Time Critical
November 16, 2022 8:04 AM   Subscribe

Writing a thing ... I'm looking for a profession in which time is critical. A watch repair person is my first idea, but that is somewhat antiquated. And I'm looking for something more than timekeeping, 9-5, sort of thing. What do you know?
posted by falsedmitri to Writing & Language (35 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Bus driver (I read a bit of an ethnographic study of bus drivers once and apparently they check the time A LOT).
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:06 AM on November 16, 2022 [6 favorites]

The people who do timing for sports events, like track or swimming. Supposedly, an article was written about those professionals, and the headline read, "These are the souls who time men's tries".
posted by alex1965 at 8:07 AM on November 16, 2022 [9 favorites]

Project managers deal with time a lot-- the time tasks take, how their team's time is being used, what's ahead of or behind schedule, and so on.
posted by 4th number at 8:07 AM on November 16, 2022 [2 favorites]

posted by Winnie the Proust at 8:09 AM on November 16, 2022 [1 favorite]

GPS satellites need an extremely accurate time, which is why their clocks are accurate to within 3 billionths of a second, so anyone working in that area.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:09 AM on November 16, 2022 [2 favorites]

Certain programming tasks require a very intimate relationship with time. This is a list of "falsehoods programmer believe about time", which is intended largely to communicate the advice "time is wicked complicated; tread carefully lest you find that it is not what you thought it was."
posted by 4th number at 8:12 AM on November 16, 2022 [3 favorites]

Someone who works at NIST or another country’s equivalent
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 8:12 AM on November 16, 2022 [2 favorites]

There are all sorts of medical professions this would apply to. Taking blood pressure, making sure medication is administered at the right times, determining whether a donor organ is viable, measuring how long someone was unconscious to evaluate risk of brain death, pathologists trying to determine time of death, surgeries that have to be completed within a certain timeframe to minimize risk, etc.
posted by decathecting at 8:14 AM on November 16, 2022 [2 favorites]

posted by j_curiouser at 8:16 AM on November 16, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Shinkansen conductor.

In a year, 120,000 trains run on the the Tokaido shinkansen tracks. On a heavy day, more than 400 trains run, so in terms of time that's 1 train every 3 minutes.

Because the interval between trains is so short, if one train is late even a little it will affect all the trains coming behind it, but the yearly average delay is only 30 seconds. This takes huge delays caused by events like typhoons into consideration, so it means that trains on a regular basis are not late.

Because there are not many platforms, it is important that the shinkansen is always on time so that they can serve as many customers as possible. However, what is the real reason the trains are so punctual?

The real reason behind the train's punctuality is the conductor. Since the shinkansen is such a high tech vehicle, you may think that the conductor has an easy job, but that's not the case. Here are some of the secrets behind shinkansen conducting.

posted by heatherlogan at 8:17 AM on November 16, 2022 [11 favorites]

Air traffic controller
posted by maddieD at 8:22 AM on November 16, 2022 [3 favorites]

Deep sea diver (repairing oil rigs etc) where time at depth etc is highly important.

See also movie cliches about submarine commanders timing turns with stopwatches or fighter pilots (see Top Gun: Maverick which has a lot of time speeches) etc. The same for Astronauts trying to complete space walk tasks under time pressure

Oh and pit crews on race cars trying to do a full tire change/gas etc in as few seconds as possible and practicing to shave milliseconds off.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 8:28 AM on November 16, 2022 [5 favorites]

Love the pit crew suggestion!

Laboratory scientists, like microbiologists, often have to strictly time experiments and tests. I've known folks who have to go into the lab late at night or on holidays to do a small process or analysis that is very time-dependent.
posted by quadrilaterals at 8:34 AM on November 16, 2022 [2 favorites]

An acquaintance of mine is one of the people responsible for caring for a big historical clock tower at a tourist site, making sure it's maintained and keeps time and all that, if you want a version of watch repair that leans into its antiquated nature.
posted by Stacey at 8:37 AM on November 16, 2022 [2 favorites]

A lot of laboratory science is time critical. Cell culture, for instance... you live on your cells' schedules, not your own, because killing/ruining a batch can set your work back enormously in terms of time and money. People who are developing medicines using cell culture, for instance (job titles: drug developer, lab tech, lab scientist, drug R&D, etc.) are timing things right to avoid losing millions of dollars on any given batch of product (and that's a conservative number). Remember that mess when 15 MILLION Covid vaccine doses had to be binned? Guarantee you a few critical time checkpoints were flubbed in the process.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 8:44 AM on November 16, 2022 [1 favorite]

posted by aniola at 8:49 AM on November 16, 2022 [2 favorites]

Bike messenger
posted by aniola at 8:49 AM on November 16, 2022 [2 favorites]

“real-time systems” is a term in computer science and electrical engineering that may be a good search term for examples
posted by meijusa at 8:50 AM on November 16, 2022 [1 favorite]

This is a great question.

Live events, either theatrical or for broadcast. The show has to start on time, and the actions of the performance and production team must be coordinated to the second to ensure all the effects work and everyone is safe.

Here's a *fantastic* video of the Saturday Night Live crew doing a set change during the 90 seconds of the opening montage.
posted by hovey at 8:59 AM on November 16, 2022 [3 favorites]

Radio station manager - both for scheduling, and for transmitter frequency control.

You might enjoy the time-nuts mailing list - the archive there has lots of discussion of applications of precise timing.
posted by offog at 9:09 AM on November 16, 2022 [1 favorite]

Time is brain:
The typical patient loses 1.9 million neurons each minute in which stroke is untreated.... Compared with the normal rate of neuron loss in brain aging, the ischemic brain ages 3.6 years each hour without treatment.
posted by basalganglia at 9:16 AM on November 16, 2022 [3 favorites]

posted by aniola at 9:16 AM on November 16, 2022 [2 favorites]

The farm animal gives birth when it's ready, the storm is coming whether the harvest is in or not, etc.
posted by aniola at 9:17 AM on November 16, 2022 [1 favorite]

Pianist or other musician. Not only is rhythm a form of time, but a good emotive musician will stretch and compress the beat and tempo to express feeling: anger, sadness, joy, intensity of affection. This is the heart of the kind of music beloved by those who know its language.

Gardener or farmer. Whether you're sowing or reaping, the wrong timing can be disastrous.

Competitive runner or swimmer.

Advertising voiceover artist. Compressing all of the information into the short amount of time allocated for an ad, while not seeming rushed or stressed, is challenging.

Public health professional. Knowing when to communicate the direness of a situation, when to vaccinate, when to declare a pandemic over, when to take a break (because the work is always, always life-or-death).
posted by amtho at 9:47 AM on November 16, 2022 [2 favorites]

Event Manager
Stage Manager
Everyone working behind the scenes at an event
Wait staff
Hotel staff (everyone from houskeeping to reception)
Transport personnel
Personal Assistant
posted by 15L06 at 9:49 AM on November 16, 2022 [1 favorite]

Going a little beyond the brief:

West Coast skiers watching time and wave heights on the Powder Buoy to plan sick powder days (yeah, buoy pop - plan your sick days now dude!)

Hardware hacker measuring subtle changes in clock speed (cycles per second) to detect and exploit computer hardware inconsistencies and encryption flaws, or watching server response times increase as they DDoS websites

Prisoner in a cell counting down days with tick marks on a wall (ok not strictly a profession)

Professional thief measuring time between guard rounds / alarm system reboots to steal *insert MacGuffin of your choice here*
posted by inflatablekiwi at 10:26 AM on November 16, 2022 [1 favorite]

I know someone involved with several of the Internet master clocks that all our computers indirectly sync to. We're talking caesium and rubidium fountains here. They're very excitable on the subject. They're also heavily into the protocols that do the syncing, NTP (which they disparage - it's a 'good enough' protocol - but it's all most of us need) and PTP (which is used in things like mobile radio networks where ridiculous accuracy is critical).

And since that opens a topic, mobile radio is also incredibly time critical: millions of phones that (ideally, and slightly simplistically) don't try and talk over the air at the same time. Cable modems are the same in some ways, lots of boxes connected to one wire that have to cooperate to share it. Designing those systems involves a lot of time planning, down to considerably less than a microsecond.

Less in my domain of knowledge, but we have been worrying about how fast a signal travels in a wire in your computer's CPU since at least the time of the DEC Alpha processor in the 90s. Nowadays we're talking nanoseconds and smaller. Hardware architects care about this, as do the authors of chip layout software.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 10:55 AM on November 16, 2022 [2 favorites]

One of Admiral Grace "COBOL" Hopper's famous exploits was to ask her engineers to "cut off a nanosecond", so she could show the Navy Brass why it took so long for electronic communications to travel back to Washington via satellite. The engineers sent her a piece of copper wire 30cm long which was the maximum distance that electrons (or light, indeed) could travel in a billionth of a second.
posted by BobTheScientist at 11:24 AM on November 16, 2022 [1 favorite]

How about a watch repair YouTuber?
posted by malthusan at 11:25 AM on November 16, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Lawyer. Time is literally money, in six minute increments. All our filings revolve around larger blocks of time - statutes of limitation, deadlines, expiration dates.
posted by dpx.mfx at 11:52 AM on November 16, 2022 [1 favorite]

Oh - high frequency traders - trying to shave nanoseconds on transactions to exploit arbitrage opportunities in the financial markets.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 12:37 PM on November 16, 2022 [2 favorites]

On a slower timescale than many of the above but our finance team deals with a lot of time dependent stuff, deadlines for bids, claims etc, where the cut off is very tight. Ie miss the deadline and the multi-million bid is off. Don't submit a claim and it gets set back a quarter.
posted by biffa at 4:12 PM on November 16, 2022

Comedian -- "comic timing"; "that's my time!"

Historian, of course!
posted by foursentences at 8:11 PM on November 16, 2022 [2 favorites]

My uncle used to run the shot clock for U of Iowa basketball games. If you're not familiar with the term, if you don't try to score within 30 seconds, the other team gets the ball.
posted by Eddie Mars at 10:28 AM on November 17, 2022

Oh and pit crews

Bicycle racing also has pit mechanics with similar time pressure.
posted by sibilatorix at 11:47 AM on November 17, 2022

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