Robert (Bro. Pepper-spray of Reasoned Discussion) (montecristo) wrote,
Robert (Bro. Pepper-spray of Reasoned Discussion)

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What did you want to be when you were a kid

Just now, on morganaus's page, I read the questions, "What did you want to be when you grew up? And assuming that you're grown up now (ahem), what did you become?" Until earlier this year, I hadn't thought about the first question very much since I actually was a boy. It was brought to my attention again when I got my 2005 calendar.

Every year, the purchasing agent here buys a bunch of wall calendars for everyone. I made sure to put in my request for one, but I asked a bit late. By the time I got to get one, John had only one left. It had pictures of Western Pacific Railroad trains in it. That was fortuitous, because I happen to like trains. I was a train nut as a boy and had lots of model railroading stuff.

I used to enjoy watching trains, and when I was younger, I wanted to be a train engineer. I never really thought about why until I got that calendar and started to think about my early infatuation with railroads. I think that it has to do with the fact that trains deliver the future, wholesale. More so than a truck or a van, trains deliver things in bulk, and it's usually not the kinds of things going to one person, but rather goods intended for some retailer or raw materials for some manufacturer. Trains, more than other forms of cargo transportation, deliver capital goods, and the means of production.

I guess, as I got older, I realized that you could do more than just deliver the future wholesale; you could create it. That's why the desire to be a scientist surpassed the dream of driving trains. I was always a curious kid. I bugged anyone who would listen for answers. I was the fool who could ask more questions than any wise man could answer. Very often, adults would start answering questions from me and then run out of steam, as it were. Very often a parent of baby-sitter can give a kid an answer like "electricity" when asked what makes the light work, but eventually they run out of info when the kid starts asking how to generate electricity and what's inside a generator. Fortunately my dad worked in electronics, and usually got a lot further than most of the people to whom I spoke, but he ran out of steam when the answers stopped being simple. He had a hard time explaining things for which I had no grounding and education for understanding and he had a difficult time explaining why I just wouldn't understand the answer. What he didn't understand was that I am an information sponge. I soak up facts until I have enough context to start connecting the dots for myself. It doesn't matter if I don't understand the picture at first.

When I got around high school age, I began to distinguish the difference between the scientist and the engineer. The scientist asks, "Why does it work?" The engineer asks, "How does it work?" I am a how does it work kind of guy. By the time I got into college, I knew I wanted to be an engineer. By the time I got out of college I was a software engineer. The beauty of software engineering is that you take a bunch of abstract ideas and a set of desired behaviors and turn them into conceptual tools and machine controls for others to use for work or play. Now that is raw creation, to bring into existence something which did not exist before, except as an idea.

Tags: philosophy, ponderings and curiosity, who i am

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