Chris Bigelow

Disparate thoughts and musings…

Archive for Engineering

Have an Old Bike Cluttering Your Garage? Donate it here!

[This week I’m utilizing my blog for a public/community service announcement.]

betty-boop-bicycle-boop-postersDo you have an old bicycle (or two) cluttering up your garage? Looking for a good way to get rid of it (them) that doesn’t involve a landfill (you DO want to be green, don’t you)?

Each fall the Avon High School Tech Club (some of you may recall I blogged about the Tech Club before, regarding their wooden bridge competition entry) holds a bicycle drive for charity. This year it is on Saturday, 31 October (yep – Halloween), from 12:00 PM to 3:00 PM at the Avon High School parking lot (only about 35 minutes south of Rochester and a lovely opportunity to enjoy the fall foliage).

parts-bicycleAdult-sized bikes, bike frames and parts are accepted in any condition. As a community service the Tech Club students rebuild/recondition the bikes to be fully functional. Bikes are then distributed through “Second Life Bikes” to Rochester area individuals with no other means of transportation.

If you have a bike to donate it may be dropped off at the Avon High School parking lot on Saturday afternoon. Tech Club members will be there to accept your donation and thank you. If you are unable to drop off your bike on Saturday, pick up arrangements can be made. Please contact the Tech Club adviser, Mr. Bob Castle, at 226-2455 x1604 or at bastle@avoncsd.org.

Thanks to Mr. Castle and the Tech Club members for supporting folks in need!

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Have you Googled yourself lately?

When my position was eliminated in February I Googled myself, because outplacement firms and career counselors all say that you want to know what references are on the web about yourself.  Fair enough.  There are two reasons for this (and, no, narcissism is not one of them): one, you want to be sure there is no negative or erroneous information posted about yourself and, two, you want to be “findable” (via positive references).

I was dismayed when I had to wade though the first six to eight pages of Google results before finding any reference to myself.  I think that singular reference was to my LinkedIn profile, as that was about my only web presence at the time.

In the wake of this realization I set out to raise my internet profile and make myself “findable” on Google.  My goal was to show up in the first page or two when someone searched for “Chris Bigelow”.  How did I go about doing this?  I started learning about Social Media and:

I also made it a point to cross reference all of my sites to each other using links.

How did it work out?  Well, I just now Googled “Chris Bigelow” and found my blog (fifth and sixth entries) and Google profile (“eleventh” entry/footer) on the first page of the search results.  On the second page I found my Twitter account (second entry) and a directory of all “Chris Bigelows” on LinkedIn (fifth entry) where, incidentally, I show up as the second directory entry.  That’s five times in the first two pages of results. Much better than my previous showing.

“Fine,” you say.  “So where is this all going?”  Over the course of my job search I have been contacted by numerous recruiters (both internal and external).  They have found me in a variety of ways on line: LinkedIn, Monster, Lynxster and CareerBuilder.

Last week, though, I experienced a first when I was contacted by a corporate recruiter who found me via Google.  And not by searching for “Chris Bigelow”, which was my original expectation behind increasing my web presence.  This recruiter found me by submitting a Boolean search string of attributes desired for a specific open position at that company.  I have to admit that it had never occurred to me that I could be found that way.  Needless to say I was pleasantly surprised.  Later that evening, as a test, I entered the Boolean search string “engineer AND lean AND ‘powder coat’” into Google and didn’t I show up as the second and sixth entries on the first page of results.  Wow!  Powerful stuff.  The next day I was discussing this incident with a friend who is an independent recruiter and he said that the best, cutting-edge recruiters are now employing this technique.

In the fourteen years I spent at my last employer, the internet went from nascency to ubiquity and job search has changed dramatically because of it.

Have you Googled yourself lately?

Google Boolean search

Addendum, 28 August: This post has received a lot of comments, mostly on the LinkedIn groups where I posted a link to it.  While the feedback has been generally positive, I have had some cautionary feedback as well which I want to share.

As is true anywhere on the internet, you need to exercise caution when sharing personal information.  Since this runs counter to the whole concept of social media it creates an extremely delicate balancing act.  Making too much information public places you at an increased risk of ID theft, common burglary, and more; making too little information available reduces a potential employer’s ability to find you.

While the choice of how much information to share is strictly a personal one, I recommend that you do not share your home address or phone number.  You might take this a step further and list your location as simply the nearest metro area.  At the risk of stating the obvious, certainly don’t share your date of birth or social security number.  And by all means, don’t broadcast travel plans (“Hello – Mr. Burglar?  We’ll be in Cancun the week of January 7th…”).

Best of luck raising your visibility, but remember to be safe.

The Dream of Higher Education: Has It Become Just That – A Dream?

I’ve been thinking about this for a while.  Perhaps because I have a child starting post secondary education in another year.  Perhaps because I am, as the popular euphemism goes, “in transition.”  College has gotten ridiculously expensive.

Let me back up for a minute.  I attended college at Clarkson University (then known as “Clarkson College of Technology”, or “CCT”).  It was a kinder, gentler time.  And cheaper.  Not that we realized it then.  At the time it seemed like a lot of money to go to college.  My how one’s perspective changes.

Clarkson projected that my freshman year of school would cost something on the order of $5,400.  To a 17 year old that is one mighty large figure.  This number included tuition, room, board, books, and some altogether too meager allowance for laundry and other expenses.  But as numbers go, probably not a bad approximation.  I don’t think their figure included any allowance for travel to and from school.  My freshman year I accomplished that carpooling with an older Clarkson student from my home town in a VW Beetle. And NOT one with a bud vase.   But I digress.

So, back in the day, four years at Clarkson pursuing a “lofty” engineering degree would set you back somewhere between $23,000 and $25,000 (and, no, we did not use slide rules).  I changed majors mid-stream and required one extra semester to line up credits, so my cost was probably another $3,000 higher.  Upon graduation I was fortunate enough to receive two job offers.  Having been dirt poor (trust me – starving artists have nothing on college students) for 4-1/2 years, I accepted the higher offer.

No doubt breaking some social taboo, I will confess that my starting salary out of college was $407 per week.  <tap tap tap>.  That’s $21,164 per year.  So, in rough numbers, a four year (we’ll ignore my extra semester for a moment) engineering degree from a well respected, private institution cost roughly 15% more than my starting salary.  Are you with me so far?

Fast forward to 2009.  I don’t have exact figures but, prior to the nasty recession we are in, starting salaries for graduating engineers were running around $50,000-$55,000 for a manufacturing or mechanical engineer.  Let’s split the difference and call it $52,500 (and before I get inundated with emails let me note that, yes, I realize that there is a difference in starting salaries between, say, a civil engineer and a chemical engineer).

As I mentioned earlier, I have a college bound child.  One more year to go.  Naturally, we are doing the college and major research thing (automotive engineering no less!).   So off I go to various private, engineering school web sites to check their estimated first year total costs.  Ouch! My findings are summarized below:

College cost BMP3

Even if we take the least expensive school (in this example Kettering, and by no means a reflection of it’s reputation), first year expenses have increased 640% ($34,572/$5,400).  Meanwhile, starting salaries have increased roughly 248% ($52,500/$21,164).  What’s wrong with this picture?  A four year engineering degree now costs at least $150,000, or almost three times the first year’s starting salary.  Is it any wonder that students today are graduating with a staggering amount of college loan debt?

And is it any wonder that people are beginning to question the value and payback of a college degree?  Factoid: From 2000 to 2006, there was a 10 percent growth in overall enrollment at two-year institutions, according to the most recent figures from the Department of Education (data from http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2008/08/22/growth).  And I read a fascinating analysis a couple of months ago arguing that there was a strong economic case for becoming a plumber instead of going to college.  Hey – we’ll always need plumbers.  Food for thought…

Project Lead The Way® and the “Indestructible” Bridge

Last Thursday night I had planned on attending my first meetup of the Social Media Club of Rochester.  Until I found out that Avon High was presenting their first annual Project Lead the Way® Technology Fair.  Since my son had several projects that would be on display, the choice was easy – Tech Fair.

First, a little history is in order.  Project Lead The Way® (“PLTW”) is a national program with heavy participation in NY and IN.  Avon High was one of the charter schools first involved in the program, which began with 12 schools in New York State in 1997,  and they have developed a great program.  While there are some different flavors nationally, including biomedical sciences, Avon only offers the engineering option.  During their four years of high school the students take five engineering classes.  Classes include:

  • Introduction to Engineering Design™
  • Principles of Engineering™
  • Digital Electronics™
  • Computer Integrated Manufacturing™
  • Engineering Design and Development™

Avon’s classes were created in conjunction with RIT (every school’s PLTW program is affiliated with a local university or college).  Part of the student’s final exam is created by RIT.  If the student gets a sufficiently good grade, they can receive credit from RIT by paying a $200 fee.  So upon successful completion of the program (and payment of a cumulative $1000 fee) they already have credit for five classes at RIT.  I believe the credits go towards technical electives, but don’t quote me on that.  Credits aside, it is a wonderful introduction to engineering for students who are inclined to go that way.  Long before they leave high school they know if that is the right path for them or not.

Thursday night’s demo was, among the many other displays, supposed to include the destruction of Avon’s second place winning bridge from the Tech Wars competition held earlier in the year at GCC in Batavia.  Many schoolsAvon bridge3-cropped & blurred & re-cropped competed, but only Avon’s bridge survived a maximum 400 pound load (all the weight plates they had available) without collapsing.  The bridge of the team that won held the load for the required minimum time before it, too, became so much kindling .  That team was awarded first because of design efficiency – – their bridge weighed 1 to 1-1/2 pounds less than Avon’s bridge.  But on to the exciting part.

Avon’s PLTW students set the bridge up on the test rig and started loading plates.  400 pounds came and went – no surprise there based upon the Tech Wars performance.  At 505 pounds they ran out of plates and had to go to the weight room for more.  They kept adding plates until running out again at something like 940 pounds.  Two kids went for yet more plates.  They wanted to see if they could reach 1/2 ton.  Ultimately, they stopped adding plates at 1090 pounds due to safety concerns.  That and they had run out of room to load any more onto the guide pipe.  Simply amazing for a wooden bridge with glued joints that itself weighs maybe 9 pounds.

Think this is something that would interest your child?  To learn more about PLTW, please vist http://www.pltw.org/.  The web site has a section where you can look up which schools offer the program – it’s an easy way to see if your school district does.