31 July 2007

Same start, different result

A friend of mine from undergrad is getting married in two weeks. I would have invited her to my wedding but, at the time, we had lost track of each other. It wasn't until a freak run-in last year at the Toronto Zoo that we got back in touch.

We were both in the same program and took mostly the same classes in structural engineering; however, even though both our jobs are based out of the GTA, our professional lives have gotten very different since then.

I did a masters and went into structural design. She went into the construction industry. There's a big difference. I sit in a cubicle doing designs and analysis. If I'm lucky, I get to go to Newmarket, or Cobourg. She's the engineer who plans and supervises contruction. Routinely, her job takes her to places like Alberta, Quebec, and Newfoundland; she's currently in the Bay of Fundie overseeing construction of a jetty. She spends little time in the office, is always away from home, and works extremely long days on a regular basis, followed by many days off. I do a daily 8-5 grind.

The thing is, even though we can see the advantages of the other person's job, we both prefer to do what we're doing. As much as I would like to get out of my drab grey cubicle more often, I want to design stuff and would feel stiffled overseeing other people's work. She would like to spend more time at home but likes being out where the action is too much. We both have the same degree, but our work lives have almost nothing in common.

One thing worth noting: when you're actually doing construction, you see the potential carnage vividly and in-person, rather than just having some vague image in the back of your mind with the associated dread. She related a story about driving massive steel piles for the jetty. The piles were brought into position on a barge while a boat-based crane picked up each pile and drove them into the seabed below. For this one particular installation, several piles had been installed successfully when the cable securing the next pile to the crane snapped, sended the pile plummeting back to the deck of the barge. The barge superstructure was damaged, one of the piles sitting on the deck of the barge was destroyed, and, as the dropped pile slid off the barge and sank irretrievably to the murky depths below, it managed to hit and damage the pile that they had just installed. Furtunately no one was hurt, but the cost and delays were significant.

The funny thing: each of the damaged objects fell under a completely separate insurance policy. The dropped pile counted as "lifted material", the barge was "equipment", the destroyed pile on the deck was "cargo", and the damaged installed pile was considered "finished structure". Aren't legal distinctions great?


One more thing: my friend's wedding is going to be open bar. Huzzah!

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