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Transition from Management to Design

Transition from Management to Design

Transition from Management to Design


Here's a little background:

I'm a Civil Engineer. I'm 34. I've worked in construction - in most of the roles possible - since I was an undergraduate. I've always had an inclination towards SE, which lead me to have a stint at an SE firm for a year while still an undergraduate student. A couple years after graduation I went back to school to get a MS in SE, which I almost saw to completion had I not accepted what - at the time - seemed like a great opportunity as a construction manager with a General Contractor (which came unasked for as a result of previous networking). Once in the job, its constraints did not allow me to complete my dissertation for the MS, so I did not get a degree, but I completed all of the coursework (enough time has passed that now going back to get it is not an option). In the almost 6 years that I've been at this company I've evolved to become a CFO of sorts (that's not my position's title, but I perform most of such a role's duties), and I answer directly to the principal and the board, and oversee - through middle management - around 35 people.

Here's the issue:

The interest in Structural Engineering hasn't faded a bit. I enjoyed every minute of that MS, and I regret more than a bit not finishing it. I don't enjoy my current role that much, I find it quite boring actually; I'm at a point in my life where money and prestige have taken the back seat (I'm by no means financially secure for the long term, though I'm stable); I wish to make a career change, but I don't know whether it's really something feasible, or whether my background is even sufficient to be hired for a design entry level position at an SE firm. I guess some of the business experience has served me as an MBA of sorts that could allow me to incorporate some management skills into the new role, but, is this even valuable when my design/analysis hard skills are currently rusty? How would you recommend me to go about approaching SE firms now that I intend to apply for a job opportunity?

Every penny of wisdom is welcome.

Thanks a lot.

RE: Transition from Management to Design

It's worth pursuing. You can certainly do engineering without the MS, especially if you've already done all the classwork. If your fundamentals are good and your college grades were decent, then I don't think being rusty is a problem. Most new grads have to get trained up anyways. I don't think you would have trouble getting a design entry level position.

I think the hardest part for you is that you'll be starting out as essentially an entry level engineer and getting paid as such. And you'll need to make sure it's clear to prospective firms that you understand that. What they're going to worry about is that you think you have several years of experience and want to be paid as such when in reality you have close to none in the design field. Just the one many years ago. You may rise fast because you've got the PM experience and are familiar with the construction industry, but you'll start at the bottom with everyone else. If you can convince firms that you're aware of this, then I think you'd be able to find a position just fine. I'd keep your construction experience in the forefront of your design thinking moving forward. You'll have an advantage that most engineers don't have, you'll have actually built something and dealt with the real world impacts of seemingly insignificant design decisions. This is a huge advantage and if you can find a firm that values this advantage appropriately, I think you'd be near the top of the pile.

If you're unhappy where you are, perhaps exploring a change would be a good move. You've got 30 years left, about 60K hours of work left before you retire. That's a long time to be stuck doing something you're bored with. It's also a long time to make up the financial step back you'll take by making the change.

RE: Transition from Management to Design

I'd caution you that the grass isn't always greener on the other side - you'll probably be taking a hit in terms of money, job security, and maybe work-life balance.

RE: Transition from Management to Design

Thanks MrHershey, I forgot to say I'm not from the United States; Would you give the same advice/opinion knowing that I'd be coming from abroad?

canwesteng are you cautioning me based on where I stand or based on the state of structural jobs.

Thanks to both.

RE: Transition from Management to Design

The state of consulting in general, especially for someone more junior.

RE: Transition from Management to Design

Don't know the environment outside of the US, so it's difficult to comment. I would think same would apply, but don't know the environment well enough to be sure.

And what canwesteng is likely getting at is that the people who succeed on the design/consulting side of things tend to have a passion for it. Sounds like you do, but you'll want to make sure. At least in the US it tends to have just as long or longer hours than construction, less money, and retains the same construction industry fluctuations in job security as the overall economy cycles. Can be difficult to live with if you're not invested in the work you're doing. A lot of my former classmates and coworkers don't do structural engineering for a living anymore.

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