iSTEP Tanzania

A Multi-Disciplinary Team

Posted on: July 2, 2009

So let me start by saying that I’m a mechanical engineer doing ICT research. Not exactly a cat in water, but still, not exactly what I’m trained for.

While the work is exciting, and definitely challenging, there are times during my stay here when I have been frustrated that I don’t have a computer science background. I know from experience that a multidisciplinary team is important, and so I never questioned whether my skills as an engineer would be useful for the team, but there were times when I thought, “I wonder if a CS major would be better at my job than I am…”

Well, luckily today my skills as an engineer came in handy in a way that reinforces the need for multidisciplinary teams. Hatem had the unfortunate luck of having his power cord fray at the connection from the charger to the computer. This is actually a really common problem, because that part of the cord undergoes a lot of wear and tear. The problem is so common that I had this very same problem with my charger about 2 months ago.

So, Hatem is a very unhappy camper at this point. Picture Hatem, no hot shower, no coffee, and now, no computer. Basically as unhappy as a Hatem can be. Without his computer, his project is in trouble. He needs to code, and his battery can last him around 2 hours. Also, his computer is an IBM, which is very difficult to find parts for outside of the United States.

So, Hatem and I headed down the College of Engineering and Technology to try our luck at finding the right tools to fix his charger. Luckily, our new friend Kate was with us. She’s living with us, and taking advanced Kiswahili, so she acted as our interim translator. We wandered down to the Electrical Training Workshop and asked around. We were directed to a woman who ran the shop, and we were able to ask her for some basic supplies (soldering iron, solder, wire cutters) in order to fix his broken cable. She was very nice, and lent us all the tools. It was definitely easier having someone who spoke Kiswahili well enough to properly communicate with others who were were, why we were here, and what we were asking for. Besides, we looked pretty strange wandering in, and had some even stranger requests, so it helped to speak the language.

In no time at all, I had Hatem’s snapped wire bypassed, and now his charger is working just fine. It felt good to get behind a lab bench after so long, and it made me remember how much I love engineering, and working with my hands.

So, I’m no longer worried that I don’t have the best background for this job, and the Literacy Games project is back up and running with Hatem at the lead! Go team iSTEP!



4 Responses to "A Multi-Disciplinary Team"

Go Engineers! 🙂

I’m laughing because despite language and resource barriers you were able to solve a problem that the Geek Squad in an Arizona Best Buy took a month, two attempts, and a hundred dollars to solve on my laptop.

Good post. Dont let doubts about your career creep in so soon — as they say, the grass is always greener on the other side.

Your resourcefulness is a great example of the skills that students develop while abroad and why going abroad can be such a “marketable” experience. Clearly, communication is also key! Perhaps you will come to my “Marketing Your Study Abroad Experience” session in the fall for returning students and share this anecdote! Glad to see that you are doing well!

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July 2009
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