One year of wandering, now a return

More than a year ago, I fell while I was running. Somehow the blood running down my elbow dislodged a deep sadness within me. The sadness was the hole in me where my writing used to be. But I took it as an insight that aerospace engineering was not the right course for me. I limped back to my aerospace job, bandaged my arm and leg, and let a deep well of sadness open up within me. After I quit three months later, I felt like I never wanted to return to engineering.

But my boyfriend would not let me forget my engineering background as I wandered toward writing.

“Don’t you think you should give it another try?”

“There are lots of different parts to aerospace that you haven’t tried yet.”

“You might like it.”

Every time he said this, I remembered my fall. I would check my right elbow again to see if the scar was still there, reminding me. In my mind, engineering had made me betray my lifelong goal of writing. I wasn’t sure that I was ready to forgive engineering for that.

Except, I heard an excellent opportunity right after I quit.

At the Space Entrepreneurs meetup, a company owner and CEO told me about his aerospace systems engineering company. It had a unique setup, where all the employees were contractors (and technically owned their own companies). The company had a weird set of expertise that culminated in an understanding of complex aerospace systems. These people were the architects of such systems, defining the engineering vision. The ideas called to me, as did the flexible hours, high pay, and ability to take months off at a time (…to write…?)

Despite my need to leave aerospace, this aerospace opportunity became my measuring stick. Would I like this freelancing job as much as that contracting one? Would I be able to live the lifestyle I wanted, like the contracting job would allow me to do? Nothing really held up in comparison, though I applied and was rejected by other jobs anyway. And then I drove Uber for a while, the perfect job for the uncommitted.

Then I stopped doing everything. In writing my memoir, I had unearthed some old memories. They seared through me and left me in a haze. It seemed like the only way to heal was to stay in the house and read science fiction books all day. I read three books by Guy Gavriel Kay in two weeks. I distracted myself; I grieved for my past self, who gave up her ability to argue – in order to make someone else happy. I wouldn’t leave the house because other people made my skin feel raw.

In all this chaos and confusion, a clear thought came to me. I’m ready to seize the opportunity put in front of me nearly a year ago. I emailed the company owner, saying I hoped that he remembered me after all this time.

He did. The opportunity was not lost. It was waiting for me to be ready.

Intro to Python1

First of all, I don’t like snakes. When I’m talking about Python, I’m talking about the programming language.

I am not a programmer. It was not even a requirement in engineering school. I struggled through programming MATLAB (an analytical math software) and promptly decided that programming was not for me. Then, I made a couple websites, and messed around in HTML and CSS. Making pretty designs is nice, but I want to do something functional.

I chose to study Python as an experiment because I love data. Python is excellent for building databases and parsing lots of data. Last year, I found data for the past 10 years of March Madness and spent nearly 15 hours trying to develop a method for figuring out how who will win. It was not successful, but that gives you an idea of how much I like playing with data and trying to find patterns.

So where am I now? I’m taking a 13 hour training course on Codecademy.com. At 28% complete, I still have a long way to go. I am intrigued so far though. Unlike HTML and CSS, it’s really easy to get user inputs and call databases. I am hopeful that I will survive the next 72%.

My end goal of this project (Python1 – mind you, I intend to make this a series of projects) is to call information from a database and match it to a list in a spreadsheet. That sounds really boring, but the data is cool! So, NASA has this database of outgassing properties. When materials are exposed to the vacuum of space, they often lose some of their mass. (Metals don’t lose much; plastics lose a lot). To launch satellites, the developers usually have to make a list of all the materials in their spacecraft and then write down the outgassing properties using the NASA database. Sadly, I know that many people do this by hand. I want to make a code that matches the material in the list (say Aluminum 6061) to the outgassing amount. Then, the outgassing properties can automatically be generated once you have a bill of material.

Maybe that this boring to you, but it seems much less boring than looking up each material property individually and then copying and pasting it into a document. (Welcome to engineering!)