Dave McCann, ME’79, works out of Atlanta, but he’s never seen his office. Or met his boss. For that matter, he never met any of his three previous supervisors, either.
Ten years ago, McCann moved out of his Miami Beach apartment, packed all of his belongings in storage and hit the road. Occasionally he returns to the storage unit between job assignments to grab weather-appropriate clothing and then he’s off to his next assignment.
McCann is a senior field engineer for GE Energy Services, where he’s assigned to the international field engineer pool. His entire job is a road trip. Some assignments last a year; others are as short as a week.
“It’s kind of fun being the object of an entire village’s curiosity.”
This summer, he’s stationed just outside Dalby, Queensland, Australia, overseeing the installation of a steam turbine-generator and its support systems at a power station construction site. McCann loves this hands-on type of work.
After his first decade as a field engineer with GE, McCann took a couple of management positions, but he missed his old job. Realizing office life was not for him, he returned to the field.
“One of the great things about my job is that every assignment is different,” McCann says. “I get a tremendous feeling of satisfaction from turning a rough-running machine into a smooth and quiet one just by knowing where to hang 100 grams or so of balance weights.”
Living out of a suitcase isn’t for everyone, but McCann says it makes for some great adventures. Plus, it eliminates the hassle of mowing grass, shoveling snow or surprise home-maintenance costs.
“I’ve found that my interest in material things has been almost entirely replaced by my interest in exploring new cultures and making new friends,” McCann says. “I have experienced the hospitality of cultures vastly different from my own and forged friendships in almost every corner of the globe.”
On a deeper level, McCann sees his travels as an opportunity to gain a more comprehensive understanding of human nature.
“Spending several months in a sleepy little town with no fast food shops, no night clubs, no Wal-Mart, no sports teams, no TV and not much of anything familiar from our culture could be torture for some people. But being in such a place makes you special in the eyes of the local people,” McCann says. “I usually find that they are just as curious about me and American people as I am about them and their customs. It’s kind of fun being the object of an entire village’s curiosity.”
McCann’s favorite locales are those that are untouched by tourism. He isn’t intimidated by being the only American and he’s not bothered by the challenges the language barrier might present.
“When I show up in such a place, there are often people who have never seen a foreigner,” McCann says. “Children are especially curious and sometimes I feel like the Pied Piper with a flock of children following me around. Sharing a meal with a family in a small farming or fishing village, comparing customs and traditions, and laughing with each other as we stumble through the language barriers; these are the moments I enjoy the most.”
When McCann isn’t working, he likes to explore the local sights. He’s visited volcanoes, waterfalls, beaches, mountains, wilderness trails, wildlife sanctuaries, pyramids, temples, mosques and catacombs. But his favorite thing to do is to step into the shoes of a villager.
“I enjoy spending a day with one of the locals while he does his normal daily activities,” McCann says, “like joining a fisherman as he nets fish from his rowboat on the Nile River. I’ve seen a farmer irrigate his crops using two buckets suspended from a pole across his shoulders and plow his rice paddy with a wooden plow pulled by a pair of water buffalo. I’ve watched a printer set up his hand-and-foot-operated printing press to print business cards in Arabic.”
Throughout his travels, McCann has developed a true appreciation for other cultures and the lessons they teach.
“I have had time to really get to know some people who live a hard but simple life with little or no income and little hope of that ever changing,” McCann says. “People adapt. If you cannot afford a car or a TV or a refrigerator or shoes; if you live in a house with a dirt floor and a thatched roof and no running water; if you have to work stooped over in the fields from dawn until dusk from the time you are a child until you are old and feeble; it builds character and teaches you how to relish things that are simple and free, like compassion and humor. I have learned a lot from these people, and I am a better person because of it.”