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Could I still become a engineer despite my disadvantages?

Could I still become a engineer despite my disadvantages?

Could I still become a engineer despite my disadvantages?

Hello All,

I am hoping someone out there can give me some good advice. I am a mid-30-year-old man, since high school I have always dreamed of being an engineer (Preferably Electrical, Mechanical or Robotics). For the past 2 or more years, I have grown depressed in my current field and I am starting to realize that my dream is just really a dream. The thing is, I have suffered from severe dyslexia my entire life which has hindered me academically. You may know someone with dyslexia that has performed just fine academically or good enough, but there are different levels of dyslexia. I have been evaluated as a child and as an adult, my results are always “severe”. Just to let you know, I am not sharing this for a petite party, I am in my mid 30’s, so trust me I’ve excepted this part of myself a long time ago.

Now that you know a little about me, is there a way for me to break into the electrical, mechanical or robotics engineering fields without an engineering degree? Since high school I have attempted collage 4 different occasions and it always ended with me going on academic probation or withdrawing due to difficulties. Some people can say it’s laziness, trust me... that is not the case, I am the opposite of lazy. I always give 110% sometimes 200% in everything I do.

Despite my dyslexia and without any formal IT education I have been fortunate to have a decent career in the IT field. I never real expected to work in the field long-term it kind of just happened. I started in PC repair for a computer company, I didn’t know the first thing about computers, but I needed a job so I taught myself and learned on the job. The first 5 or 6 years I grew quick in the field getting better and nicer positions, now 10 years later I specialize in VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure) and Network Support. The only thing is.. I am not an IT pro at heart, I can do the work just fine and I always get positive feedback from my bosses, but I just get little satisfaction out of what I do. For the past 2 years, I have applied for several product development\engineering technician roles for manufactures and engineer firms hoping to get my foot in the door but I get no response. I guess they see my resume and see 10 years of IT experience and figure I cannot do the job? I really would love a career change but I am thinking it’s not going to happen.. Any advice would be helpful...

**Sorry for all the information**
Thanks, in advanced

RE: Could I still become a engineer despite my disadvantages?

Well, yes, my wife and eldest son both have dyslexia. I am well aware of the disabling effects.

My wife has severe directional problems and I have to be her guide, literally, but my son is a PE now, working primarily in the Structural Engineering area. He is also very good at math, and can write well.

He had problems in school too, and was, unfortunately, put into a box by the local school district, a box we had to forcibly extricate him from.

We had to get him special tutoring and he had to spend a lot of time studying.

He also applied for, and received, extra time at the University (University of Washington) to take his exams which was a big help.

Mike McCann, PE, SE (WA)

RE: Could I still become a engineer despite my disadvantages?

I wouldn't necessarily abandon the notion of going back to school, even if part time. The ADA and school disabilities office will bend over backwards for people with learning disorders. With an IT background, a degree can give you a decent shot at an EE career, in my opinion.

Without the degree, I feel your design engineer options will be limited. That's not to say you may not be able to transition to an exempt industry, perhaps dealing with PLC's or working as a road tech/service engineer.

RE: Could I still become a engineer despite my disadvantages?

I don't know anything about or anyone who has severe dyslexia so take what I have to say with some salt. There are technicians that do 95% of what some engineers do. I don't know how important it is for you to be called an engineer but if you want to do engineering or engineeringish work, I believe it is doable. Some jobs I know I would be bad at due to them being boring, too cookie cutter, theoretical, ect. I think you just work around what you would be bad at.

RE: Could I still become a engineer despite my disadvantages?

Thought that comes to mind: If you're in your mid thirties now, you probably need to pay more attention to the type of engineering job you aspire to than somebody starting out fifteen years earlier would need to. The passage of years and accumulation of responsibilities is bound to give you less freedom to mess around for a few years post-qualification until you find your niche.

Can you point to somebody today and say "If I was doing their job, or something very like it, in ten years' time, I would be a happy man"? If you understand your aambition clearly enough, you have a better chance of understanding what will lie between and, from there, whether it is within your reach.


RE: Could I still become a engineer despite my disadvantages?

My old Masons lodge helped sponsor a dyslexia clinic. Many clients experienced life-changing success using the Orton-Gillingham method.

RE: Could I still become a engineer despite my disadvantages?

Generally, without a degree, you'd be hardpressed to get a position at a large company that has these sorts of requirements in place.

Seems to me that your dyslexia is both a crutch and excuse. I have a co-worker who has dyslexia (severity unknown), but he's been quite successful, both at school and at work. That said, dyslexia might be inconsequential if you have issues with math or physics; I've know people that wanted to be engineers, but calculus was completely beyond them.

TTFN (ta ta for now)
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RE: Could I still become a engineer despite my disadvantages?

My dyslexia is strictly number based... it took me a number of years with poor school grades to figure out I was flipping numbers back and forth. Now, I do calculations in both directions to fend off such issues. I often made C's, D's, and even F's, in math through high school and into my first year or so of community college.

I'm proud to say I now hold a BS and MS in electrical engineering from a top ten school. My concentration was on digital signal processing (a pretty math-bound subject), and I specialized in wavelets and other such high-level math.

So, it is possible to get past the disability. The late start to the career, however, is going to be another large impediment you'll need to get over, and unfortunately I do not have any useful advice for that one.

Dan - Owner

RE: Could I still become a engineer despite my disadvantages?

Wonderful to see the number of people here who have overcome what could be a debilitating condition- one which makes the already difficult task of getting the academic marks you need to get into an engineering program, and then to stay in it and graduate, even harder. In comparison I had a very easy go of it- no disabilities, other than perhaps my own personality.

A mid-career switch into engineering can be fraught with difficulties. Employers like me tend to see a fresh grad in their late 30s as someone who will expect to be paid on par with their peers in age rather than years of relevant experience terms after a short initial break-in period, and that can lead to difficulties going forward that in a marketplace oversupplied with keen fresh grads, I see little reason to take. But that's just my experience here in Ontario, Canada, in my particular field- it's by no means an indication that finding a mid-career entry level job for a fresh grad in their late 30s is going to be impossible, just another challenge. A person spends so much time working that they'd better derive some pleasure from it or it can result in a life which is far less than it could otherwise be. That's worth some risk and some very hard work- if indeed it's truly your passion. What's the risk? You take some time off from your career and get some more education, and ultimately find it's not to your liking. Is it going to end with you unable to find an IT job again? Not likely. So the real risk is only the economic hardship of the time away from earning a living that you need to take to get through your educational requirements. Is that too much of a risk? Not if you're passionate about the outcome!

Best of luck to you- sincerely- whatever you end up doing.

RE: Could I still become a engineer despite my disadvantages?

Thank you all for your responses, there is a lot of great advice here. It feels good to get other perspectives from other walks of life.

Special thanks to msquared48, HamburgerHelper, TheTick and MacGyverS2000.

msquared48 I related to your storing about your son, in grade school I was also one of those kids they stuck in a box.

HamburgerHelper being called an Engineer is not so important for me, I would be fine with working as an engineering technician, assisting engineers. My passion to help design & develop is far more important than a title. Thanks again!

MacGyverS2000 I totally relate to you; letters and numbers are both a challenge for me (I even speak backwards 45% of the time). And I know all about them C’s, D’s and F’s all to well. Thanks again!

RE: Could I still become a engineer despite my disadvantages?

You appear to be a fairly decent written communicator... that is often a huge failure for many an engineer. I'd say that's a major plus in your favor.

Dan - Owner

RE: Could I still become a engineer despite my disadvantages?

I would agree Mac...

Mike McCann, PE, SE (WA)

RE: Could I still become a engineer despite my disadvantages?

You might have more luck with small companies. I work for what is called a systems integrator. We design and build control and instrumentation packages for various types of industrial plants usually water and wastewater. I know in our area there is a shortage of workers in this field. So I suggest that you broaden your field of prospects. BTW having VM experience is a plus in our industry!

RE: Could I still become a engineer despite my disadvantages?

Well I appreciate the complement about my written communication, But don't let that fool you. It takes a lot of time for me to type these words out. I proofread all of my emails at least 4 times and use spell check like crazy before sending them.

RE: Could I still become a engineer despite my disadvantages?

you have got some great input already.

I can't add much more other than it can be done - I worked with only one dyslexic engineer (that I know of) and the only way I found out was by having to look at some of his rough calculations when he was out of the office and nothing made sense to me. He explained how it made sense to him and that he would translate it into conventional form when he handed it off for bom or drawing work

RE: Could I still become a engineer despite my disadvantages?

Adding... My wife was the first person diagnosed in Washington state with Dyslexia back in the late 50's, back when schools thought that the condition was just a figment of someone's imagination so he or her could get their doctorate. Her mother also switched her from left to right in her early years which did not help.

My son was labeled by the school district into the special-ed kids as the school district did not recognize the condition as a disability they had to deal with. That's where we drew the line and fought the school district. He needed help and special consideration, not punishment with a degenerated curriculum.

Things have become better over the years, but misunderstanding and resistance are still out there. You just have to fight for what you want and work harder, much harder. It can be done.

Mike McCann, PE, SE (WA)

RE: Could I still become a engineer despite my disadvantages?

I suggest getting certification in AutoCad or a 3D CAD program (SolidWorks or Inventor) and try to get your foot in the door that way. CAD certification would be a quicker way to get into your field of choice doing engineers grunt work. You probably will have to take a pay cut. I don't know your personal situation kids bills health insurance etc. but I'd look a temp to hire contract work after getting certification. Contract work might not offer health insurance but could be higher pay due to it being temporary. I am not a degreed engineer; I got an AS in Drafting/CAD in my mid 20's and have worked my way up for the last 15 years.

RE: Could I still become a engineer despite my disadvantages?

Drafters that work themselves into designers do alright. Experienced designers make as much as engineers in Houston. 3D pipeline drafter/designers at a former employer were getting paid $90/hr in 2008 when oil and gas was booming. I don't know if they are sitting at home now or what they are doing now. No place I have worked has had engineers draft the drawings. That is an easy place to get your foot in the door. Drafters that can also design are worth their weight in gold. It is so nice to be able to hand off some specifications and not have to detail everything.

RE: Could I still become a engineer despite my disadvantages?

djs Where you work at sounds kinda interesting, Do you mind if I ask what the name of your company is, I think there are a few small companies like that in my area? (KY)

grunt58 & HamburgerHelper Funny that you all brought up CAD, Right out of high school I took a college AutoCad course and loved it but had not touched it since, until recently. I have been taking a self paced AutoCad 2016 and SolidWorks course on Linda.com. The courses are suppose to prepare you for the certifications exams.

I guess I am heading in the right direction. Thanks for the advice..

RE: Could I still become a engineer despite my disadvantages?

Wow! You have kicked up a storm of responses here! I'll add my voice to the crowd. If a one-legged man can ski, if a woman with no arms can play the piano with her feet, a 30 year old man with dyslexia can become whatever kind of engineer he wants. It truly is in the attitude! I would MUCH rather have an engineer who has learned the hard way that he must take the time on every step to make sure it is right than one who has found ways to avoid doing things he would rather not do - like double check his own work.

Much of my work over the years has involved correcting the mistakes made by previous "engineers" who just couldn't be bothered to take that extra minute or two to get all the details right. A good engineer is a detail oriented person. People that are not detail oriented by nature have a more difficult time becoming good engineers. They tend not to suspect their own infallibility. They tend not to ask themselves a very critical question - "How could this plan/scheme/design go wrong?". Or "How could someone get hurt?" Or "How will someone that has never seen this machine before try to interact with it?" For them good enough is just that - good enough.

Your own life experience has molded you and trained you to avoid that type of thinking. You have learned to take the time and the steps to make sure its right. The fact that you are successful in a field as detail critical as IT just proves to me.

I would strongly suggest you look into "engineering technology" courses that are taught at many technical colleges around the country. You will learn skills that are both valuable to employers and a solid foundation for later pursuit of a full blown engineering degree.

As for finding work at this later stage in life, it is true that some employers, like large corporations, might automatically dismiss you as "too old". You probably don't want to work for them anyway. Smaller businesses where you're interviewing directly with the decision maker and/or your potential supervisor might work better. They will see the same personal drive in your story that I have seen and will want to use it to their advantage.

Go for your dreams man! Our world needs more people like you helping out!

RE: Could I still become a engineer despite my disadvantages?

Wow, it's hard to add to these great posts, but I'll give it a shot.

I second the CAD direction. It seems that would quickly get you into an engineering-ish field, where you can work your way into a designer/engineer role. I don't know much about dislexia, but it seems that this would be the path of least resistance for you.

As for formal education, it's important, but not everything. I used to work with a guy at a nuclear plant. He was in the nuclear navy, then operated a few different nuclear plants across the country. He then became a trainer for engineers for years. I worked with this guy for about a year before I realized he didn't have an engineering degree! He was a smarter, and better engineer than most engineers I know! It doesn't directly help you, but it should tell you that an engineering degree isn't the end-all be-all.

Jim Breunig P.E.
XCEED Engineering
Mechanical Engineering
FEA Consultants

RE: Could I still become a engineer despite my disadvantages?

Also keep in mind that there is an increasing push among the software and high end hardware vendors (like NVidia) to sell VDI platforms that run CAD and other graphically intensive software applications.

From my experience, an IT professional who actually knows what CAD is used for and how the engineering team interacts with the CAD system is worth his or her weight in gold. I've experienced IT teams who see the CAD/PDM/PLM system as just another piece of software like MS Office and treat it as such, and my design teams have suffered from this as the software would be unstable due to improper graphics hardware or incorrect PDM vault installations.

I would see an IT professional like this as a key member of the engineering team who helps to ensure we're squeezing the most out of our investment. If you can develop (good) custom applications that run on top of the CAD/PDM/PLM systems and help companies better automate their workflows, you'd be part of a fairly rare and marketable breed of IT professional that makes engineering teams better.

Also consider how else you could re-brand your current experiences. If you like engineering as it's an opportunity to develop creative solutions to new and existing problems, there's a lot you can do with your IT background. Further on the thought train of VDI stuff, the company I work for develops medical devices (what I do) and software (not what I do) used by neurosurgeons, including a surgical planning tool that fuses different imaging modalities (MRI, CT, etc) into a single graphical representation of the patient. Today this requires our customers to purchase a laptop to our exact specifications in order to run the software, but moving towards a virtualized desktop style application that can run on any machine is an obvious goal of ours. So, we hire people with skills like yours to develop these solutions and eventually integrate them into hospitals.

RE: Could I still become a engineer despite my disadvantages?

I'll jump on board with the others- if you like CAD and have an IT background, that's a very powerful combination. Going in that direction with, say , a Bachelors in mech eng so you can work your way into doing pipe stress analysis as well as piping design, or structural analysis etc., would be a very good way to combine rather than set aside your old career with the new one.

RE: Could I still become a engineer despite my disadvantages?

WOW.. I never expected to get so many responses to my post, I appreciate all of the feed back. I have a lot to think about.

Keep the advice coming!!

RE: Could I still become a engineer despite my disadvantages?

I'd say you are on the right track; CAD courses then certification. Then night school for that degree. Detailing is a great way to learn. You will just have to bite the bullet somewhere starting pay or temp to hire. Work your way up to a designer then designer with some engineering responsibilities.

RE: Could I still become a engineer despite my disadvantages?

Let us know how it goes. I'm curious as to how it all turn out. Also, I second an engineering technology degree if you continue your education.

RE: Could I still become a engineer despite my disadvantages?

Will Do grunt58!

RE: Could I still become a engineer despite my disadvantages?

FWIW there's a font called dislexie that is supposed to make it easier for people with dislexia for reading and writing. It might come in handy for writing in school and work in the future.

Jim Breunig P.E.
XCEED Engineering
Mechanical Engineering
FEA Consultants

RE: Could I still become a engineer despite my disadvantages?


JBreunig I will have to look into that font, Thanks!

RE: Could I still become a engineer despite my disadvantages?

The first thing I noticed as I read your original question - you can write well and express yourself. You've got a lot of trained engineers beat, right there.
Something that hasn't been mentioned so far, which is an engineering "skill" rather than a specific specialty - troubleshooting.
Like CAD work, it requires working with a lot of information, but what sets it apart is often intuitive or lateral thinking.
If there's something that sets folks with dyslexia apart - it's their way of seeing things differently!
Since technicians tend to do a lot more of this, it may be more accessible to you without a long time spent in school again.


RE: Could I still become a engineer despite my disadvantages?

I'd also add that IMO a CAD designer with extensive IT knowledge would be desirable to lots of companies. It's been mentioned but from my experience, IT people think CAD is vanilla software or don't support it at all. Engineering (usually drafters/CAD people) handle CAD software installs and issues. With many companies using network license managers someone who knows IT is very valuable. Could even do double duty at a small company that has no IT department.

RE: Could I still become a engineer despite my disadvantages?

Sorry I'm a little late into this, but I have an English tale to tell....

I'm a now retired electrical engineer, and I have mentored a few young people into engineering as a career.

One of my daughters friends came to me, he would be in his early 20's, he explained he had just graduated with a degree from a good English university, think of Robin Hood, and you will know the city!

He told me that when he looked for jobs, they all involved documentation and writing / reading.

Well, that's a lot of engineering I explained, so what's the problem?

I'm dyslexic, he told me to my surprise, since I'd known him for about ten years and never realized.

He'd got the degree with a lot of support from the university, but was now left floundering.

I told him that he had acheived something that the majority of the population would envy (starting with me!) and they cannot actually take his degree from him! What do do now, he wanted to do practical work.

My advice: go to the local college and enroll on a practical electrical wiring course, that would give him a practical qualification to reinforce his academic degree. Then having got this, he should write to a local power generation company to be a service engineer. I knew them well, I told him, but no need for me to be involved, he'd get a job.

He still with them 10 years later.......

So, the advice above from others is good, you have had the common sense and intelligence to come here and ask advice, again this is a strength. Are there any career planning consultant companies in your area, you have to pay, but they may be of help.

Do you have a local engineering company you could approach for advice? Or an employee or friend?

This is how people found me.

Good luck, but you won't need it.

RE: Could I still become a engineer despite my disadvantages?

One engineer I knew years ago graduated from Purdue, Tau Beta Pi, and had severe dyslexia.

I would recommend getting an engineering degree because it covers applications of math and the sciences you will need.

Pamela K. Quillin, P.E.
Quillin Engineering, LLC
NSPE-CO, Central Chapter

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