The RV Engineer Goes to RV Tech School! (Part 2)

This isn’t exactly a blog post; it’s more of a public journal entry. It’s a follow-up to my personal life update, The RV Engineer Goes to Tech School (Part 1).

As you know, I recently left my engineering position at an RV manufacturer and attended a vocational school to become a Certified RV Technician. For two months, I memorized flow charts, troubleshot relays, disassembled slide-outs, and sniffed ethyl mercaptan. I spent more hands-on time with my multimeter than my wife (hmm … that came out wrong). And in a few weeks, I will set myself loose upon the world of unsuspecting RV owners. 

If you’re wondering, “How much can an RV engineer learn as an RV technician?” then the answer is a LOTTTTTTT! I dare say I absorbed more useful knowledge about electricity in two months than in four years in college. There’s a whole world of RVing that I know very little about.

By the way, I’m glad you asked this question, because I don’t like it.

I am not what you’d call a “gearhead.” My main attraction to engines is MPG, not horsepower. Sure, I grew up playing with legos and magnets and AirHogs like all good little incubating engineers, but I wasn’t turning wrenches. I spent most of my time speed-reading books and gathering construction castoffs for my next treehouse, more Swiss Family Robinson than Nikola Tesla.

Unfortunately, most of my greatest childhood inventions were never built and, worse, never attempted. The magnum opus of my first decade on earth was a flying office chair lifted by 100 helium balloons and piloted by fan blades on handheld drills. (Truth be told, I was concerned the office chair castor wheels wouldn’t maintain their trajectory during takeoff). When I announced to my mother I intended to buy three drills from Lowes for $40 each (with money I didn’t have), she tactfully explained that drill motors weren’t designed to run continuously. Crushed but not defeated, I returned to my cerebral drawing board, and there I lingered.

Such was my first experience with what all mechanics and contractors recognize as the Golden Rule: What looks good on paper may not work in reality. It’s almost as immutable as the law of gravity that the first draft is never the last. It’s like the old Thomas Edison quote: “I didn’t fail 1000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1000 steps.” Where Edison went on, and I stumbled, was taking that next step.

So it’s a well-known fact that things never work perfectly, and yet engineers have a certain, ah, reputation – a reputation that they are intractable and quarrelsome, and you’d have better luck kickboxing a kangaroo than questioning their Pharoahic pronouncements. “So let it be written; so let it be done (see page 34, paragraph 8, list item A).” 

While I’d love to humble-brag that I’m the exception to the rule, that would be … hmmm … an “alternative fact.” That same sickness of pigheadedness afflicts me. And I’ve discovered that the antidote to that illness is simply hands-on work. There’s nothing that proves you fallible like watching your own creation fall apart.

Like most medicines, it’s not a one-and-done miracle pill; you have to take your medicine daily. When I hole myself up in my office, that is when I become most likely to believe myself right, and yet most likely to be wrong. Unfortunately, because I never attempted my office-chair-helicopter and many other childhood inventions, I didn’t discover that antidote until later in life. I’m still trying to make up for lost time. 

So when people ask me, “Why are you changing careers?” the answer is simple, “I’m really not.” I believe that design engineering and technician repair are two sides of the same coin. Yes, they are different analytical skill sets – one generative, one diagnostic – but a well-designed product needs both. I hope to alchemically combine both skills to make me not white-collar, not blue-collar, but gold-collar. 

And one final thought, particularly for my fellow white-collar workers out there: Don’t equivocate abstract reasoning with raw intelligence; aka, don’t turn up your nose at the trades. You may learn best from studying the theory of operations, but someone else may learn best from tearing stuff apart. Just as diamonds are cut with different facets, so people’s minds may shine differently, but still brilliantly. If you disagree with me, feel free to weld your own car chassis. 

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