A comedy of errors…

I’ve recently taken a drastic change in direction, career-wise. I’ve been doing the computer thing for a long time now… unprofessionally since 1993… professionally since 1997. I was very good at what I did, but starting to burn out. When you spend that much time in a specific field, you have a tendency to get trapped under the glass ceiling… especially if you are far too good at it. I briefly considered changing into the role of a system’s administrator, but I don’t think it would hold my interest for long. Management has never really been my thing, so that wasn’t an option.

Early last year, I was approached by the head of our Field Service division (I work for a company that makes a variety of electron microscopes… our electron columns aren’t the best around, but we have some of the best ion columns in the world… we specialize in nano etching, milling, and extraction). He wanted to have me on board.  I lack a lot of electrical theory, but I’m a pretty quick study and a dedicated worker bee. He felt my computer skills would be of great benefit to the team. However, my wife wasn’t interested in relocation, so I had to turn the offer down. It did give me the incentive to start thinking about a career change. I decided perhaps I would be better suited joining the Technical Support end of things… get a bit of electrical theory, particle theory, and chemical science under my belt before deciding if I wanted to try to get back into field service. After several months of pestering and negotiating, I was able to get into the Technical Support Group. Now I am the proverbial 5th wheel. I have neither the electrical or scientific background generally required for this sort of job, but have more than enough computer knowledge to carve myself a comfy little niche in the group.

Anyhoo, I’m down in Partially Sunny, Mostly Rainy and Crappy San Jose to do my first microscope install. It’s a fairly unique “little” machine… it’s a lamella extraction system. That is to say, it is designed to remove tiny cross-section slices from a wafer and drop it onto a “grid” for viewing in other microscopes. Thus far, it’s not going well. The system was supposed to be uncrated last week, and the facilities (compressed air, house vacuum, and electricity) were supposed to be ready before we arrived on Monday. It’s now Tuesday night, and all we have managed to accomplish is uncrating the damn thing (not an easy task, as no one has the correct tools), and moving it to the supposed “spot” in the clean room. The room isn’t finished yet, as they are still trying to fit a very large transmission electron microscope into the same room. Doesn’t look promising. As a result, the facilities may not be ready until tomorrow afternoon at the earliest. Or they might have to move it into another room, which will need another site survey and more time to prepare. Looks like I may get to go home early, and come back again in a couple of weeks.

I’ve still learned some very valuable lessons on this trip:

  • Always pack your own tools
  • Always make sure you have the right tools (pliers come in handy, but hurt the hands after couple of hours).
  • Expect the customer to be unprepared, regardless of time spent in preparation
  • Expect the unexpected
  • Carry an extra adjustable wrench just in case you need to “adjust” something forcefully, or kill someone on the way out

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