing their job properly with respect to getting the placement sorted. Which leads to the third point...

3) Don't rely on other people to make sure that 1) and 2) are as they should be. Fact is, right from the very start I should have had a contact number in HR. Instead I was stupid and chose to just continue using the guy who I'm fairly familiar with. It meant that I was slightly unsure about persistently calling to check things were moving, because I knew it wasn't his job, and it meant that every time I wanted to know something I had to go via someone else, and everything just took longer than it should have done. I don't think it's surprising that when I actually got the number for HR, rang them up personally and asked what the fuck was going on, things have since started moving.

I'd also say that I've learned a fourth point, that being that Human Resource departments are slow, useless, bureaucratic wastes of space in a company, but I already knew that.

When I do start work, it's looking fairly likely from the discussions I've had that I'm going to be doing CAD stuff. Which I guess is a good thing, because it's probably the easiest way I'll actually be able to make itself useful. Plus, if I get to use ANSYS, which is a Finite Element Analysis package, it means I'll get to slack off a lot because that thing is like compiling software but about a billion times slower. I load the model in, run the test (on a fucking crazy-awesome fast workstation), and my results come back in about twenty minutes for a fairly simple and rudimentary model. Properly complex stuff takes several hours to do the really detailed tests.

I sort of have a weird love-hate relationship with CAD. It's a bit like programming, or really most things in life, which is to say the day-to-day stuff is at best a little dull, and at worst is excruciatingly frustrating. However, once you've got things to finally run and it all works (or in the case of the IDP, the robot still doesn't fucking do what you want it to) then it's extremely rewarding and enjoyable. At the time I hate every single minute of it, but when I'm actually finished in retrospect I always feel I've enjoyed it.

The main thing that makes CAD so damn frustrating is the software, because it's all evil and I swear you can do the exact same things inside the program and sometimes it'll work, and sometimes it won't. 3D CAD modellers are complicated and temperamental bitches to work with, and sometimes I'll know exactly what I want to do, but I won't be able to do it because I'm not doing it the exact way the damn software wants me to.

When drawing in pencil, sure, if you fuck up it can take a while to fix. I remember with doing projections especially, it's very easy to fuck up (especially when your department ruler goes from 0 to 31 centimetres, instead of 0 to 30) and when you do fuck up it'll usually carry through and you've got to erase loads of it and do it all over again. In some ways CAD makes this easier, but I'd say only as far as you only have to press delete instead of manually erasing stuff. I've rarely had a complex model where I've had to alter something and it's gone smoothly. Usually, because everything is constrained against everything else, shit moves around. Things that the computer is expecting to line up no longer line up, objects clash with each other, you get errors all over the fucking place. Sometimes really retarded random shit happens that's insanely difficult to figure out and rectify, and you might as well just completely start over. It's even harder when you've not made the model from scratch yourself, because a lot of it can depend on how the original creator of the model decided to constrain everything together.

Yeah, drawing in pencil is slow. Sure, you can't get fancy 3D renderings and stuff instantly. But at least when I erase a line and draw it differently, the paper doesn't give me a bazillion errors as to how my model is now apparently completely broken because, usually temporarily while I fix other stuff, my model doesn't fit together properly any more. CAD is pretty nice if you never make a mistake fucking ever, and therefore don't ever need to go back and make amendments to a model, but that so rarely ever happens.

CAD software is also usually pretty complicated to navigate through. I don't mean so much the menu, more just navigating the model. You've got a mouse on a 2D plane to try and move in 3D, rotate the view, rotate the model, move parts of the model, move the whole model, etc. Usually just simple shit like looking around or getting to a certain point of view or zooming in on a certain point requires some sort of mouse movement with various keyboard buttons held down. These also differ massively depending on the program you use. If I remember correctly, Autodesk Inventor needs you to hold F4 to rotate the view, while Pro/Engineer uses some combination of Shift, Ctrl and Alt. I might get a trial copy or something of Autodesk Inventor, because I know from last time it's what the company uses, just so I'm not flailing around like a retard for the first few days trying to remember to press the right buttons to do a certain thing, because it's surprisingly tricky to get the hang of.

So yeah, until I start my placement I'll maybe try and get a few more posts out, not really sure once my placement starts because I'll be working 9-5 every day pretty much.


  1. Agreed about 3D CAD modellers. I was playing around at my first day of work (different situation to you - they expected me, I turned up, but they had nothing for me to do) with their modeller, CoCreate. Quite similar to Pro/E, but for the life of me I couldn't work out how to make it drill something. Although at least it wasn't stressful because I was only trying to draw my pencil ;-)
    Hope you get yours sorted. Piran

  2. Yeah, I've used Inventor, Pro/E and another one I forget the name of, and they all seem to be basically the same program, just with a slightly different appearance and the buttons in a different place.

    Downloaded a copy of Autodesk Inventor for free today on a student license so I can re-familiarise myself with it a bit and remember how to do stuff, and I reckon I've remembered most of it now. I think I prefer it to Pro/E at least.