Should i go into engineering

Recently, I received a few emails asking whether getting a degree in engineering is a good idea. Okay, I have to say I am not comfortable giving career advice to students. I’m afraid I would steer them wrong and mess up their future! I’d rather give advice to people in their 20’s and 30’s who have a bit more life experience and can make their own decisions.

It seems a little ridiculous to expect an 18 year old student choose what they would like to do for the rest of their life. At that age, I didn’t know much about different careers. My parents had a restaurant and I knew that was a difficult business to be in. I knew that I’d prefer a white collar job rather than a blue collar job. My parents encouraged me to get into engineering and I thought why not.


I was fairly good at math and science so I was able to get into a computer engineering program.

Back in 1989, computers weren’t ubiquitous like they are today. They were ridiculously expensive for what they could do, too. I think we paid over $1,500 for a 386 desktop. I liked learning about the computer and fooling around on it, but I didn’t know much about the career side of it. I don’t even remember why I picked electrical engineering over computer science. Anyway, it would have been nice to know more about what people really do in different engineering jobs before deciding on a major. Talk to some engineers

For prospective engineers, I think the best thing you can do is to talk to someone who is already in the career that you’re thinking about. Ask them what kind of things they do in their job and what they did to prepare for it. See if it might align with what you’d like to do. I didn’t know many engineers when I was in school and I was afraid to reach out. Actually, the things I ended up doing (designing and validating computer chips) probably sounded quite appealing to my high school self.

One thing to remember is that you don’t have to be an engineer forever. Many engineers I know got tired of the job and transitioned to a different career. I know people who changed to patent law, middle management, entrepreneur, marketing, and many other fields. For me, being a junior engineer was the most fun part of the career. I got to work on interesting stuff and didn’t have to deal with much BS. Once I got more senior, there were just too many non engineering tasks to deal with.

The bottom line is, you have to enjoy it. If you like tinkering with electronics, writing computer programs, building Lego robotics, or taking apart engines, then you might enjoy being an engineer. The money is nice, but I’m pretty sure there are many easier ways to make more money. I know it’s a tough decision to make when you’re young, but reach out and try to talk to some engineers if you’re thinking about a career in engineering. It is much easier now with social media to contact people.

Another issue I’ve seen that nicoleandmaggie pointed out as well is that once you get to a certain pay bracket, you’re expected to go into management – and unfortunately, most engineers are not good managers, and they just don’t *want* to be managers, so they suck at it, and repeat until they’re miserable and everyone working for them is miserable. My husband is in this situation, but he switched jobs to a technical minded company, where they have a separate career advancement track for “technical staff”.

There are also several types of engineers, and which type you select will dictate your options and your coursework. There’s also the Professional Engineer (PE) route, vs non-PE route. I have rarely seen electrical or computer engineers go the PE route, I’ve seen that mostly in the mechanical and civil engineering areas. Computer engineers can work as programmers/developers (if they want) in addition to the hardware side. Depending on your school: a computer engineer could also do digital/ASIC design and testing (more like an electrical engineer).

We disagree… in fact, we think there are class differences in this view on college. The upper class and upper middle class who see college as a coming of age experience also take their humanities etc. majors and get great jobs in business. Because being a mathematician teaches you to think logically and is a signal that you’re really smart.

Pre-med is a lousy major unless you go to med school, and even then you’re in for a load of debt. Pre-law is not a major most places (they prefer people with “real” majors) and many people graduating from law school are graduating with debt and no jobs because the recession made a glut in new lawyers. Computer programming is currently a good major, but not so long ago there were too many programmers (because of the dot com boom) for the number of jobs (because of the bust)– that’s evened out again. Accounting is generally pretty safe, as is engineering, though it depends a lot on the kind of engineering and what the market demands are– for a while you couldn’t get a job as a petroleum engineer, and now demand far outstrips supply. Even nursing– some parts of the country RNs are having difficulty finding jobs, other parts of the country there’s huge demand.

Engineering can be a lot of fun but it’s up to each person to find a situation that suits him. I got a couple degrees, a BS in Engineering Technology (practical, applications oriented) and an MS in Mechanical Engineering (more theoretical). I started as a design engineer and didn’t like it, moved into mechanical system simulation which was a lot more interesting, and a few years after that I migrated into finite element analysis which has been a huge amount of fun for the last 28 years. So, it took some time to figure out the right place for me within the engineering world. The final piece of the puzzle was after 8 years I bailed out of the usual employer-employee relationship and got into contract employment. I call around and make my own deals with various temporary employment companies, choosing where I work and how much I earn. It’s 100% technical work which I enjoy very much, I make about 50-100% more than regular employees. If a job doesn’t work out the way I had hoped I look around for something else and move on. By making more money I have financial control of my life and that’s a key factor as well. The moral to the story, at least in my case, is that the education process is only the first step. Once you get into industry you look around and find a scenario that suits you. One “bad” thing about the education process is that you always looked to the instructor to tell you what to do. This is a bad habit to develop because the real world is nothing like this. Companies have little if any interest in finding the right situation for you. You need to be self guiding and street smart. Look within yourself and understand the environment that will be most enjoyable and beneficial to you, and then find or create a situation like that in industry. This approach works for your career as well as life in general.