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[Canada] 33 year old ex-military thinking of taking mechanical engineering

[Canada] 33 year old ex-military thinking of taking mechanical engineering

[Canada] 33 year old ex-military thinking of taking mechanical engineering

Hello folks:

I became a member on this site a few days ago. However, I have been lurking on here for a while and have been all over the place reading threads. I'm amazed at the wealth of knowledge on here. I'll admit that quite a few of the topics here are way over my head. But I keep coming back to find out more.

So I am located in Victoria, BC, Canada and finished my contract with the Navy 3 years ago. Since I got out, I have been struggling with trying to choose a career path. I know that I am leaning toward engineering/science/trades.

I don't necessarily want to do my hobbies as a career. However, a self-help book I was reading was talking about analyzing all the interests/hobbies that I have stuck with and find the common themes.

1) The interests/hobbies that I have stuck with have the following things in common: open-ended, opportunities for tuning/experimentation/improvement, use of tools, exploring, analyzing data/results, thinking/planning ahead, getting sensory feedback/results, and sharing results with others. Also, I have a tendency to not take things at face value. I like to dig deeper and find out why something works, and why something happened. Based on the above, do you think I have the aptitude to be an mechanical engineer? Or would the technologist or trades route be a better way to go?

2) This question is for those of you that have gone back to school as mature students. Because of my military service, there is a grant that will cover a good chunk of my tuition should I choose to go back to school. I am also debt-free. This is a huge help. Covering living expenses will be my main problem. How did you support yourself while going to school full-time without burning yourself out?

3) Another dilemma I am having is deciding if I want to be either an engineer or a technologist. They both seem to have their pros and cons. Below are some of my observations based on some threads I have read on here and elsewhere.

Engineering Pros:
- Career mobility
- Engineering degree seems to be more legit in the eyes of an employer
- Better lifestyle in general
- More stability

Engineering Cons:
- Four year degree program: I am on the fence about whether I want to live as a broke student for 4 years. I have already been living with sustenance wages for the last 3 years. I am not sure if I want to do this for another 4 years. However, the upside is that I would be working towards something instead of drifting around aimlessly.
- More rigorous education: I am well aware that an engineering program is really demanding. I am not sure if I could keep up with the program while working at the same time. However my work ethic, time management, and organization skills are a lot better now than when I was in my teens/early 20s.

Technologist Pros:
- Education takes less time (2-3 years) so I would be back in the workforce and making money sooner.
- Appears to be more hands-on than the engineering route.

Technologist Cons:
- Questionable career mobility
- Technologist education credibility appears to be scrutinized by employers more. When I am done with school, I want to get a job and minimize the amount of BS games when trying to get hired.

All this has been percolating in my mind for some time. I want to start moving forward in my life and get out of the pickle I am currently in. However, I am frustrated that I haven't been able to make a solid decision and commit to it (fear of buyer's remorse??).

I would really appreciate any advice to help me answer these questions. If you need more information about my background, I would be happy to explain that as well.



RE: [Canada] 33 year old ex-military thinking of taking mechanical engineering

I love Victoria. Beautiful place. (Just visited my uncle in North Saanich.) However...

You probably need to get off the island. Not exactly a tinderbox for igniting an engineering career.

Pick a path and go. They are similar enough that you can switch a year or so in if you feel the need.

What did you do in the navy? My navy career left me skilled enough that I was able to work a few tiers above entry-level and fast food. School still makes for some lean, tough years, but it has an end.

RE: [Canada] 33 year old ex-military thinking of taking mechanical engineering

Think about where you will be 10 or more years down the road. I've seen a few go on with an engineering education at your age. Each did well and the satisfaction of the job is always better when you are not just taking orders, but giving them also. Some of the engineering decisions deal with where you want to work. Will be at a desk, in a shop, outside some of the time, in a city only, traveling, in the USA, etc.

RE: [Canada] 33 year old ex-military thinking of taking mechanical engineering

A tuff decision to make for sure. Alho I have no major regrets career wise, after 40 years of ups and downs, I think that giving serious consideration to getting a trade. electrician , pipefitter, welder etc has advantages. The ups and downs within any industry make long range planning somewhat self delusional. Full time education at 33 -37, with minimal income coming in would be stressfull. With an apprenticeship, thats one less problem. And a trade tends to be more in demand somewhere when engineering demand is in the doldrums

As others have queried , what did the navy teach you?? Any specific personal interests / transferable skills??? Which province would you like to settle in?? Over the decades there have been major changes in the opportunities available in almost every province.

RE: [Canada] 33 year old ex-military thinking of taking mechanical engineering

after a 4-yr stint in USN and 3-yrs as a blue collar worker, i started my studies part-time at the local university at 25-yrs of age. after 5-yrs of part-time studies and full-time work (completed 50% of studies), i changed to full-time student and part-time work. after 7 yrs of studies & at 32 yrs old, the BS in ME was in hand and i have been blessed with good experiences.
yes, there were tough financial times, but one will manage. i shared housing expenses with other students with the majority of the time w/ a med student. the med student had many friends in med and law school. the med/law students had just as much fun as the engineering students.
this is truly a measure of what you want to do and what is in your heart.
oddly enough, when i was preparing for the move to my first professional employer, i found the results of my ACT exam. there was a question regarding when i would complete my studies. my response +7-yrs earlier happened to match exactly when i graduated. i was focused and determined at that time.
so, you have options available. seek a course of action and pursue it to the fullest extent possible.
wishing you good luck.

RE: [Canada] 33 year old ex-military thinking of taking mechanical engineering

I would recommend a BSME, given the extremely better job prospects and portability of experience and no questions about whether you're a "real" engineer.

I'm not sure why anyone WOULDN'T want to get paid to pursue one's hobby. That's what I basically have and I love all the things I get to do while being paid. It's hard to be passionate about something you're only doing because you're getting paid to do so; it stymies the creativity and makes it that much harder to excel at it.

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
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RE: [Canada] 33 year old ex-military thinking of taking mechanical engineering

I will admit (rarely on this forum) that I'm a technologist, and I do not have a degree. Notwithstanding, I have the highest accreditation possible in my province (Alberta) for a technologist, bridged that accreditation to Saskatchewan's association of professional engineers, and am currently chasing down a federal class of professional accreditation. So I'm not bragging when I say I can punch above my weight class. Don't let a prejudice (perceived or justified) make you reluctant to take a technologist's diploma. The way you use your education has a lot more effect on what you get out of it, than what it's intrinsically worth.

That said, if you can tough our a full 4-year program (or consider stretching it to 5 years and enroll at a university with co-op placements), then I still think you should do it. Just because I can do well with the education I have, doesn't mean it's as easy. Each of my career moves take an extra few years to complete. In the long run, I could be better with the degree (disregarding how different everything else in my life would be if I had).

Consider some recent big upsets in Canada's industries and how they will affect engineering jobs in the future:
-Refusals to invest in or approve passage of oil/gas pipelines, preventing growth of the energy industry,
-Closure of Oshawa's GM assembly plant,
-Sale of the Bombardier C-series to Airbus and the DHC-8 to Viking (based in Victoria; go figure),
-Trade tariff wars with the USA against... well, everyone in the world, it seems.
The list sounds depressing, but my point is that things change, and you should be adaptable. As much as possible. The Bachelor's degree is probably that - especially combined with your service experience and the many enrichment opportunities you will probably find at your chosen school. It sounds like you will bring a lot to our profession, so either way you choose, you will do us credit.

If UVic suits you, then it's OK, and close to home, but I suggest you can also use school as an opportunity to try establishing yourself in a city with more opportunities than Victoria. Where to go - I don't know what else to suggest unless you say what discipline interests you the most. I can only talk sensibly about aerospace, but being based in Calgary, I do see what's going on in the energy industry in general.

I meant to add an answer to your question 2) After some pointless wandering and failures after high school, I returned to college as a mature student and the experience was a great help. I'd been in the working world (not the same as your military service, of course) but I'd certainly been put in my place WITHOUT a post-secondary education. It was abundantly clear that without higher education I wouldn't get much out of life, and that was a STRONG motivating factor. Working for a few years also helped me pay for my schooling on my own (hence the technologist choice). It also made it easier for me to find odd jobs to do in my spare time while in college, which helped with spending money.

RE: [Canada] 33 year old ex-military thinking of taking mechanical engineering

Thinking on what Spar said, I think about you landing a job.

I can't say when I look thru job ads that I ever see any requests for "technologist". I only see "engineer" **. This makes me think it may be harder to snag a job because you may need to do a lot of talking to get the personnel department to understand your potential for a specific job ticket they're trying to fill. There's no doubt that someone with a technologist ticket couldn't do a particular job but I can easily see a company with an engineering position open and 10 engineer resumes in front of them, weeding out a technologist resume simply to cover their own butts.

** I'm in Silicon Valley, awash with engineers, so my perception my be a bit skewed.

Keith Cress
kcress - http://www.flaminsystems.com

RE: [Canada] 33 year old ex-military thinking of taking mechanical engineering

Getting the engineering degree will give you more options than a technology certificate. You can always be a 'hands on' engineer in a small company but you would find it harder to do engineering as a technologist in a larger company

RE: [Canada] 33 year old ex-military thinking of taking mechanical engineering

An engineering degree also gives you much more mobility, on average you will have the ability to meet the qualifications of many more job postings. I understand that sometimes the postings are just guidelines but with the way companies use computer screening for resumes if you don't have what they are looking for on your resume its much harder to get past the pre-screen without connections.

It would also open up avenues to work in the United States or other countries if you decide to pursue that route. As a Canadian you can qualify for a TN visa, which is much less onerous than an H1B visa, and what many Canadian engineers get hired under. Part of the process though is proving you have the qualifications and that includes providing your degree certificate at time of application. They are usually looking for an engineering degree. I cant say for sure, as there is a level of subjectivity in the process, but I have heard from other colleagues that a technologist degree does not meet the standard to qualify for the TN visa. Again this doesn't mean you cant get a job in the US with a technologist degree but it is definitely does not make it an easier process.

Lastly, if you are concerned about the ability to keep up with the program, I believe it would be an easier route to start with the engineering degree and then transfer to a technologist degree if you find you would prefer that, than it would be to go the other direction.

RE: [Canada] 33 year old ex-military thinking of taking mechanical engineering

I second SparWeb's suggestion of looking into a 5 year program with Co-Op work. My niece just graduated from such a program and she earned enough during the 6 month job stints to pay for a lot of her education & living expenses. Plus you get real work experience and if one or more of the work experiences goes well, possibly a guaranteed job after graduation.


The Help for this program was created in Windows Help format, which depends on a feature that isn't included in this version of Windows.

RE: [Canada] 33 year old ex-military thinking of taking mechanical engineering

Having no debt after "drifting around aimlessly" for 3 years is pretty amazing, and suggests that while you might me aimless you certainly aren't lost.

Have you looked carefully at exactly what your living expenses will be if you go to school? And what jobs are available that would cover those, and hopefully allow you to save a little too?

RE: [Canada] 33 year old ex-military thinking of taking mechanical engineering

Go for the BS degree. If unsuccessful, it's easier to fall back to a technology degree than to upgrade from a tech degree or certificate to a BS degree. Also, with a tech degree, you might spend your career wishing you had the BS degree and the probable higher salary. Good luck. You are not the first veteran to do this. You have a great start.


RE: [Canada] 33 year old ex-military thinking of taking mechanical engineering

Two pieces of advice:

1) Every technologist I have every met has a chip on their shoulder about the treatment they received at some point in their career because they weren't an engineer. In return for an extra year of training, I'd say go for the engineering degree and avoid disappointment.

2) Read this report and go into the supply side of the engineering labour market in Canada with wide open eyes or not at all.


Best of luck whatever you decide, and thanks for your service.

RE: [Canada] 33 year old ex-military thinking of taking mechanical engineering

When I got out in '78, I used my GI bill to take MBA and MPA courses over the next four years while I worked fulltime.

I already had my Engineering degree and EIT certificate before entering the service.

I limited my classes to two per quarter, or only about 6 to 8 hours per quarter. VA paid for all of my tuition and books, plus an extra non-taxable income benefit too.

Took longer than full time, but worked out well for me.

Mike McCann, PE, SE (WA)

RE: [Canada] 33 year old ex-military thinking of taking mechanical engineering

jpgbexplorer85, it can be done, I returned to college as a full-time student when I was 40, although I did transfer in 50 odd hours from part-time studies. I was most fortunate as my living expenses sere fairly modest (still kinda are) and I only had to complete 5 semesters to the BSME.

So, go for the degree as others have said, find co-op or intern work, your school should be able to help with this, and also with financial assistance. There is likely more out there than you'd think.

Good luck,


The problem with sloppy work is that the supply FAR EXCEEDS the demand

RE: [Canada] 33 year old ex-military thinking of taking mechanical engineering

The attachment in moltenmetals last post makes interesting , highly relevant reading. This is a bit of a hobbyhorse for him, no disrespect intended. He is based in eastern Canada and altho they are now 4 years old , the statistics make grim reading if one is proposing to enter the engineering profession. I am based in western Canada and over my career I have never been exposed to the harsh market economy described in this article. However I must admit that opportunities in Western Canada are much less today than even 5-7 years ago.

I have noted over the years that USA engineers tend to have somewhat lower salaries than I have become accustomed to. The article strongly suggests that local immigration plays a big role in the levels of un or under employment.

I suggest the OP needs to take all advice offered by US citizens with a pinch of salt. It seems that local conditions play a huge factor here. Additionally I think those of us who got our education 30-40 years ago are, somewhat unfamiliar with present day conditions in the market place for new grads.

RE: [Canada] 33 year old ex-military thinking of taking mechanical engineering

Thanks so much for the feedback folks! I will address each one of your responses separately.


I agree with you 100% about getting off the island. As nice as it is here, I know it isn't the best place for someone starting out. I have thought about returning to Ontario since that is where most of my family is. But I am open to living in other regions as well.

When I was in the Navy, my primary trade was "Weapons Engineering Technician" (Weng). I was a junior tech working under journeymen. I originally enlisted as a Naval Weapons Tech (armament). The armament, sonar, radar, fire control, and navigation departments then got combined under one umbrella to solve staffing issues. So I got exposure to preventative and corrective maintenance on electronic and mechanical systems.

I also had a secondary duty where I was a qualified duty watchkeeper in the engine spaces. I worked a few shifts a month doing this. I sat at the control room monitoring/controlling all the life safety and environmental systems on board (emergency generators, fire fighting systems, fuel pumps, switchboards, low/high pressure air, valves, chillers, etc). I did this remotely at the computer as well as locally. I guess this would be the equivalent to what a 4th or 5th class plant/building operator would do. I did not do maintenance on these systems (that was the job of the marine engineering techs).

Hopefully that gives you an idea what I did. I did some other odd jobs as well but those were the bread and butter tasks. I wore a lot of different hats.


I don't mind desk work, but I would like to have opportunities to get out of the office and into the field/shop. I am fairly active and like to be moving around doing different tasks. I don't mind travelling on occasion to various locations. However, I would like to setup a home base somewhere. It is hard for me to see that far ahead because I have no idea how things will actually turn out. But that a vague idea of what I am looking for.

I think the big thing that I am looking for is working stable hours. I have worked a lot of jobs (military included) where I do rotating shiftwork, split shifts, overnights, etc. I have done my fair share of that kind of stuff. I would like to get away from this and be in a position where I can plan things and have a life outside of work. I would much rather spend a long day in the office/field helping to wrap up a project than shifting back and forth between working days/evenings/overnights.


I haven't written off trades just yet. If I was going to pick a trade, I think I am leaning towards one of the mechanical trades at this point. As I explained to oldestguy above, I have done all kinds of shift work over the last 10 years. I would like to move away from that into more stable working hours. I know I wouldn't really have a choice in this if I took up a trade. Then there is the issue of union vs non-union shops. If I took up a trade I would like to have some mobility. I don't want someone telling me who I can/can't work for. I actually considered doing electrican when I first got out. However, I found out that the local community college had a two year waiting list for the foundations program. Not only that, but I talked with a BC Hydro union shop and they were saying that there were a lot of qualified electricians looking for work. He recommended looking elsewhere. The Alberta oil market tanked soon after I got out. Supposedly there were a lot of unemployed trades looking for work. I am not sure what the situation looks like now though.

In the Navy, I mainly learned how to troubleshoot electronic and mechanical equipment. I also learned how to do this stuff safely as well (lockout/tagout, radhaz awareness, etc). Starting with checking the easy/cheap things and moving along a schematic to the more difficult/expensive repairs if necessary. I was able to do this to the circuit board level. We would swap out a circuit board and then send it back to the fleet maintenance facility for deeper fault finding. So I learned to read schematics and also how to navigate through equipment pubs. I also learned that you can't always shut down equipment whenever you want. Sometimes we had to hold off on maintenance work to prevent disruptions in critical operations. So not only did I learn about maintenance, but I also learned about how doing something would affect someone else down the line.

What province would I like to settle in? Well most of my family is in Ontario so I have given serious consideration to that. However, I am not opposed to working in other areas. The nice thing about Ontario is that the great lakes are there. Being near water would be nice since scuba diving is one of my hobbies. At the very least, I would want to be on mainland Canada lol Doing that would help with living expenses.


Thanks for the good luck! I can see myself doing something similar to what you did. One thing I like about ME and other traditional engineering fields is how they are not too specialized. It is nice to know that I have options and that there is more than one way to skin a cat. What did you do for work while you were studying? Were your employers accommodating when it came to your school schedule?


Yes I am kind of leaning toward ME. I like how broad that field is as well as the subject matter. When I was starting out in the Navy, I took a two year "Electro-Mechanical Engineering Technician" diploma program at Marine Institute in Newfoundland (an offshoot school of Memorial University). When I was there, I took courses on materials, fluid mechanics, strength of materials, pneumatics, hydraulics, machine design, etc. I found those courses more interesting than the electronics stuff. I was able to get through the electronics courses. However, it took a lot more effort to wrap my head around the advanced electronics theory.

As far as getting paid to do one of my hobbies, I have heard two schools of thought on this. The first one is that if you choose to do a hobby as a career, you might end up hating it because it is an obligation and you are not working on your own projects anymore. For example, I love classic cars/trucks/boats. If I became an auto mechanic to work on cars, I would be less inclined to work on my own ride in the evening because I have been doing that all day long already. So for this reason, the argument is that is better to keep career and hobbies separate. The other school of thought is to do what you love so that it never feels like work.

I feel both arguments are valid to an extent. By figuring out the aspects I like about each of my hobbies, I am trying to create a middle ground.


I agree with you on being as adaptable as possible. Relocation is another thing that I have given serious consideration. You are right about Victoria being career-limiting. Should I go for the degree, I think relocating to the mainland would help a lot when it comes to the cost of living aspect as well.

As far as which discpline, I am not 100% sure on this. I am leaning toward ME a bit. CE would probably be my second choice. So I am not sure what regions would be best suited for those two fields. When I was doing my initial training, I found the fluid mechanics, materials, and mechanics courses more interesting. The electronics/networking stuff took a lot more effort for me to wrap my head around.

Camosun College in Victoria has a bridging program where I could take the first/second year courses there. Then I would be able to transfer to the 3rd year engineering program at UVic. But again, the big issue with this is cost-of-living.

I think going to the degree would be the better route (with co-op experience).


I think technologists might be more common in Canada. There were a couple of technologist positions I applied for at Nav Canada a year ago. I recently looked at a technologist job up north that involving city planning (civil?). So they are out there. Like you however, I also see more positions requiring an engineering degree of some form.

Also, I would prefer to avoid being in the situation where my education comes under more scrutiny. It seems that having an engineering degree helps to avoid a lot of that nonsense.


That is another thing I observed on here as well. The consensus seems to be that working for a smaller firm gives you a chance to do more hands-on work and wear different hats. I have read that if you try to do this in a bigger company, you run the risk of being pigeonholed as a technician (even though you have the engineering degree).


Yes I have encountered a lot of those online screening programs when applying to jobs. I have never been able to get past those when applying for ANY position. You also brought up another good point about connections. Networking/connections is an area that I am really weak in right now.


Congrats to your niece on her graduation. That is great that her employers paid her well enough to fund her education and living expenses. I always thought that internships were unpaid experience. It would be awesome if I could find an opportunity like that. In either case, I agree that having a co-op term(s) in school would definitely be a deal breaker.


Thanks! I am in decent shape financially and have some money put away for rainy days. I give my parents credit for this. Even though we don't agree on some things, they did a good job drilling good money management into my head lol

If I stayed in Victoria, I would be okay if I made at least 1500/month. That figure includes a bit of a cushion on top of the expenses. I am not sure what this figure would be if I relocated elsewhere. The trick would be finding a part-time job that would cover that while I am in school. The wage would have to be pretty high for it to work (when deductions are factored in). Victoria seems to be cliquey in that if you want anything better than sustenance wage, you have to be really well connected.


Yes M_S said the same thing about it being easier to fall back from engineering to technologist than the other way around. It makes a lot of sense.

RE: [Canada] 33 year old ex-military thinking of taking mechanical engineering

I'll come back to respond to more posts later after reading that pub in moltenmetal's last post.

RE: [Canada] 33 year old ex-military thinking of taking mechanical engineering

miningman: a bit of a "hobby horse" for me because I am included in its list of authors. It took nearly a decade of fighting to get that report written- nobody wanted to hear what the data was telling us, engineers themselves least of all. Shh, readers please avoiding adding 2+2 and keep moltenmetal's secret identity secret, will you?

RE: [Canada] 33 year old ex-military thinking of taking mechanical engineering

My $0.025 having been down a similar path but stateside.

I grew up in several successful family trades-businesses, served 18-24 active duty US Army as a vehicle mechanic & fabricator, a year of reserve duty my first year of college and was out at 25 with a stack of trade certifications and experience. I then graduated a year early with a BSMET & 160 credits (poor scheduling on the school's part prevented a <3 year graduation). To be blunt - I work hard, am pretty good at automotive mechanical design, and a decade later I'm in the top 10% of ASME incomes and have corporate recruiters chasing me. That said, I have considered going full time with some of the fabrication and repair work that I've always done on the side. While working for someone else in the trades would be a step backward in terms of income, I have spent the last decade working as hard as a small business owner and have known more trades-business owners with massive success than I have owners of engineering firms. While I truly love design engineering and particularly the automotive industry, I'd be remiss if I said it was an easy 9-5 job. In reality its more of a lifestyle than an occupation with an ever increasing number of after-hours emergencies, global meetings, travel, and research/reading requiring extra work for no reward as you move up through the ranks at most companies. Outside of the construction/CE world which doesn't pay MEs too well, its also a very urban-centric career, and industries tend to be very regional. It also doesn't have the greatest job security like many others today, so plan to be laid off at inopportune times. Personally I would recommend evaluating your desired lifestyle and location, and being realistic about your abilities. If you want to work for somebody else then no doubt an engineering degree brings in more income. If you can be successful as a business owner you'll do well regardless. If you want small town or rural living then mechanical engineering probably isn't for you.

Regarding a technology vs an engineering degree, my advice if pursuing an engineering career would be to pursue a bachelor's in either and complete it in the shortest time possible. The comparison in the OP seems to be a ASET/2year vs a BSME/4 comparison, and yes that is apples:oranges in terms of knowledge that fresh graduates have and thus, a big difference in terms of income and career growth as any AS vs BS comparison is. Regardless, IME a bachelor's is a bachelor's and the demonstrable ability, knowledge, and work ethic (graduate early!) of the individual make more of a difference than degree as the majority of the coursework is the same. If I had to give a slight advantage to one however, I would say that BSMETs typically make better engineers due to the additional required practical coursework in design and manufacturing, which is likely why we earn slightly more. No doubt there is some discrimination from folks not familiar with degree details, however those typically are the folks you don't want to work for regardless and either a MSME or PE are two easy ways around that issue.

RE: [Canada] 33 year old ex-military thinking of taking mechanical engineering

So I was read through the engineering labour market pub that moltenmetal posted yesterday. Definitely some grim reading for sure. Amazing that only a 1/3 of graduates actually end up working in engineering. This was published a few years ago. I imagine recent economic events and the Alberta oil market tanking haven't helped either. Considering those odds, I am wondering if going through all of this would be worth the effort.

What I am inferring from everyone is that:

1) If I do choose to pursue engineering, I would be better off going for the degree. If things don't work out, it is easier to fall back to the technologist diploma.

2) Regardless of what I do, I should find a school that has co-op/intern/work term included in the program. In a way I have some work experience already (military), but I am sure more wouldn't hurt.

3) M_N talked about the TN visa that engineering graduates qualify for. Knowing this and the odds of finding work in Ontario (or Canada for that matter), it sounds like I should be open to travelling outside of Canada in order to find work.

RE: [Canada] 33 year old ex-military thinking of taking mechanical engineering

Speaking as (maybe) the only technologist in the responses so far, here's a word in favour for it:

Some employers want to hire a technician to do work well above the traditional education and knowledge of most technicians. That is because they want to pay a technician's wages, and somehow get an engineer's knowledge in the same person. So I'm pretty keenly aware that I've been a bargain for my previous employers, and only as I approach 20 years experience do I dare raise my elbows in the corners to compete with the P.Eng's on salary. I know where my "value equation" lies.

I made the salary differential work in my favour, getting the gritty work while I was young and fooling enough to believe this was normal, and paid very little for unparalleled experience among the other graduates of my class (save one). I didn't start work at an isolated corporate office tower, but rather at a prototype shop with some desks and computers and a shoe-string budget. I was regularly kicked out the door to deal with issues in aircraft hangars all across the province (Alberta), and learned as much from people in the field as I did from my mentor at the home office. If I had been put into the same environment with a Bachelor's degree, rather than a technology diploma, I would have:
- known less of the skills needed to interact intelligently with the customers,
- known none of the safety regulations that determine so many decisions aero engineers make,
- had a managerial pretense completely inappropriate for a new-hire in a sole-proprietor business.

Judging by what you have written so far, jpgbexplorer85, it sounds like that has some appeal to you. However, a word of caution. Some of the advice you've been getting is that you could always try a tech diploma after getting the degree first. Baloney. You already have the technologist's experience. And your years of service record prove it. What good would another piece of paper be proving it again? You've done the gritty work. Now profit from it. You have the opportunity to boost your personal "value equation".

That's why I recommended the BS over the diploma. Not because I think the diploma isn't good. But because you don't need it! I think your experience sounds like the perfect complement to any Bachelor's you choose to get, putting you miles kilometers ahead of your classmates.

For all the Americans still reading, consider this: The director of the engineering department where I work is a technologist, among other things.
Who's got the land of opportunity for people with skill and can-do attitude now, eh?

No one believes the theory except the one who developed it. Everyone believes the experiment except the one who ran it.

RE: [Canada] 33 year old ex-military thinking of taking mechanical engineering

With some of the colleges in BC transitioning into universities, there are some interesting programs. For instance, if you go to BCIT they offer both two year mechanical diplomas and a four year degree with the first year being completely common between the two. You can pick what you want to do after that first year. If you go that route, you can get a foot in a door and a feel for things before you really need to decide.


A number of colleges also have transfer agreements with UVic, UBC and SFU, where they offer a set of first year fully transferrable courses. What happens if you decide not to transfer varies between schools, but there's generally a certificate or transfer into a diploma program

RE: [Canada] 33 year old ex-military thinking of taking mechanical engineering


For all the Americans still reading, consider this: The director of the engineering department where I work is a technologist, among other things.
Who's got the land of opportunity for people with skill and can-do attitude now, eh?

For the sake of grins, I'd remind America's northern suburbs of your monarchy....and the letter B. :P

Seriously though, what you're describing is actually pretty common here stateside in product development & manufacturing, especially at smaller companies where work tends to be awarded to "those who can" rather than based on who went where. At the mega corps there are a few folks without degrees or with a 2-year at high levels within engineering but they're pretty rare, not uncommon at all to see them among the lower ranks however. More commonly, large companies will have folks in engineering roles that don't match their degree. Personally, I know quite a few BS computer sci/comp eng, physics, math, and "other" degrees that worked their way up as MEs or EEs through on-the-job learning, eventually moving into VP-eng and chief engineer roles. The disconnect between reality and the old, bad perception that folks need an engineering degree to be a successful engineer is actually a major criticism of engineering licensure stateside, many believe its discriminatory against good engineers while not being discriminatory enough against the bad.

RE: [Canada] 33 year old ex-military thinking of taking mechanical engineering

Hey, why not go the BCIT route. That would enable you to at least get a Diploma of Technology in two years. After that you can decide whether or not to pursue a B.Eng., or carry on working. I know since that is what I did, although at the time I had to travel to Ontario to obtain my B.Eng. BCIT is an excellent school, and now that they offer a B.Eng. program, to complement their DoT programs, it's a no brainer. I know of many young engineers, that I currently work with, that went down the BCIT path.

"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931)

RE: [Canada] 33 year old ex-military thinking of taking mechanical engineering


I understand what you are saying. The technologist route allowed you to become more intimately familiar with the equipment in addition to all the little details. If you had started out as an engineer, you would have missed out on this (or it would have taken a lot longer to pick up on it). In my case I don't have a civilian technologist credential, but have similar work experience. Your point is that getting a civilian technologist diploma is not necessarily an upgrade in my situation.


Yes I have looked into some of those programs. I talked with an academic advisor at UVic last February about this.

Camosun College has a bridging program that would allow me to transfer into third year engineering. However, I would have to complete the two year technology diploma first. Then the bridging program is another two semesters.

The BCIT route you showed appears to be a much simpler way to go. I have read that there can be some disparity with the level of material taught in these bridging programs. For example: I have read that the calculus courses taught at the community college level aren't always up to par with the university. So what ends up happening is that the community college students don't have the same foundation that the first/second year students have. Whereas BCIT has a streamlined pathway for the diploma and degree under one roof. That seems to be a much better deal.


I am sure anyone with a STEM degree would be capable of taking on a specific engineering role if they took the time to learn the specific engineering skills required for the job. What happens if that person wants to move to a different company? Would that person still be hired as an engineer even though he/she doesn't have the formal engineering credentials?


As I explained to TLHS above, I like how BCIT has a streamlined engineering degree/diploma program.

Did you finish the diploma at BCIT first and then transfer all your credits to Ontario? What school did you get your B.Eng at?

RE: [Canada] 33 year old ex-military thinking of taking mechanical engineering


I am sure anyone with a STEM degree would be capable of taking on a specific engineering role if they took the time to learn the specific engineering skills required for the job. What happens if that person wants to move to a different company? Would that person still be hired as an engineer even though he/she doesn't have the formal engineering credentials?

<Insert reminder that I'm stateside here>

Experiences will vary based on the position, manager, and candidate's qualifications. IME however, I would not doubt someone's ability to find a position in a similar role as what they've held at other companies as managers are typically more interested in past results and experience than they are degrees. If someone regularly earns patents or publishes papers and regularly holds key roles in big projects then I'd say they could go anywhere and do most anything regardless of education. OTOH, even highly educated folks with mediocre results and no patents/papers seem to struggle everywhere.

RE: [Canada] 33 year old ex-military thinking of taking mechanical engineering

Howdy jpgbexplorer85,

Yes, I completed the 2 year DoT program at BCIT, and then worked for 6 years until I went back to Lakehead University (LU) to complete my BEng. The BEng program was five semesters (2.5 years), incluidng an 'optional' summer school introduction program. I was 29 years old when I graduated from LU.
Was it worth it? I'd say YES!

"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931)

RE: [Canada] 33 year old ex-military thinking of taking mechanical engineering

Thank you again to everyone who contributed! You all have been a huge help. I think mechanical engineering is the route I would like to take. Right now I am researching the various schools in Canada to see which one would fit my needs the best. Likewise, I need to get the financial side of things figured out too.

When I told a friend about what I was intending to do, he seemed to think that going to school full-time would end up costing less in the long run. My friend earned his degree part-time years ago. He said the part-time route ended up being more expensive for him. I kind of see how that can happen since you are dragging things out a lot longer. But the flip side is that I would at least have money coming in doing part-time. If I went the full-time route, that would be 3-4 years without any money coming in. So far BCIT is the only school I have seen that offers anything close to a part-time degree program (B.Tech w/ Manufacturing Concentration). However, this program isn't taking new admissions and is under review (whatever that means?).

RE: [Canada] 33 year old ex-military thinking of taking mechanical engineering

An alternative route into engineeringn is to by way of mechanical design. Get the two-year paper and get CAD-savvy, and you can start working in the industry, gain experience, and probably make better money.

You can do this in the US. Not sure if it can happen up north.

Also takes some discipline to not get distracted by half a career and go all the way.

RE: [Canada] 33 year old ex-military thinking of taking mechanical engineering


I am working on getting some more experience with AutoCAD. I took a one month intro drafting/AutoCAD course this summer. The manual drafting was pretty interesting too (definitely an exercise in patience though). At this point, I am not sure if taking the other AutoCAD courses is worth it if I intend to go back to school anyway. Then I ran across these threads:



So I think I am going to buy Ellen Finkelstein's tutorial book and learn it on my own.

RE: [Canada] 33 year old ex-military thinking of taking mechanical engineering

AutoCAD will pretty much tie you to civil and structural. If you want to do product or machine design, you need to get parametric 3D (SolidWorks, Creo, etc.) But any start is better than none.

Remember CAD is just the tool. Knowledge about manufacturing and design and the ability to coherently communicate design knowledge are what makes a designer.

RE: [Canada] 33 year old ex-military thinking of taking mechanical engineering

Like Sparweb I graduated from a three year diploma (!). Why did I do that? Seemed like a good idea at the time. I was poor and recognized that I maybe wasn't the most motivated student to be spending years on campus. I wanted to get into a job ASAP. If you go the college route, you'll probably see in about equal measures those that are a) not really university material; b) poor & looking to minimize debt; c) second chance students w/ smarts & some university; and d) some combination of the above.

I leveraged some existing education & studied distance ed for the rest of the first year so I graduated after just four semesters on campus.

I looked at the Camoson bridge program. Instead I opted to challenge the P.Eng. examinations through the provincial association. I'm past that now (P. Eng. pending) but it was challenging to fit into my life.

The (accredited) BCIT programs have looked great. The legacy of teaching techs & technologists hopefully means these programs start from experiential as compared to most universities which start from fundamentals of physics. If you want become a P.Eng. eventually but would like to take your education in shorter chunks with some work experience - this seems right to me.

Note that if you get the bug for a masters degree, you may find a barrier with a degree from a polytechnic school. Even if it doesn't interest you now, ask them what you should expect.

RE: [Canada] 33 year old ex-military thinking of taking mechanical engineering


I was a US Air Force Electronic Warfare technician then left and joined a defense firm where I worked my way up from technician to software engineer to digital engineer to engineering management to systems engineer. In the end, I was leading concept development, proposal preparation, and R&D program execution of advanced multi-function systems encompassing radar, EW, and communications for airborne platforms. I retired comfortably at age 55 as an Engineering Fellow, the top rank of engineers in the firm, with several patentable trade secrets to my credit and a salary well above the average for a CEO in the US. To accomplish this, I followed a continual program of self directed study.

I was constantly learning on my own via college classes, the internet, and personal investments in tools and equipment to develop new skills as I needed them, but I never did finish a college degree. I took a lot of flack early in my career for not having the degree, but was able to silence every request I get the degree by asking whether the company would prefer I continue working all the overtime I was known for or have me go part time so I could attend school. They always answered "well, we can't afford to lose you right now, maybe later." Eventually, not having a degree *benefitted* my career in two ways... 1) I always had a different perspective on challenges and solutions because I didn't follow the same course of study as most engineers and 2) everyone eventually decided I *must* be some sort of genius for accomplishing what I did with no formal degree (I always chuckled at this view because, in my mind, it was rooted in the false belief that the *only* way to learn was by listening to a professor lecture).

I mentioned earlier that a key aspect of my career was my own investment in the tools and equipment I needed to gain new skills. I bought a computer well before it was common and taught myself programming. I spent thousands on another computer that had the same processor as a key piece of equipment, wrote a Forth system on that computer, then ported it onto the equipment and wrote all the test software used for test and sell-off of the gear. I repeated this scenario several times to learn digital design, FPGA design, Digital Signal Processing, ADC/DAC and digital receiver design, and so forth. This experience leads to the main reason I decided to respond here.

Since I retired I've taken up design and development of a new patent pending engine architecture. My current efforts would not be possible without access to 3D CAD and simulation tools encompassing FEA and CFD. Professional tools of this type normally cost a *lot* of money (on the order of thousands per year), and that was far outside my budget. I discovered while searching, however, that one of the premier products, Solidworks, was available at enormous discount to veterans of the US and Canadian armed forces. I now pay $20 per year for Solidworks Professional with every tool they offer in the package.

Having access to Solidworks Professional for $20 a year has allowed me to become fluent in mechanical design... I started in 3D CAD, of course, then moved into FEA under temperature, and am now doing air flow, high pressure fuel injection, and heat transfer using CFD. The tools combined with a *lot* of internet research into mechanical engineering topics have been my classroom.

I highly recommend any veteran thinking of entering Mechanical Engineering take advantage of the Solidworks veterans program. One could easily imaging starting as a drafter entering and maintaining designs for others in 3D CAD while working up the skill ladder by learning to use the other tools. Combine this with some mentoring from fellow engineers in exchange for doing their grunt work, and a solid education can be had without having to suffer poverty.

Good luck in your new career!

Solidworks Veterans Program: www.solidworks.com/sites/default/files/2018-01/EDU...
Free Training for Veterans: www.cati.com/solidworks-training/free-solidworks-t...

RE: [Canada] 33 year old ex-military thinking of taking mechanical engineering

RodRico, that's awesome!

However, I don't know whether you're the exception that proves the rule, but there are others who, likewise, don't have degrees, and are stuck in some sot of limbo. One guy couldn't move from his existing company, that accepted him, to any other company, because of the lack of a degree.

Another interviewee could only trot out a stack of certificates, awards, etc., showing the extra work he had done, but he had trouble figuring out some pretty basic things, so we passed.

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
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RE: [Canada] 33 year old ex-military thinking of taking mechanical engineering


Indeed, my experience is not the safest or most assured path to a successful career. Job mobility can be a challenge, but in my case, I worked in a small specialized community serving a small number of deep-pocket customers who gave me recommendations as I changed companies. I was rather surprised at the number of consulting firms that contacted me on retirement saying their customers suggested they call me.

If at all possible, folks who want to enter engineering should get an accredited degree from a respected institution. I sent my son to Cal Poly SLO for his ME degree, for example. Like me, however, he's an autodidact with ability crossing many disciplines and is well known in the community of Silicon Valley start-ups. His reputation is his ticket; his degree is just an administrative box check at this point. Given the preponderance of on-line open courseware, I'm sure there's an increasing number of people like myself out there, and it requires only a shortage of candidates with paper credentials (as we suffer today) before employers open their minds.

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