I am afraid of spiders. I don’t like all their legs, and all their eyes. I hate it when they are fuzzy, and I also hate it when they are not. I am scared of the big ones and the little ones and the fast ones and the ones that can jump. They are NOT more afraid of me than I am of them, even though I know my size gives me an advantage. Being from Vermont, where the spiders are killed by the cold before they can get too big, I know this is usually an unnecessary fear. I know they can’t kill me, but there is nothing scarier than driving 70 mph down the highway, seeing a spider in the car with me, and realizing I might have to jump out.
All this to say that I generally do my best to avoid dark cramped spaces filled with cobwebs and dirt and things that scuttle out of sight when you open the door to let the light in. Until my job with Hallam.
I am an electrical engineer with the Electrical Safety Services Branch at Hallam-ICS. I spend a good amount of time in the office writing and reviewing reports for our clients, but I also get to do some traveling in the form of site surveys. We travel to a client site and get into all their electrical rooms, as well as track down all their panels and other electrical equipment; and map it all out. It’s like a big fun puzzle, and it is cool to see all the pieces fall into place as we go along. I love the break from the office, the fresh air, and getting to see some cool places, but depending on the site, electrical rooms can be nightmare fuel. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes they are well lit and clean and new. But unless there is something wrong, there isn’t a lot of traffic in these rooms, leading some of them to fall into a little bit of a mess. Missing lights, a fine layer of dust over everything, and cobwebs everywhere (but you can never really be sure they are JUST cobwebs, can you?)
This brings me back to the fear of spiders. They are there, in the electrical rooms. In the doorways and the corners and the ceiling. I never thought I would scream in a professional setting but tell that to the girl on her first survey, opening a panel door in the poorly lit storage room underneath the announcement stand of a high school ballfield in Virginia and seeing the body of huge spider fall from the door onto the dark floor by her feet, never to be seen again. I was out of that room taking big deep breaths outside before my partner knew what happened. But that was then.
Now, if you know me, you know that spiders are not the only thing I am afraid of. Chronically anxious and worried, I am nervous about most things. Other bugs, driving, talking on the phone, planes, sharks, the dark, etc. You name it, I can find something to worry about. Especially when I was in school. I was worried about getting grades, scholarships, and clubs. Was I doing enough? Did my peers and professors like me? What if I am not good enough to be an engineer? Do I even like engineering? Am I on the right path? Engineering school was so difficult. I was truly afraid that I would never find a job that I liked or that I was smart enough for. I felt like I had just faked being smart all these years and now that it was time to get to it, I wasn’t ready for the workforce. Lucky for me, I found Hallam.
I have been doing this job for almost three years now. I love the people, and the work, and I am GOOD at my job. I love the engineering pow wows and problem solving sessions with my colleagues. We work together in a way that makes me confident in myself and my knowledge while still making me comfortable to not know things and ask questions. Imposter syndrome is still a tricky beast to battle, but I feel like I am winning the war.
Recently I traveled to a client site that was an old, barely used warehouse that the client had recently purchased and wanted a study done on. Some of the rooms looked like they had not been touched in years. I was holding a flashlight for my partner in a mezzanine with no working lights and brushing a web out of my face when I realized I wasn’t afraid. My brain immediately flooded with pictures of all the creepy crawlies that could be hiding inches from me, but my flashlight hand was steady. I realized that maybe I was a little afraid still, but I could do it anyway.
I am now an expert flyer. I can read through a whole flight, never worried that a little bump will send us careening out of the sky. My palms no longer sweat at the thought of driving on a road with more than 2 lanes, and I don’t have to power pose and practice for 20 minute before I make a call to a client. I moved across the country away from everything I had ever known to a place where I KNOW the spiders are bigger and scarier. And I am better for it.
My job at Hallam-ICS has changed me. Though I can handle myself better around them now, I am still afraid of spiders. But I am no longer afraid of being an engineer.
About the Author
Cassie graduated in 2020 from the University of Vermont with a BS in electrical engineering, and has been working with the Arc Flash team ever since. Originally from Vermont, she now works out of the North Carolina office, where she is a true joy to have around. Outside of work, she likes walks through nature and listening to music. She would love for you to ask her about her cat, Billy Strings, and his many toes.
Hallam-ICS is an engineering and automation company that designs MEP systems for facilities and plants, engineers control and automation solutions, and ensures safety and regulatory compliance through arc flash studies, commissioning, and validation. Our offices are located in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Vermont and North Carolina and our projects take us world-wide.