×
INTELLIGENT WORK FORUMS
FOR ENGINEERING PROFESSIONALS

Log In

Come Join Us!

Are you an
Engineering professional?
Join Eng-Tips Forums!
  • Talk With Other Members
  • Be Notified Of Responses
    To Your Posts
  • Keyword Search
  • One-Click Access To Your
    Favorite Forums
  • Automated Signatures
    On Your Posts
  • Best Of All, It's Free!
  • Students Click Here

*Eng-Tips's functionality depends on members receiving e-mail. By joining you are opting in to receive e-mail.

Posting Guidelines

Promoting, selling, recruiting, coursework and thesis posting is forbidden.

Students Click Here

At a crossroads and would appreciate advice

At a crossroads and would appreciate advice

At a crossroads and would appreciate advice

(OP)
I am an engineer with 9 years’ experience all at a large defense contractor. My career moved in the direction of increasing technical depth until about a year and a half ago. At that point, I took on a role where I was part-time technical and part-time in an interfacing with the customer role. The interfacing role was a good opportunity that brought a lot of visibility, but I found that it was quickly eclipsing all of my technical work, and I became worried that my technical skills were going to stagnate.

Nine months into that role, an unsolicited opportunity came along to work directly for one of the company directors in a temporary position as a project lead. I turned down the position at first, but was encouraged by my management to take it (once in a lifetime opportunity, etc). I have been in that role for the past nine months. I have seen this position as an opportunity to experience the management track, and ultimately choose between management and technical.

The project I am working on has been very successful – when I came on, the customer listed it as their number 1 concern. A few weeks ago, I presented our current progress and the presentation was received very favorably. The customer responded that they are no longer concerned with the project, and are highly pleased with our progress. Because of this, doors are starting to open for me. My boss recently told me that he sees me as just about ready for a position which would be a 3 salary grade promotion (raise of about $50k). This is a company at which raises are painfully low (good raises are 3%). I would likely be the youngest employee in that position across the entire company.

However… I look around at all of the other people in that position at the company, and they are running ragged. Their health is failing, they are repeatedly cancelling family vacations to accommodate their work schedule, they are managing in constant crisis mode, they are losing people left and right and they aren’t really empowered to keep people. I see these things, and it makes me want to return to a technical path. Sure, I won’t make as much money, but that honestly is not high on my list of most important things for job satisfaction. The three things at the top of the list for me are (not in order) 1. I need to respect and have a good relationship with my direct boss, 2. the work has to be interesting, 3. reasonable work life balance (I am ok with occasionally working like a dog, but don’t want that to be the norm).

I recently found out about an opportunity to pursue a PhD while working. I would have to go part-time, and the school would make up some of the salary difference. Overall, I would lose about 30k for each year I go part-time. I would probably go a maximum of 3 years part-time, which would mean I would lose about 100k. I might make up some of that with better raises over the years, but the reality is that getting a PhD would never really pay off. The benefit though would be that I would then have full control (from what I see of other PhDs at the company) over my work. I would essentially be allowed to continue my research while working at the company. Because my work would be so far removed from actual production, schedules wouldn’t really be much of a factor. As a result, I would be able to work 40 hr weeks. The biggest downside here is that I am married and have three kids. I am trying to feel out from others who got a PhD while working at my company whether they were able to maintain a reasonable work life balance, and the answers have not been encouraging.

Anyways, I’m at a pretty major career and life altering cross-roads. Every possible path I take will have downsides. I figured I’d lay it all out in front of the good people at eng-tips.com and see what responses I get. Any and all thoughts are much appreciated.

RE: At a crossroads and would appreciate advice

Personally I'd make the leap. You're still early in your career, at your first employer, and in the best economy in decades. If it works out then your career may be set. OTOH worst case scenario, if you end up hating the promotion and cannot voluntarily step back then find another employer. As to pursuing the Phd, I've never hesitated to pursue education nor regretted it but I also wouldn't assume any change in status or your working environment bc of it. Typically research is where the budgets and timelines are the worst, its the first thing cut in any downturn so you're constantly rushing to spend money while you have it then twiddling the thumbs when you don't. You're also typically expected to travel several months every year between conferences and supplier collaboration, BTDT and would recommend keeping a product-design role if your aim is 40 hours.

RE: At a crossroads and would appreciate advice

(OP)
Thanks for the input. The trouble that I see with considering finding another employer to be an option if management doesn't work out is that I assume (could be totally wrong here) that it is easier to find another job if you are an engineer with clearly marketable skills than if you spent the last 5 years in management. My impression is that most companies want to hire management from within.

I agree that a PhD wouldn't change my status. It would change my environment in the sense that I would move from a department that is very close to production to a department that is very far from production (more research focused). In this company, the closer you are to production, the more the company "owns" you and your time.

I would also be transitioning from a product which has spent the last 15 years being designed, and is just now being built, to a product which is in the very initial stages of design. I find that early in the design stages, schedules are a lot more squishy, and there is much more money to be spent on research.

As far as work-life balance goes, before I had kids, I was fine with working a lot of hours. Now that I have 3 young kids, late nights mean that I don't see them before they go to bed. I've found that 50 hours on a regular basis is doable, but once I'm hitting 55-60, I just don't see as much of my kids as I want to.

Of course, if the objective is to spend more time with my kids, getting a PhD probably isn't a great path...

RE: At a crossroads and would appreciate advice

Seems like there are really only 3 factors to consider.

raise of about $50k

I look around at all of the other people in that position at the company, and they are running ragged. Their health is failing, they are repeatedly cancelling family vacations to accommodate their work schedule, they are managing in constant crisis mode, they are losing people left and right and they aren’t really empowered to keep people

I just don't see as much of my kids as I want to.

How much is your personal destruction worth?

Red Flag This Post

Please let us know here why this post is inappropriate. Reasons such as off-topic, duplicates, flames, illegal, vulgar, or students posting their homework.

Red Flag Submitted

Thank you for helping keep Eng-Tips Forums free from inappropriate posts.
The Eng-Tips staff will check this out and take appropriate action.

Reply To This Thread

Posting in the Eng-Tips forums is a member-only feature.

Click Here to join Eng-Tips and talk with other members! Already a Member? Login


Resources

White Paper - Implementing a Multi-Domain System
IoT systems are multi-domain designs that often require AMS, Digital, RF, photonics and MEMS elements within the system. Tanner EDA provides an integrated, top-down design flow for IoT design that supports all these design domains. Learn more about key solutions that the Tanner design flow offers for successful IoT system design and verification. Download Now

Close Box

Join Eng-Tips® Today!

Join your peers on the Internet's largest technical engineering professional community.
It's easy to join and it's free.

Here's Why Members Love Eng-Tips Forums:

Register now while it's still free!

Already a member? Close this window and log in.

Join Us             Close