Curiosity, continued learning and hands on experience. Find out what Lana Rupp (BASC ’09) did in her spare time at UBC and how making the jump to a new career path made a big difference in her life. She is currently a Mechanical Design Engineer at Zaber Technologies.
Can you tell us a little bit about the kind of work that you do?
My job has quite a bit of daily variability. I design motorized stages and actuators, which involves market research, CAD drafting, prototyping using a laser cutter, lathe, waterjet and/or CNC mill, testing, and eventually product launch, including preparation of marketing materials and manuals. I work with a lot of different coworkers to accomplish these tasks, gathering plenty of feedback regularly along the way. Beyond the design work, I also take part in hiring and training, and documentation and development of new systems.
What have been the turning points and milestones in your career?
The biggest turning point in my career thus far was changing jobs. I moved from a medical device company to my current position at Zaber about 6.5 years ago. At the time it felt like a big risk to leave a company and industry that I knew and understood, for a company that was just getting established. Since I started, Zaber has quadrupled in size and become much more widely known, but from the start it’s been an uncommonly fantastic place to work. My colleagues are dedicated and brilliant, and there’s a culture of openness and feedback that fosters personal growth and development. We also have a lot of really cool tools that allow us to do neat things on and off the clock, and a flexible schedule that allows for a great work-life balance. I feel really lucky to have found a place that has helped me develop my skills and allowed me to pursue my interests outside of work.
What is a fact about your work that people might find surprising?
To those not familiar with Zaber, the fact that we are all paid by the hour (even upper management) might come as a bit of a surprise. This allows for us to take more or fewer vacation days and to clock in and out as makes sense for us (you can take a “powder day” or sleep in when you need to, and you can get paid for putting in an extra couple of hours to get something important done).
What do you consider your greatest achievement in life so far (personal, professional, or both)?
It’s tough to choose a greatest accomplishment. My son (2 months old as I’m writing this) is a pretty big one, but there have been some amazing career highlights such as the launch of products designed by me personally, and Co-directing a STEM kid’s camp (GEERing Up!).
What would you do if you weren’t an Engineer… in alternate universe?
If I wasn’t an engineer, I’d probably be a field biologist. I have a B.Sc. in plant biology and a passion for the outdoors and travel (especially to more remote and northern locales). For now, I’ll settle for mushroom hunting on the weekends and the occasionally photography expedition.
What was your favourite class at UBC, and why?
My favorite class at UBC was actually a 4th year genetics course (I forget the course number). We had a weekly seminar and dug into some pretty fascinating (and newly discovered) things. My favorite engineering course was Mech 325, which introduced basic mechanical components like gears, power screws, etc. This was actually the most relevant course to what I do now.
What do you feel are three habits necessary for highly successful engineers?
- Curiosity – the drive to dig deep into a problem to really understand the underlying mechanics and related areas. This ensures that we solve the right problem.
- Continued Learning – Being excited to read a new book on the design process, or learn about how anodizing is done. The most clever engineers that I know are able to combine ideas or apply past knowledge to tackle new problems in a bunch of different ways. The more tools you have, the more likely you are to be able to come up with solutions.
- Hands on experience – Nothing makes you a better part designer than trying to personally machine the parts you’ve designed.
What was your favourite thing to do on campus as a UBC student?
I spent a lot of time playing foosball and video games in the Mech club room. The actual time consumed there was probably only rivaled by classroom time and standing in line at Tim Hortons (which was a group activity undertaken at least twice daily).
What talent do you most wish you had?
A talent that I wish I possessed would be extremely strong programming skills. I can write code, but it’s a slow and clumsy process, with a lot of googling required for debugging. If I could go back about 20 years, I’d start learning programming in high school.
What are the top three things that you would recommend current engineering students do before they graduate?
- Really acquire some good hands on skills. Be unrelenting in this pursuit. Don’t let someone else in your design project group do all the machining because she/he has more experience. Don’t let inexperience or a fear of looking foolish or failing hold you back. If you’re embarrassed that you can’t do something well in University, imagine how embarrassing it will be when you’re on the job. Practice now! Join a student team. Go to the shop or the computer lab in your free time and take on a personal project. Be assertive (even if it’s scary or hard)!
- Have fun. Do something (or several somethings) that are silly. Join a sports team or try something new (bonus points if it’s an obscure sport or requires a costume). Join a club or visit a departmental club room. Create memories and make some friends that you might not have otherwise met.
- Take a co-op or work experience job in a location you might otherwise not have visited or doing something you haven’t really considered for your career. It’s a low risk (you don’t have to move to the Arctic permanently), but will give you some great experience and maybe open your eyes to something (even if it’s just confirming a career path that you definitely don’t want to take).