Tuesday 10 October 2006

Another company was ticked off the possible career list this evening.

I attended one of the myriad presentations given by consultancy companies to us hapless Oxford science undergraduates, at least partly for the novelty of wearing shorts and T-shirt inside the venue, Oxford’s most plush hotel, The Randolph (which, as any good Oxford Tour bus guide will tell you, once played host to baby-dangling plastic-nosed man Michael Jackson).

As the presentation wore on, I found myself wondering whether, in spite of the promise of a non-office-based, hands-on engineering experience, I could get myself worked up and excited about turning round the fortunes of factories manufacturing such fascinating products as curry, bricks or even toilet roll. A probable “no”, but anyone who says they are excited by anything like that is surely lying through their teeth to make it through the interview to the £40,000 starting salary with company car?

It was not until after the talk that my cold cynicism was replaced with abject terror. In a chat with some engineering students I knew, I was warned of a man who had lynched them for light conversation before the presentation had begun, and had reeled off fascinating but largely brick-centric anecdotes about the company he was involved in increasing the efficiency of. “The bricks take four days to fire!” he had exclaimed, looking around for awe but instead finding slight puzzlement.

I didn’t quite believe this tale of his eulogising, because my dad managed to make it through fourteen years purchasing things for a plastic bag factory without him ever being compelled to include the intricacies of aluminium foil acquisition in his dinner party conversational repertoire. He would answer a direct question if a slightly odd, curious younger version of myself asked, but the polythene-y anecdotes were, perhaps understandably, pretty thin. (About 10–15 microns, in fact…geddit?!)

However, it was only a few minutes after my engineering friends had left that his prophecy became all too real. It was a couple of minutes of conversation about the practicality of living your life from a hotel five days a week that the clay-fired construction material anecdotes started flowing.

“The kilns take 1–2 weeks to cool down!” we were told, followed by being regaled with the story of how the different layers of bricks must be aligned for maximum stability during transit through the kiln but maximum ease of unloading having emerged from it. “Who needs sex when there are mechanised processes to be made slightly more efficient?” All right, he didn’t say that. But he might have if goaded. Or if I’d covertly recorded his voice on a Dictaphone and pieced disparate words together.

I never wish to be what that man embodies. Toilet roll should only be of even passing interest to someone with diarrhœa; the rest of the time, it should be functional, and its manufacturing process a complete, unimportant mystery. Even trying to increase the profits of the largest curry factory in the World holds no sway over me.

So, I don’t want £40,000 to be a brick anorak for a living. So, all I need to do is set up a website whose popularity explodes by viral marketing and which is lapped up by Google a couple of years later. That’s got to work, right?


  1. I’d like to say its a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it…but of course it isn’t, and the world would keep turning perfectly well without such people.
    If you are thick skinned enough to believe that you are likely to be better than the incumbent management at running their company, and willing to charge them crazy amounts fo money for recycling what usually turn out to be the company’s owners/managers own ideas, then go for it…£100,000 per year at age thirty is pretty impressive, and you do get the fun of playing with other peoples trainsets without any of the responsibility of worrying about whether they’ll break. Indeed they pay you handsomely for the privilege, and you bugger off over the horizon with your suitcase full of cash whatever happens…
    If you want money above all else, consultancy could be a sound move, but if you want a job where you can feel some satisfaction that you’ve earned a sensible reward for a sensible contributuion, keep watching the careers noticeboard.
    Or start brainstorming “implausible ideas that might just catch on”…

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