Thursday, 27 January 2011
The Dyslexic Engineer
I found out I was Dyslexic when I started secondary school at the age of 12. By the time I left I had poor grades and was told I would not amount to much. However Dyslexia is not a disability or have something missing in our brains, its just the way we are wired up. So how does someone with dyslexia get by in a world or words and what magic powers have some of us harnessed that has given us an advantage over others, like me in becoming an electronics design engineer.
At the beginning I can remember looking at black boards or pages of text having no idea what other kids around me were seeing. For me the pages may have well as been blank for all I could gleam from them. However I was lucky as when I started my secondary school my teacher spotted what I was having problems. I was tested for Dyslexia and found to have a mild form. The approach for me in my English lesions from my teacher was not to learn to read although that was a part of it, but more to focus on the things that dyslexics and autistic people have, the ability to see things differently. For me I was able to rotate images in my head and look at drawings and describe what could not be seen or how it would look form a different angle. I also found i could memorize chucks of maps, drawings etc in a almost photographic type way. My teacher encouraged these skills and gave me and others more confidence which lead us to start learning to read more and more. By the time I left school at 16 I had reading age of around 10.
Over the years I have slowly got better at reading and writing but its still painfully slow compared to the speed my brain wants to run at. Computers and PCs were just entering homes and when I started my ONC in electronics at collage I know I would have never finished it or my HNC without Word and a spell checker!
Since then I've relied heavily on computers to get by in my working day. Lists are important to me and where I work we have an internal wiki which I use to assemble ideas. Just more recently I have found www.workflowy.com which is a really nice little online tool for generating lists. I have also used a package called Bugzilla which is fab at tracking faults, bug or issues on software projects. Bugzilla however is quite flexible and can be used on hardware projects or even just you day to day life. Being dyslexic meant I had to be better at project managing my day at work - unfortunately I've never quite got it to work at home.!
Another really good tool I use is to block out my calender in Outlook using bright colours. each colour means a different type of task and allows me to look and see quickly what I've got planed. I also block out my whole day, not just for appointments or meeting, but anything I want to get done. This way I don't forget what I have planed and have already set aside time to do it.
Many of these things may look and sound like project management tools. In away I have stolen them from this area of business but you will find that these techniques are being taught to people today with dyslexia. these are methods of giving back Dyslexics some control.
There was recently a program on the BBC called "Don't Call Me Stupid" which follows the UK actress Kara Tointon who explain just what it like to be dyslexic and for anyone who watches it you will also see the emotional impact that it can have on a individual too. For me I forgot just how hard I found it to get though school and now having tools and work arounds I don't get those feelings of depression and frustration anymore.
For me I now find Dyslexia a gift. I do not think I could come up with design ideas and play around with stuff in my head if I was not like this. I now talk around with large chunks of circuits and software in my head that I can think over, try ideas and work stuff out. It’s like having a 3D whiteboard in my head. I still need pen and paper but in a funny way I like being dyslexic. I can get by with the reading and writing and getting my words mixed up, however I think I've come out better off in my career because of the way my head is wired up.
I would say to anyone who is dyslexia not to give up. The program link above has links to good sites that can help. Many are told that they will never come to much and give up too easy. I have always aspired to be more, maybe because I'm dyslexic,and so should others.
UPDATE March 2014 - Since writing this post I have become a Chartered Engineer. It was a big deal for me, to be seen by other engineers (The IET) as having what it takes to be a quality engineer. I feel that this shows that someone with dyslexia can achieve their dreams!