If anyone ever told me that it would be easy to make the shift from successful software industry career to airplane mechanic, I would now go find them and beat them up. Not really, but I would want to. I like my new career, but boy howdy, it is humbling to be the new kid on the block.
The other day my work mentor sent me to the office to find the documentation and parts to install a transformer in an exterior light. That sounds pretty simple, right? Except working with unapproved parts is a federal offense, and working from the wrong documents can also get you into a lot of trouble. This is a good thing because I certainly don’t want to fly on a plane that may or may not have the right parts installed on it, but it’s also an overwhelming thing if you’re new.
So, there I was in the “ready room” with the transformer, trying to find the pages in the manual that would tell me I had the right part. Getting nowhere. Turns out I was in the aircraft manual, but the transformer was part of a subassembly, so I was supposed to be in the component manual.
Finally my mentor kindly clued me in about the component manual and I started to make some progress. At least I had the documentation. Next step was to find the right connectors and the right tools to install the connectors. I took a class on this a few months ago. You can mess things up if you strip a wire with the wrong size stripper and nick the copper, or if you crimp the terminal on with the wrong size crimper and it doesn’t stay put. Armed with a healthy terror of doing it wrong, I tried to find out how to do it right.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a newbie airplane mechanic who lingers in front of a computer, with an obscure, be-wired part alongside, must be in need of assistance. The people I work with are mostly really nice and try to help each other out, and this time was no exception. Four mechanics on 4 computer keyboards tapping away will come up with the answer pretty quickly, and I was able to get the right connectors and tools.
From there it was a challenging experience. This was partly because I was standing on the edge of the jetway, which my mentor had helpfully lowered to allow me to get to the external light from a comfortable position, but which was also juuuust far enough away from the very tall airplane that I could see the very distant ground and imagine falling to it. And, it was partly because I had an audience for all the stripping and crimping and installing – not only my mentor, but another colleague who was there to help but who also has quite the gimlet eye for mistakes. All good of course – we all hold each other accountable, but yeah, scary and humbling nonetheless.
I’m good at some things, and someday I hope to be a good airplane mechanic. But I’m not there yet, and part of my job is to manage my feelings about being new and clueless in a way that’s productive and helps me get better, instead of destructive and distracting.