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best questions to ask retirees/senior engineers

best questions to ask retirees/senior engineers

best questions to ask retirees/senior engineers

I have recently switched jobs and feel like I've hit career gold. The company I am working for has really good rapport with its retirees. They come for lunches once in a while and out to dinners several times per year. I am mid career (roughly 10 years out of university) and want to make the most of this opportunity.

So my question is, what do you think are the best questions to ask individuals (senior engineers/retirees) during a social lunch/gathering?

I've collected the following list (some from here http://www.forbes.com/sites/theyec/2014/02/28/10-k...)
How did you get this job?
What is your best piece of advice?
Is this where you thought you would end up?
What used to be your biggest weaknesses? And how did you get over them?
What was your favourite project?
Was was your toughest project?
What was your most memorable mistake?

RE: best questions to ask retirees/senior engineers

Based on my experience, those questions asked directly will end up as duds. What you want are "war stories" where these types of questions will come up more organically. Reliving "glory days" or reminiscing about surviving "the trenches" is where its at.

RE: best questions to ask retirees/senior engineers

"How many great-grandkids do you have?"

Mike McCann, PE, SE (WA)

RE: best questions to ask retirees/senior engineers

TGS4 is absolutely correct. I retired 13 years ago and often get many of those questions, my answers are typically "and where exactly is the bar?" On the other hand, a description of an interesting problem or a funny near miss will always prompt a "that reminds me of ..." response. That happened at a company Christmas party in Brisbane a few years back and ended up drawing a crowd of about a dozen young engineers with their own problems/events that kept prompting just one more story. I stood in that bar for a couple of hours after the party ended and the bar became a cash bar mostly telling war stories, but also getting people to think about their problems/issues in a slightly different light. I had a blast, and still get e-mails from most of those young engineers several times a year. But just like I try really hard not to provide references on the Interwebz for free, I don't want to answer your survey.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual. Galileo Galilei, Italian Physicist

RE: best questions to ask retirees/senior engineers

Thanks! I really appreciate your candidness. I'll definitely rethink my approach.

RE: best questions to ask retirees/senior engineers

You have 10 years of experience and are mid-career??? Please share any stock tips you have

RE: best questions to ask retirees/senior engineers

MotorCity - I agree that "mid-career" doesn't have a set definition but google returns this description:

"A July 2012 article on the New Jersey Society of Certified Public Accountants website suggests that mid-career is approximately 10 to 15 years into your career. If you look at a professional career as roughly 35 to 40 years, you could reasonably consider a mid-career professional as being in years 10 through 25."

Although, I can't say that I look forward to retirement. So maybe I am still a junior if I were to consider a career length of 50 years instead of 35 to 40. Food for thought.

As for stock tips, I highly recommend reading the blog Mr. Money Mustache! Added bonus: the author is an engineer.


RE: best questions to ask retirees/senior engineers


I don't have any stock tips, but I do have a war story.

Take a look at the stock prices of Dow Chemical. Dow Chemical. Click "Max". See what happened in Feb/March 2009? You can read one version of this "perfect storm" here Dow Chemical: Kuwait Strikes Back . The root cause of this mess was the Great Recession.

So, here you are, sitting with 100% of your 401k invested in cash (a guaranteed return fund) because you are in . . . the Great Recession. In the halls, at the canteen, in E V E R Y meeting, you hear "the sky is falling!", over and over and over again. What do you do? Of course, you sell every penny of that guaranteed return fund and buy Dow Chemical stock!

Best thing I ever did!

Good luck,

To a ChE, the glass is always full - 1/2 air and 1/2 water.

RE: best questions to ask retirees/senior engineers

Ask the retiree's how they interacted with junior employees during their time with the company.

I had the opportunity to mentor 6 junior engineers (one at a time) during a 21 year career at that corporation. Needless to say, they are no longer junior employees. As a retiree, it is nice to return to company events and know the executive management and senior staff on a first name basis. Also rewarding to be treated by them as some sort of "employee emeritus".

www.SlideRuleEra.net idea
www.VacuumTubeEra.net r2d2

RE: best questions to ask retirees/senior engineers

Latexman: good for you. Regrettably, the people who bought magic beans instead of Dow stock at that time are not going to chime in and tell us how much they lost. As they say, your mileage may vary- greatly.

RE: best questions to ask retirees/senior engineers


Yes. Not surprisingly, I have more investment war stories, but most are on the losing end. That particular story is just more fun to tell for various reasons.

Good luck,

To a ChE, the glass is always full - 1/2 air and 1/2 water.

RE: best questions to ask retirees/senior engineers

Right before the housing bubble bursting, I was talking to a colleague who said that the mortgage crap had scared him and he was all the way out of the stock market. I was mostly in energy stocks and felt isolated from that fiasco so I stayed in stocks. When the bubble burst the instantaneous value of my portfolio was less than half what it had been the day before. I stayed the course and held on. The market came back (and then energy crashed, but that is another story) and I checked back with him earlier this year and his portfolio has increased at about 6% APR since before the crash in 2008, and mine had also increased at about 6% APR over the same period (even including the energy crash). That says to me that PERFECT market timing once does not promise ever getting it right again. My goals are a modest 4% APR and I'm beating that year on year, so this tortoise quite happy to watch the hares scamper past.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual. Galileo Galilei, Italian Physicist

RE: best questions to ask retirees/senior engineers

zdas04- my target is a slightly more aggressive 5%, but the strategy is similar. Market timing is like catching a falling knife...

Buying stocks of individual public corporations is a risky business- some riskier than others, but all are risky without doubt. Perfectly good companies are killed, or kill themselves, for the dumbest reasons and with no substantial warning to even the employees much less the great unwashed public shareholder. The shareholders in those corporations are idiots like us! I own some shares in some businesses I do business with personally, but everything else is in index ETFs and bonds that I hold to maturity, and of course my house.

All my flyer money is in my own company. That's been a good bet so far but I didn't bet the farm on it- if I had, I could retire tomorrow. The company's success so far makes me, in total, rather poorly diversified, but if I lost all of that tomorrow I could still retire without privation, albeit not as soon as I might otherwise like. Betting it all on 7 might have made me richer, but I'd probably have died from stress a year or more ago had I taken that decision. Sleeping soundly at night is worth a lot!

RE: best questions to ask retirees/senior engineers

Soooo for the OP, it appears one of the best questions to ask an "old engineer" is how to invest your money and how do you not invest your money bigears

Although you may not want to follow the advise of an old engineer, since they are still working - Yea for the fun of it.

RE: best questions to ask retirees/senior engineers

You can always start with "can I buy you a beer?'
I'd like that

RE: best questions to ask retirees/senior engineers

Monkeydog: I think a great question for anyone who has retired is, "Are you enjoying retirement? " If they say yes, then the 2nd question is "How did you manage to retire?" That will inevitably lead to some commentary about money...

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