Let’s be honest, Ruth Grace Wong can’t teach you how to be a manufacturing engineer in the span of a twenty minute talk. But no-one can. This is about picking up the skills for a new career without following the traditional education path, and that takes some serious time. But Grace pulled it off, and her talk at the 2019 Hackaday Superconference shares what she learned about reinventing your career path without completely disrupting your life to do so.
Ruth got on this crazy ride when she realized that being a maker made her happy and she wanted to do a lot more of it. See wanted to be “making stuff at scale” which is the definition of manufacturing. She took the hacker approach, by leveraging her personal projects to pull back the veil of the manufacturing world. She did a few crowd funding campaigns that exposed her to the difficulties of producing more than one of something. And along the way used revenue from those projects to get training and to seek mentorships.
Those mentorships can come in many forms. Much of her success stems from the personal connections she made at conferences, through online interactions, and at Noisebridge, her local hackerspace in San Francisco. One of the most interesting stories she mentions is a mentorship hack where she found people with the skills she wanted to learn, and convinced them to give a class about it if she did all the organizational legwork.
She had begun to learn Mandarin when the opportunity to start working on a manufacturing project with a startup came along. But her skills acquisition phase never ended. Ruth advocates for personal curiosity, and used her own as radar to pick up on new things to learn that others may have missed.
But what we all might benefit from most in this talk is her discussion at the end about finding time. Ruth says “your productivity will never increase”, because productive people are already using their available time. That doesn’t mean you can’t pick up new career skills on the side. But it does mean you need to throw some things overboard. From showing up late, to adopting a clean clothes box, Ruth certainly dipped into the well of life hacks to get there. She succeeded, and two years after the original epiphany she’s finally landed a job as a manufacturing engineer.