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Questions about an engineering career
4

Questions about an engineering career

Questions about an engineering career

(OP)
Hello,

I'm considering going to school to study engineering. I've done quantitative research on things like salary, job outlook, educational requirements, etc. However, I still have questions of a more qualitative nature that I would like to ask of actual engineers:

  • Beyond having good math skills, what kind of person makes a good engineer? And what are some attributes of someone who is not suited for the profession?
  • If you go into an engineering specialty, are you locked into that field or is it reasonably easy to switch fields? For example, I'm considering biomedical engineering as a field of study. If I turn out to hate it, would I be able to find work elsewhere?
  • If I study something general like ME, will I still be competitive for specialized jobs in, for example, biomedical or aerospace engineering?
  • What does work-life balance look like for most engineers in the U.S.? Are long hours frequently required? Does work tend to follow you home?
  • How much control do you have over your work? Are you frequently making executive decisions and seeing projects through from start to finish?
  • How can I find more engineers to talk to, or otherwise gain more insight into engineering as a field?

RE: Questions about an engineering career

lining up numbered items below with your bullets:
1) good problem solving skills; good study skills and willingness to keep learning; can make a decision (and know when you don't have enough info to make a decision); hands on experience with mechanical/electrical systems; can write a coherent report.
2) early in career relatively easy to move into adjacent fields (would be hard to move from Petroleum Eng to Electrical Eng for example)
3) an ME degree is the broadest one; going into aerospace should be no problem; for biomed might need to pick up some specialty courses or get an MS degree
4) work/life balance greatly depends on the field and type of engineering. long hours can be expected at some times, should not be every week/month/year, unless you are at a startup type company (at which you should have stock options to make up for it). lol, many engineers now work from home; yes with cell phones work often follows one home; a lot depends on the particular job.
5) control again largely depends on the particular company and job. at small companies one often has more responsibility over a larger portion of a project, as opposed to being at a auto or aircraft company where you are part of a large team. Executive decision?? likely not until you have a lot of experience.
6) if you want to talk to engineers in person, look for local engineering society meetings.

last thought - with an engineering degree you can do almost anything you want; many engineers go into different fields - sales, law, medicine, finance, etc.

RE: Questions about an engineering career

Some additions to SWC's list
1> Beyond writing a good report: good communications skills both at the interpersonal and group levels. Sometimes, this can trump faults in the actual engineering stuffB
2> Assuming getting a BS, it might be worthwhile staying a bit more general or pursuing a minor. If you know the basics of the discipline, there are likely spots for you in a lot more companies
3> Alternately, consider internship, since you'll likely need 3 summer internships to rock your resume, so you can hopefully get some idea of what various options look like and feel like before you commit to your first official job. Internships have become increasingly more important, with many people getting their first jobs directly as a consequence of their internships. Note that many internships are considered by companies as a 3-month job interview, but you also look on it as an extended company tour and "company interview" that you wouldn't get with a 1-day job interview senior year.
4> Work/life balance is also VERY company dependent; Elon Musk has made it clear that he expects WAY more than "just" 40 hr per week of work, and certainly, places like Amazon, both at the hourly and engineer level, is a sweat shop.
6> Again, internships can get you a more in-depth view of at least 3 companies and you'll see what's said and what's not said.

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: Questions about an engineering career

Some more additions to the "list":
1 - the ability to differentiate between the (personal) need to express creativity and the (professional) need to follow accepted practice, AND the ability to know when one trumps the other. How much / how often this kind of differentiation comes up is company (size) dependent, but also industry (application) dependent and whether the position is process (manufacturing) or research oriented.
2 - the basic engineering traits (attention to detail, problem-solving, communicating, the ability to research a method or solution, the ability to decide on a path and take it, the ability to develop a network of "sources", etc.) is common to all Bachelor-level engineering disciplines. As the education and/or experience level increases, the ability to transfer the "complete package" of knowledge and experience becomes somewhat less possible. By the time you've finished your first degree (bachelor's) program, you'll still be reasonably capable at entry level positions in other areas - including non-engineering fields.
3 - "specialized" (and even most non-specialized) areas are generally a composite of other engineering disciplines. Remember - nothing exists in a vacuum. If you're going to truly understand mechanical engineering, you're also going to have to understand something about chemistry, physics, electrical engineering, civil engineering, and probably biology (think human-machine interface, or ease-of-manufacture). The same holds true in most cases - as an EE myself, I have had to develop ME skills and knowledge to enable me to actually build my equipment. Using internships is a good way to develop both engineering knowledge (in a practical sense) and the "soft" skills required in general for the workforce after school. Plus, you get an extended look at a company (or maybe more than one, depending on what the internship scope entails).
4 - work/life balance has always been about you deciding for yourself what is most important to you AT THE MOMENT. Note that what is important can (and often does) change over the course of your work career, as other factors (such as age, marital status, health, compensation, etc.) come into play. For engineers specifically, though, the key factors determining that balance are: a) the company size and b) whether the position is research-oriented or manufacturing-oriented, or even whether the job is an "office" or "field" one. Certain industries are more prone to long hours and "bringing the job home", but some of it is your personality too. Do you get upset when you call for help and the answer comes back "thanks for your call, but our office hours are Monday to Thursday, 9 AM to 4 PM in some other time zone"? Would you go the extra bit to make sure that someone wouldn't be left hanging over a long weekend?
5 - this again comes back in part to company size. Larger entities spread responsibility over a larger group of engineers, so the chances of "executive" decision making is reduced. Smaller companies? You may be the only engineering voice, with commensurate responsibility for projects (whether you wanted them or not). In my experience (which could be a bit unusual in today's world) seeing a project to completion has been important to me personally, so I have tended to keep my finger on each one, officially or unofficially. For the most part, it hasn't had to be "unofficial", though.
6 - every engineering discipline has local "chapters" or sections, find the one near you and start talking to others there. Expand to industry gatherings (more specifically, technical conferences rather than trade shows). Get involved in your field's (or industry's) standards development (IEEE, IEC, ASME, AIST, NFPA, API, NEMA, NEC, CSA, etc.).

If you're really at odds whether to be an engineer or not, I suggest you read Rudyard Kipling's Sons of Martha and Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken. Then really think about how those poems speak to you - and who you want to be.

Converting energy to motion for more than half a century

RE: Questions about an engineering career

I would suggest that if you're questioning yourself like this, then maybe Engineering isn't meant for you. To me, at least, Engineering is a vocation, to work in my field I left home after uni and moved 1/2 way round the world for work. And I have been incredibly lucky, others might say "blessed", in the opportunities and career I've had.

Your personal skills, the hours you work, the money you make, should all (IMHO) be very secondary to "I want to be an Engineer".

There is some merit in asking which field, what level of education but I doubt you'll find a comprehensive answer (nor a correct answer for your specific situation and direction) here (or maybe anywhere). There is no "right" field (one of the better guys I've worked with in my field had a Civil Eng'g degree) ... there are advantages to generalised degrees, and different advantages to specialised degrees.

There's no point (again, IMHO) to asking about work/life balance (it is what you make of it, and sometimes it'll suck), or salaries, or control over your work life ... all we can post (again, IMHO) are generalisations from our experiences that may have no bearing on you or your career.

"Hoffen wir mal, dass alles gut geht !"
General Paulus, Nov 1942, outside Stalingrad after the launch of Operation Uranus.

RE: Questions about an engineering career

Hi,
I second rb1957,
Engineering is about hard work, long hours, especially when you work on Projects or Operation abroad.
Very demanding job.
Based on 20 years+ working experience in Asia and Austral Asia.
Pierre

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