About the author: Hi! My name is Ryan, and I was born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2013 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and headed back to Tulsa to work at Williams as a System Planning Engineer.
I just completed a four month-long, temporary work assignment at the Williams Olefins plant in Geismar, Louisiana. My role was to assist in the plant start-up effort, largely from a documentation standpoint. While proper documentation is a vital part of all processes, pretty much everyone I know rolls their eyes and fights off the initial impulse to gag at the sound of that dreaded word – documentation.
But document, I did. Comparing lists, updating equipment descriptions, digging through long reports, looking over drawings so cramped that a magnifying glass became my best friend. You name it, I did it. And while it sounds like meaningless busy-work, I quickly realized that those detail-oriented, fine-toothed comb types of assignments had a lot to teach me.
One of my very first tasks was to check every item in a document list against the original to ensure that it cited the correct author. Talk about monotonous. But I did it with a positive attitude because I knew I was helping solve a problem for the busy person who asked me to do it. I certainly did not expect to gain anything personally from this assignment. However, by the time I finished, I had memorized half the names of the people working in the plant from seeing them over and over again. I knew most people’s names before I even met them. And knowing a person’s name earns you a good rapport right off the bat. Lesson learned.
A business leader once told me, “Whatever task you are given, do it to the best of your ability. You never know where it might lead.” Time after time, this advice rang true. Learning people’s names by checking over that list was not the most important assignment in my four months in Louisiana, but it confirmed that I couldn’t predict what I might gain from any particular task.
My “documentation” efforts took me around the plant in the heat and in the cold, exposed me to very real safety lessons, and made me collaborate with people from the administration office to the control room. I came back to Tulsa far more competent and confident as an engineer and a professional than I imagined. So if you are assigned a task that appears meaningless from every angle, take your best crack at it and see where it takes you. You might just learn something unexpected.