Dishes and Cans and Code
June 28, 2012 9:26 AM   Subscribe

I am a possible budding industrial engineer with a background as a programmer. Help me decide what to do with myself.

Dear Metafilter,

I have discovered I have A TALENT. It seems I can take a process under my wing and wonderfully optimize it.
I give you two examples:

1. I recently took on a night job at an events location as the mouthy dishwasher. Within a couple weeks I completely reworked the whole dishroom process and flow so that it achieved these goals:
a) Waiters now spend less time in my dishroom unloading their dirties. (This gets them out of my way and back onto the floor where they should be.)
b) Dishes are now much cleaner.
c) Staffing of my dishroom went from two to three workers to a single worker.
d) Dishes are now actually finished at a reasonable hour.

2. At the ripe young age of fifteen I was tasked to organize thirty teenagers into sorting several thousand pounds of canned food into fifteen categories. My sole experience to drawn on was the year before when the same job was suddenly thrust on our group and resulted in total chaos. I had the time of my life organizing and documenting and flow charting and the day went wonderfully and there was lots of food for charities.

These are the two primary examples of my newly realized TALENT. All this is incredibly fun for me. I want to do more.

It seems that the best place to use my skills involves assembly lines somehow. An interesting conflict is that I have a small aversion to mechanical engineering stuff. However I love robotics(which I think is relevant), and my past couple years I have been working in the software industry. Ideally I would find a job somewhere that combines programming with this sort of stuff.

Now, I am looking for somewhere to go from here. Is there a job market for my skill set? How do I find it? How do you suggest I proceed?
posted by Folk to Work & Money (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like you are excellent at taking charge and have great organizational skills. Have you considered a managerial position, or possibly a project lead position?

Manager/leads will often have the following responsibilities:
- Overseeing projects or productions
- Delegating tasks to workers
- Organizing projects and project ideas
- Supporting the team morale
- Advertising your team's work to others

If you are a self-starter, then that's often times a plus.

Of course, there is a lot more to being a manager than this, and the requirements change depending on the field, but you may want to look into it.

If you are currently in the software industry, I would suggest making your way to a project lead and see if you like it. If you do, then you can further pursue your interests in the robotics field or some other field of your choice, using the experience that you have as a project lead.
posted by nikkorizz at 9:50 AM on June 28, 2012

The job you are looking at is Business Process Engineering... it is generally a job done by someone with the title of Business Analyst. It's not generally an entry level position.

There is a lot of opportunity in that field, much more than programming. Though the pay is considerably less than what a real engineer would earn.
posted by Intrepid at 9:52 AM on June 28, 2012

I took classes on workflow management and assembly line balancing and such as part of a Systems Engineering master's program. You might want to look into that.
posted by adamwolf at 9:54 AM on June 28, 2012

How about factory floor layout and process flow optimization.
For example, you factory makes 10 different widgets each with multiple steps in the manufacturing process. Some of the process's are common to all products. How do you lay out the factory so each widget travels the least distance on the factory floor and each process takes close to the same amount time.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 9:57 AM on June 28, 2012

I similarly took classes on workflow and assembly line balancing as part of my Engineering Management masters program. I am a programmer and I write programs for (specific) manufacturing plants (although not much YET on production process streamlining).

There is ABSOLUTELY a job market for this. Any jobs listing LEAN, TQM, 5S, Six Sigma and process flow might fit your love. Manufacturing plants all over the world want this kind of methodology.
posted by jillithd at 10:02 AM on June 28, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks guys for your help! Two additional questions:

1. What would you call this TALENT? I don't have any good name for it.
2. What education am I looking at? While I have some classes, I don't even have an associates degree. School doesn't mix well with me, though I am guessing I don't have a choice.
posted by Folk at 10:08 AM on June 28, 2012

If your coding skills are strong, it sounds like you could fall into the role of being the automation engineer/specialist/programmer of a manufacturing plant.

Basically, you'd work with an engineer or project manager on the sequences of optimizing a process, then writing the actual program. Then standing around waiting for the process to happen, and hopefully all goes well. If not, of course the problem is happening at some ungodly hour like 2am and you have to drive on in ASAP and fix the bug immediately. From what I've experienced, these people have anywhere from a community college to a bachelor's degree; at the end what matters is actual real world experience. Cause if you're program has a bug, the timing is off, or just doesn't work, it becomes pretty obvious pretty quickly in a plant.

Or if you're not into the whole programming thing, you can be an industrial engineer/project manager.
posted by peachtree at 10:11 AM on June 28, 2012

1) What you call this talent depends on how you want to apply it. "Optimization" might be good, but in academic circles that implies some math-heavy theoretical work. "Business analytics" is another term you could use.

2) How much school you need probably depends on what type of job you want. As you've already discovered, these skills can be really important if you're managing a small business, or even just a shift at a place like Starbucks. From my experience, you can get an entry-level position with very little schooling, and move up the chain based on performance. On the other end of the spectrum, if you're interested in joining one of the big consulting companies, you're going to need a great GPA, and at least a Bachelor's degree, from a top school.

You might be interested in checking out a program like Management Science and Engineering at Stanford. The "production and operations management" track has coursework of that covers this type of work. Or, more generally, many engineering schools have an "industrial engineering" major.
posted by tinymegalo at 10:19 AM on June 28, 2012

Ha! tinymegalo helped me remember - my local state university has an Operations Management concentration for their management bachelors program. From Wikipedia:
Operations management is an area of management concerned with overseeing, designing, controlling the process of production and redesigning business operations in the production of goods and/or services.
So, if the concept of a masters degree is daunting, a 4 year degree may be less so. Perhaps your local university has a similar program. Or, since mechanical engineering is not your forte, what about Manufacturing Engineering? The chairperson for our EM masters program is also the chair for the MME undergraduate program and has literally travelled the world helping manufacturing plants become more efficient in their processes. He was fascinating to listen to.
posted by jillithd at 10:36 AM on June 28, 2012

I will also caution that this is a skill many people believe they have, and it isn't necessarily accurate. I'm not suggesting that this is the case with you, but rather that people are often wary of having other people come in and tell them how they could/should be doing something better than the way that they are doing it. You may find it useful to invest in some skill development around team building and implementation to help mitigate this risk.
posted by judith at 12:49 PM on June 28, 2012

I had a friend who could do similar things, she referred to herself as an Efficiency something-or-other.
posted by MeiraV at 7:51 PM on June 28, 2012

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