The Young Engineers Guide To Career Planning

It’s often said that engineers aren’t born, they’re made. Or more accurately, taught, tested, and accredited by universities. If you’re in high school, you’re probably starting to think about potential career paths and may be considering an engineering degree. A lot of work goes into a good college application, and it might seem like the hardest part is getting in. However, if your end goal is to get yourself a great engineering job at the end of your studies, it pays to have your head up from day 1!

I Just Need A Degree, Right?

Back in my freshman days, there was a saying that was popular on campus, particularly with those studying STEM topics. “Ps get degrees.” Your college’s grading system might use different letters, but the basic gist was that a pass mark was all that was required to get your piece of paper at the end of your four years. While this is technically true, it’s only really a useful ethos if your aim is to simply get a degree. If your goal is to use that degree to score yourself a plum job in your field, it would be unwise to follow this credo.

This attitude will net you plenty of wonderful memories at the bar, but it will dent your chances of landing a solid job upon graduation. All in moderation!

The reality of the modern job market is that it’s highly competitive. Recruiters can receive hundreds of applications for a single job, meaning the vast majority of applicants don’t even make it to the interview stage. To trim down the pile, various criteria are used to pick out the ideal candidates. An easy way to do this is to sort by grades. Having a low GPA can therefore see your application relegated to the trashcan, before you even get a chance to impress anyone with your carefully honed skills.

Grades aren’t the be all and end all of recruitment, but it never hurt anyone to show up with a top-notch academic transcript. Plus, being on top of your book smarts can be very useful in interview situations. Often, recruiters like to run aptitude tests with questions not altogether unlike what you will find in a university exam. This is particularly common in software fields, where candidates are often asked to solve problems live on a whiteboard. Aceing these could be the difference between making it to the next stage of the interview, or being politely shown the door.

It’s About More Than Grades

It can be daunting to make major decisions on a career path at high school and college age. However, if you have a clear idea of where you want to go, and what you want to do, that can be an incredibly valuable thing when it comes to looking for that first adult job after graduation.

For instance, let’s take two students, Todd and Amy. Both graduate high school and begin studying mechanical engineering at a good university. Todd isn’t really sure where he wants to end up, but figures that a degree will be a ticket to a well-paid career, and goes about his studies. Along with some friends, he chooses a capstone project in renewable energy storage because it seems like a solid option.

Amy, on the other hand, has always dreamed of working in motorsport. In addition to her studies, she joins her university’s Formula SAE team. The team performs okay, finishing somewhere in the middle of the pack most years. In the process, Amy learns a bunch about the practical realities of running a motorsport program, as well as how to work effectively in a team environment. Her capstone project is to design an aerodynamics package for her school’s race entry.

Formula SAE is the place to be for aspiring motorsport engineers. Joining a club relevant to your field can net huge dividends down the line, and teach you things you’ll never learn in class. (Image credit: Matthew Cheung/Medium Article)

Come graduation day, and both Todd and Amy collect their degrees, with good marks across the board. Amy applies for a graduate position with a locally-based NASCAR team. Upon looking at her resume, the recruiters see that Amy already has a broad base of experience with motorsport at an amateur level, and has learned how to use several professional race engineering packages through her Formula SAE experience. Todd has learned that, after his capstone experience, he finds renewable energy a little dry for his tastes. He also applies for the NASCAR position, hoping to find an exciting outlet to apply his engineering skills. While his grades are similar to Amy’s, when it comes down to ability, there’s no contest. Amy already knows all the terminology, has experience tuning a vehicle for the track, and has followed the tyre dramas in the recent season. With the scales tilted thusly, Amy gets the job hands down, and Todd is left to search another day.

If Todd now decided that motorsport was his one true passion for his career, he’s going to find it difficult to compete. There’s plenty of Amys out there, all who have several years of experience more than Todd, and now that he’s graduated, there’s no easy way to catch up either. It’s certainly possible for Todd to find a way in to the field, but it will be much harder. He may have to take on a much more junior role to learn the ropes, or get some experience off his own back, perhaps by running his own racecar on an amateur level. All this takes a lot of time and a lot of money, and in the meantime, Todd still needs to find a job to pay the bills! This could mean years of working in more unfashionable roles. Spending 40 hours a week designing windshield wiper linkages can be a bitter pill to swallow when you see your former classmate cheering at the pit wall on ESPN when their car wins the trophy.

While this is a fictional example, it goes to show how much difference a couple of small decisions can make. Whether the field is motorsport, rocket science, or semiconductor design – if you’ve got your heart set on a particular field, getting stuck in early can give you a huge head start down the track. Whether it’s your own tinkering at home, activities through a university-affiliated club, or choosing a relevant final project, if you know where you want to end up, start heading there now. The reality is, if you don’t, someone else will!

Conclusion

For those heading down the path towards an engineering career, it may seem like a road of ceaseless toil and very little fun. This doesn’t have to be the case! There’s plenty of room during your time at university to socalize, party, and enjoy the experience. But paying just a little more attention in class, studying hard, and making the right decisions could pay off in a big way when it comes time to enter the workforce. Good luck!

 

41 thoughts on “The Young Engineers Guide To Career Planning

  1. “For those heading down the path towards an engineering career, it may seem like a road of ceaseless toil and very little fun.”

    If it feels like that, you are probably in the wrong field. Certainly it won’t all be fun and joy, but I enjoyed learning what I was learning.

    Always do your best. It is a good credo to live by and will yield rewards. There is nothing clever about making your skillset all about avoiding work and doing the least possible (as some seem to do).

    1. AMEN to that! Whether it was dynamics, heat transfer, or control theory, I always found a way to apply it to cars and every seemingly dry topic was now a key to finding a way to be better, faster, stronger!

      1. I have dug ditches, you know the worst part of digging ditchs is? The engineers of course ;) . The again before one can earn a buck digging a ditch, an engineer has to first do their thing. While it’s fun to rag an engineer I admit there times when I see a clever simple design,and say to myself an engineer had their thinking cap on.

    2. >If it feels like that, you are probably in the wrong field. Certainly it won’t all be fun and joy, but I enjoyed learning what I was learning.

      Nah. I love my engineering job, but that semester of Differential Equations was some of the worst drudgery of my life. The programming courses weren’t much better, where the majority of your grade hinged on how accurately you followed the commenting requirements.

      Do not underestimate the capacity for bad professors to make interesting concepts into depressing busy-work.

      1. I got top marks on a programming assignment once for actually writing a function with a simple scanf() line and a comment “This function is supposed to also sanitize the input, but I couldn’t be bothered to write it. Just don’t input letters instead of numbers.”. Apparently the other students didn’t know how to use functions.

        That was the only bit of programming I think I ever had to do, aside for some G-code in a different course, and ladder/relay logic and some proprietary PLC code. I also observed some of the other students who had survived up to their third year and didn’t know what a for loop does.

        1. The weed-out CS class where i went (nmt.edu) was writing an assembler. We were also handed the C white Book && were expected to learn C from the book, not a class. (This was 1978.) You were smart enough to survive a terrible CS program. The three topics I use all the time in my career are data structures, state machines, and OS theory. I also have roughly 1 million lines of c out there somewhere.

          A good, solid understanding of good theory will get you far in your career, because you can create great systems with a solid foundation. The rest is technique.

      2. I never said it would all fun and joy. One bad class or bad professor doesn’t change what I am saying. And one man’s tea is another man’s poison. I found some of the classes and professors that everyone was telling me to avoid to be some of the best.

      3. Work it self is often “depressing busy-work” for a lot of people.

        A lot of what professors are doing is just following the coursework – and just doing their job, which is to give you the tools to solve problems. But sometimes, they are shaking out the class and seeing who as the ability to stick with abstract, boring work – because when you work for someone else, you probably will be doing something they’d rather not be doing themselves…

  2. For the U.S. only. Unless you are very very smart (am talking at least 6 sigma to the right), there is no value in big name schools for an undergrad engineering education. To wit, in California there are the UC and CS systems. UC supposedly takes only the to 10% of the high school grads; and the CSU system takes those that can get accepted at their respective 4-year school. The UC system will not have a more rigorous curricula, will not have access to professors and senior instructors (first 6 to 10 quarters are mostly taught by TAs), and tuition and other fees will be significantly greater. Just find a cheap school with ABET accreditation.

    If you can handle the insanity, stupidity, and occasional wild excitement of the American military, recommend a four-year hitch as a cog in a green or blue machine prior to school. It will give you time to grow physically and emotionally, will give you a ‘different’ perspective on humanity and societies, allow you to see up close some very good and very poor examples of leadership, will help you quickly separate the stupid from the smart and the competent from the inept, will allow to save much money (sometimes tax-free) if you can avoid spending it all on alcohol and cars, and will give you access to VA educational benefits. The down side to military prior to school is that you may no longer have a ‘sensible’ outlook on life, and you may loose life or limb. But good risk assessment skills are essential to engineers…

      1. Geez, have you never heard of hyperbole? My whole freakin comment is full of hyperbole. Although sarcasm, hyperbole, metaphors, and other such stuff seem to be increasingly banned from HAD.

        Perhaps we need to consider venues other than HAD.

  3. I end up interviewing a lot for my company, and I’ve worked for a few companies. Here is my advice:
    Get internships every summer. Well, getting one after Freshman year might be hard, but after for sure after Sophomore and Junior years. When I interview candidates for new grad positions, 2 solid internships is basically a requirement. If you are like ‘Todd’ in the example, doing internships can be a great opportunity to go out and see what interest you.
    Stay educated and do projects outside of class/work. If you interview and all you can talk about was making a blinky light for a lab, or choosing a FET for the heater controller you last worked on, I’m not super interested in talking about it. If you made an adruino widget to do XYZ, and read HaD every day, now we can talk about something.
    SINGLE PAGE RESUME! I don’t need to read about every time you looked up a part on DigiKey or how you went to a single IEEE meeting one time (just because they had free pizza). Or for the older applicants, I don’t care about you flipping burgers in the 70’s. Keep it relevant, keep it recent.
    Realize that most of your school knowledge isn’t going to be used a whole lot. Engineering school is more about getting you to think critically and learning how to problem solve. You don’t get a perfect plant model for the thing you are trying to control, you don’t have a ‘back of the book’ to look up the answers, and you don’t get to wash your hands of an assignment after you turn it in. Often times you are going to have to compromise and come up with non-perfect solutions.
    Be able to communicate. I can’t hire people that can’t interact and communicate. If you are extremely shy or introverted, you need to start working on that, like now. In interviews I’m looking for someone who isn’t a complete idiot (who would be able to learn our tools and solve problems), who is interested in my company (not just a job), and who can actually hold a conversation.

    1. +1

      Do a job search one time and I’ll almost guarantee 75-90% of the engineering positions you’ll see will require an ABET certified 4 year degree AND 3 – 5 years experience. This took me 12 years to realize that most job are expecting an engineer to have taken a co-op or intern position while attending college.

      The other thing is be aware of the industry you are interested in. If you are interested in doing embedded system design like FPGA’s, microcontrollers, etc. you better make sure you are willing to move or there are a few businesses in your region. Otherwise a sure bet anywhere is industrial controls PLC’s, HMI’s, robots, and motor controllers.

      1. I didn’t do any internships and worked as a teaching assistant and, informally, an instructor instead so I could focus and get my MS in 3 years instead of 4. This turned into an obstacle because 3 years teaching Assembly, C, and digital logic design doesn’t count as experience with those things.

        While I’m definitely happy with how it all ended up (got a great job at a great company), finding my first job out of college would have been easier if I’d spent a couple summers keeping a chair warm at Deloitte or Tyco, since that somehow translates into expertise.

        Moral of the story: HR is stupid. Don’t worry about getting real experience. Worry about getting things on your CV that HR people think of as experience.

        1. Agreed, HR is stupid. Another option: attempt to bypass HR. Find your prospective supervisor on LinkedIn, find a phone number from a resume, etc. Talk to them. Let them know you applied. Get noticed without getting filtered out by HR. Especially in computer fields, the entry-to-mid job “requirements” are a bunch of snow.

    2. Yep.
      Two of my latests jobs have been at least partially the result of me having a homepage and a youtube channel.
      Having millions of views and subscribers is secondary when your potential audience might be an employer.
      Actually showing your skills and projects and potential fluency in a foreign language means a lot.
      Kainda similar to programming jobs looking at github commit history, as flawed as that is.

    3. I agree that HR doesn’t want to hear about the mudane on a multi-page resume, but I completely disagree with the single page resume, I’ve been fighting with that notion ever since college (with personal success). I have a concise two page resume and people can see the passion I have for my work when the jobs on the front page line up with the “extra-curriculars” on the back page. More than once, being able to talk about how the job interacted with my hobbies got me past the first interview.

      As others have said, do all that you can initially to bypass HR, possibly with a headhunter, so you can reach the people you need to reach. You want them to get HR involved, not HR to get them involved.

      Another thing not often discussed is being willing to do the hard work and to prove that you did the hard work while handling it reasonably well. In my case I lived in a third world country for 3 years, so when I say I can survive and sometimes thrive in a stress-full environment, my resume proves it. No one wants to hire a slacker (unless the slacker is family, but I’m not advocating for that, it’s just reality in some companies).

      When you get in to the new job, especially the starter jobs, whoever said “you are doing the job someone else doesn’t want to do” is likely right. But as a Hackaday reader in any job, write your own programs, and advocate for the tools or assets you need to make the job better. The first thing is to try your best at removing redundancy and repetitive tasks, I have taught myself new programming languages (and use a lot of macros) in multiple jobs to cut down the repetitive non-sense.

      You will be much more successful at getting assets depending on the company, but you can be more successful when building a legit business case for them. Such as “we can save X minutes per inquiry multiplied by Y inquiries per day multiplied by this many people doing the inquiry daily. Total time savings is this, the new system only requires this much time, allowing us to go longer before hiring another person” Leave the last part on even if you need another person really bad, so when you ask for another person, they know that you’ve already made an effort to do what you can without the extra person.

  4. I’ve interviewed many candidates for entry-level software positions. One question I always ask is, “Have you done any interesting projects outside of your regular course work?”

    This is the chance to show your interest, creativity, passion, and self-motivation. We can teach you the latest technical details, but it’s a lot harder to teach those other things. If I were interviewing nuclear engineers, I probably wouldn’t bother asking that, but most motivated people in the software field can do some sort of project alone or in a group outside of coursework. It doesn’t have to be very big or complex to make you stand out from the field.

    1. This, 100%. While in school, allow yourself to be passionate about some stuff. For me that meant going completely overboard on some classes and being ok with a passing grade in stuff I didn’t care about that wasn’t foundational. Applying to jobs with a portfolio of personal work in a field I was interested is ultimately what got me my first job as a mechanical design engineer. Actually, keeping with personal projects has really helped me even once I got started in my career.

      Something I didn’t realize in school is how much your first job will steer your whole career. There’s plenty of grads without much practical experience but there’s surprisingly very little people with 2 years experience in a specific field. If you’re passionate about something, figure out what’s needed to get that first job. If you can afford it, be patient to land the right first job.

  5. I’ve been a hiring manager at software engineering companies for about 12 years, and here’s my two cents:

    1) The line about “zillions of applicants for each job” is patently false in software. It is 100% a seller’s market. It takes us up to a year to a hire a new software engineer because we have to poach people from other companies. Every tech company has a large well-funded recruiting department for a reason- we get zero applicants for jobs. We have to go find people and seduce them to come work for us. It’s competitive for the companies, not the employees, because demand is way way outstripping supply.

    2) I have to respectfully disagree with the commenter who suggested joining the military. You’re better off using those four years to gain experience in your chosen field. I’ve interviewed a number of extremely impressive people who came out of the military, and while they were driven, smart, and creative, they were four years behind the other candidates in actual experience in the areas we need. It broke my heart in most cases not to be able to offer them, but experience in the field counts for way more than almost anything else (including education).

    3) I do strongly agree with that same commenter’s point about big name schools- that doesn’t mean anything at all to any tech company I have worked for, so save your $300,000. Most of our candidates are hired from overseas anyway, because the pool here is too small. Most people I have hired came from schools in Russia, China, or India that I have never heard of, so “prestige” is a useless metric. You know five questions in to the interview whether they know their computer science or not anyway, and that’s what matters.

    4) I also disagree about the author’s statement on GPA. I’ve never looked at a candidate’s grades, either, because they aren’t a good metric for whether you have a head for software engineering and computer science. They only tell me if you can pass tests. In my experience, the latter is not very predictive of the former. It’s also not critical to have a degree. Many people I work with have some college, but no degree. The most talented lead engineer I ever worked with was a high school drop out. More education is usually better, but not always.

    What we are looking for is a passion for the subject matter (the comment above about side projects is a key portion of any of my interviews), and we’re looking for strong computer science fundamentals. I want you to know your data structures, your algorithms, your big-O, etc. I also want you to have a grasp of software engineering. If you haven’t read and internalized Design Patterns, you won’t make it past the first interview.

    The other thing that is of primary importance is references. I need to talk to people who have worked with you. If you’re fresh out of school, that can be TAs, internship managers, or your boss from the summer job at Dominos. All are worth talking to, to tell me what kind of person you are.

    1. Right on!

      “The reality of the modern job market is that it’s highly competitive.” That may have been the reality many years ago but there is currently a huge shortage in all engineering professions and companies are offering significant incentives to existing employees to encourage them to engage in recruiting. This is also driving the lowering of importance of things like GPA, what university you attended, and how good your resume looks. If you can do the job (often as evidenced by your participation in things like Formula SAE) you’ll get the job.

      Speaking of Formula SAE experience, connecting this with a Nascar job is selling it way too short. An applicant for any engineering job benefits greatly from having this experience. The SAE competitions have less to do with gaining subject matter expertise in motorsports and have much more to do with gaining skills like teamwork, project management, task prioritization, problem solving, goal attainment under constraints…

    2. I’m an autodidact and have been an engineer by title, not degree, since 1989. My first paying job was as an video arcade machine repairman back in 1981 while I was still in high school, and I have been working ever since. Currently I design to the component level, prototype, program, and support automated test equipment benches in the aerospace industry. Yet when applying for any positions, the lack of a sheepskin completely negates my 38 years of experience for at least 95% of positions out there. Even at my current job, I only snuck in the door because I took a job as a technician to pay the mortgage, in spite of the fact that I was already an Engineering Manager at a previous company for over 10 years. From the start I started networking with other engineers and their various managers until one agreed to take me in – as an Associate Engineer which at this company is for fresh college grads. 4 years later, I was on the fast track to be the Principal Engineer in my group, when the Director of Engineering tells me I wouldn’t have my job if he could help it, only because of the lack of a BSEE/CS.

      So yes, it is possible to get a job without having a degree, and even one that pays well, but expect to do 2000% more footwork than the degreed candidates. Back in the days when you actually talked to people about the job and they could get you the interview with HR via the side door, it was do-able. But today, with HR departments using regex filters to match against the job requirements before even thinking about letting you interview, and with some companies even outsourcing their HR (my HR group’s office is 2,500 miles away), you are much better sticking it out and getting the degree.

      Always be on the lookout for internships while you’re in school. We hire about 30 interns every year, and at least 85% are still here after 5 years. One other thing, if there are things that you find interesting – robotics, nuclear engineering, rocket engine design – see if there are any sort of clubs or user groups in your area and start attending their meetings. You will have the opportunity to meet some very seasoned professionals, get an idea for what jobs in the industry are really like, good and bad, and perhaps even pick up a mentor or two. Having a respected member of the industry as a personal reference is going to do wonders with getting your foot in the door.

  6. One cautionary note about doing what you love is that while that enthusiasm and extra experience can give you an edge, it also means that when your industry goes off in a direction that feels wrong it actually hurts and it becomes much harder to leave that at the door at the end of the day. There have definitely been times when I was envious of those who can just treat it as a job. The rest of the time it’s good advice, but I can say honestly that it caught me by surprise how industry trends can impact seemingly far removed or even entirely unrelated parts of the field.

  7. I have hired dozens of engineering grads… a few tips on your resume:

    1. Your resume gets you in the door, but what you put on your resume is fair game during the interview process. Never list anything on your resume you can’t carry on a conversation about. If you say you know C or Verilog, expect everyone to ask you technical questions about the topic. If you said you worked with GPS, expect me to ask you questions about the space segment.
    2. Use your resume to tell me how you are different than all of the other graduates this year. Show me what makes you special. Don’t waste space telling me you took a class that everyone in your field took.
    3. Remember I didn’t go to your school, and I have no idea what your class numbering means.
    4. I am much more interested in what you did during your internship, or for a school project, than I am in your extracurricular activities.
    5. A high GPA will help you get your first job. I don’t even look at it once you have 3 years of experience.

  8. No one has yet said, “Don’t go into engineering”. Your peers in other fields will smoke by you (in pay) by middle age, and the ones who don’t have the technical chops will become your managers.

    1. If getting rich is your motivation, don’t take any job. Start a company. Nobody ever got rich working for someone else. If you’re passionate about engineering, you’ll have a much happier life doing that rather than getting an MBA because you want to make more money. Any engineering job will pay more than enough to live very comfortably and retire well.

      1. Disagree.

        First hand experience, in Australia – graduate engineers at one of the world’s largest automakers were paid wages barely above that of a checkout assistant.

        The guys that stuck around to finish the program after two years? They got a $2000 payrise.

        Wouldn’t call that living comfortably.

  9. I’m an engineer with more than 30 years experience. I’ve seen a lot of people come and go.

    My take:

    1. GPA is one of the last things we look at. We care that you did actually graduate. That’s it. I’ve seen too many book smart idiots who are completely oblivious to what’s going on around them.

    2. The school’s reputation is also of very little concern. Maybe in professions such as law, it matters. But in any case, we’re going to have to train that freshly minted engineer from college for at least a couple years before we can unleash him/her unsupervised on anything.

    3. Military service is good if you’re heading toward classified work. In the US, at least, there is a lot of classified work that gets outsourced. Military people are generally easiest to get cleared. That said, the comment from the HR person about going “stale” four their service –it depends on what you’re hiring them for. If you want someone who can sling code, then I guess military service isn’t going to be of much help. But if you’re looking for cyber-security…

    4. Side work during school is important. We look a lot at the projects they did when they weren’t studying. For example, I was in the ham radio club in school. I tinkered with packet radio and 10 GHz microwave (keep in mind this was in the 1980s). If you find a gear-head who likes to play with engines that’s great. If you find someone who is involved in maker projects, likes to make holograms, is involved in the Civil Air Patrol or other such groups, or generally likes to explore things off the beaten path, that’s what we’re after. That’s the spark of creativity and personality we’re looking for.

    5. A good work ethic is extremely important. We like to see some sort of work history that involves regular attendance and some sort of problem solving.

    That’s what I look for. As for what HR does, please don’t blame them. There have been numerous court cases from which very dumb policies were crafted. What used to be called personnel and used to be done by a clerk is now done by committees of highly educated people who have to tread legal, financial, and frankly sociological tight ropes. This should never have been a profession in the first place, but it became one because people got tired of nepotism, favoritism, and many other -isms. The solution is a hard pill to swallow, and some might argue that the cure is worse than the disease. But there it is. It makes the lawyers happy, so I guess there’s that.

    Craft your resume with all the buzzwords and keywords you can possibly claim with honesty. Scout the market for the sort of work you’d like to do. And be aware that no matter how cool the work may seem and how well it pays, if the place is run by jerks, it ain’t worth it. Conversely, you can find really cool working environments in some rather unusual places. So don’t discount the work just because it may happen to be at, say, a sewage treatment plant.

  10. No Lewis, grades aren’t THAT important.

    Hell event the degree itself is questionable. Of the +20 people I’ve hired here, only about a dozen have a degree in a related field. At least six don’t have a degree at all.

    The opportunity to learn and network are important though. For example, Amy’s Formula SAE opportunity WAS important. We’d all be lucky to have parents that afford us that opportunity. Although, if Todd was friends with someone who already worked at that NASCAR team and would vouch for his work ethic/enthusiasm, Todd would probably get the job despite Amy’s experience.

    The hard work that actually matters:
    1. Move to where the jobs are.
    2. Actively look for a better job
    3. Be willing to up-root your life every time a better job is available.
    4. Network.

    If you’re not doing the above things, your income will easily be half, your skills will be extremely limited, you’ll have a much harder time to find a replacement job WHEN you get canned, you’ll probably get pushed into management and hate your job by the time you’re 40.

    1. Grades may be important to get through the HR filter, and some managers screen based on that. As others have said, once past your first job, nobody will even ask about your GPA.

      A degree is not an absolute requirement, but getting one makes you more mobile. A lot of industries won’t even consider non-degree people from outside, a few non-degree people move up through internal paths, but it is a long slow trip. Without a degree, you have to prove your competence/credability to get in the door for an interview. With a degree, you still have to prove yourself in the first year. Having tried it both ways, a degree is worth the work to get one.

      As someone who has moved around a lot through my career, I will second the comments about being willing to move to where the jobs are, and being willing to uproot your life when a better job comes up. Compared to friends who stayed at the same company for their entire career, I wound up with much more interesting jobs at more interesting places and making a better salary. The price you pay is that your friends disperse through the years and you get disconnected from your family. You have to decide it it is worth it.

      A prestigious school won’t make someone a great engineer that was not going to be anyway. I have worked with lots of extremely smart, top shelf engineers from state schools. Maybe you make some better connections at a fancy school, don’t know, I didn’t do that. You will make good connections as a good engineer in your work environment too.

      Be careful about changing jobs too often. I have worked with people that hire into a place and then bail out about the time they are expected to do the hard stuff. People notice that, especially the people that do the work. Every place that I have worked has engineers interviewing prospective hires. 2-4 years is a decent minimum interval, if there are some 5-10 year stays mixed in.

      An old engineer’s ramblings,

  11. “It’s often said that engineers aren’t born, they’re made. Or more accurately, taught, tested, and accredited by universities.”

    Must be universities saying that because it is the opposite of reality. Just like some people are born incredible athletes some people are born with a good engineering mind. You naturally aquire tools for your mind to use with studied knowledge and life experience but if you aren’t accumulating those without a university education you will never be a good engineer anyway. The standard university experience is actually a horrible learning environment, what you do on your first jobs and in your free time will be far more educational and important.

    What universities do offer is an accredited piece of paper to wave in front of people who think it means something. And their grades? They accomplish two things. First, the they get you that piece of paper. Second, they get you through HR for interviews on you first job.

    The actual engineer who is hiring for your first job doesn’t care about grades though. They want to see what you have done and get a feel for your real abilities. I personally will not hire a mechanical engineer with a 4.0 gpa. They are good at schoolwork and tests but are generally useless when it comes to the real world.

    And after your first job? No one even asks what your GPA was. Why? Because now you have some work that can be evaluated and that is what you will be paid to do, work.

    1. Ever the curmudgeon, I feel like I need to say “It’s OK to have a 4.0 if you’re a transfer student”. That’s because you have your first two years of grief from (probably) a community college or at least some other school, so the grades from the weed-out classes don’t show up on your final GPA. Junior and Senior level classes are more about learning stuff and less about shrinking the cohort down to a manageable size, so the grades tend to be a lot better. Also, Juniors are about 11% older than traditional-aged first year students, and it makes a tremendous difference. I’ve seen a person finish with a 4.0 that way and go on to have a pretty good (and apparently lucrative) career as a PE doing, you won’t believe this, legitimate engineering.

  12. At university, i got sinked like a battleship by the tests, so didn’t have a chance to actually socialize and do the fun things. Too fast for me, but i got a good job anyway, where broad but not too deep skills are fitting.

  13. I do the hiring at my firm. 20 years in the field. Senior EE.

    Get internships.

    Have technical hobbies.

    Have a personal story about why you want to be an engineer.

    Explain the steps you take to solve a problem(s) you had with a project.

    Do not put things / projects on your resume that you can’t explain.

    Grades are not critical.

    Work experience > degree.

  14. The best bit of advice I ever got was:

    “Never make your hobby into a job.”

    I am an ME/EE by degree with a graduate degree, working in space/defense field. Currently studying a JD (law degree) !

    The bulk of my time is not spent doing design work even though I am principal design engineer, but paper work, meetings, holding peoples hands. I still love doing engineering for myself in my shop for personal projects, but the corporate grind is soul sucking. If I have to sell my soul I may as well get paid top dollar for it. Engineering also has geography problem in that its not the most portable profession and depending on your field/industry your going to find your options of where to live limited.

    Current plan exit Engineering for a bigger check practicing law, so I can afford to do more of the personal engineering I actually love. Also move back to Hawaii which does not have a lot of opportunity for Design Engineers, which is why I decided to change professions.

  15. I would argue at this point from an ROI (return on investment), you can do pretty well with a two year technical associates in many fields. There is always need for mechanics (half electronics), aviation, electrical work (a Master’s electrician license is not for dummies). Four year degrees are costly and the long term salary prospects are questionable. There are six figure engineering jobs down the line, but it’s not the norm. Also, in engineering consulting, most firms are trying to outsource the work overseas since it’s horrible that they would have to pay Americans decent wages and still make a profit.

    Also, it is helpful to have an electronics or some technical hobby. You might also take some career question evaluations online so you can do some introspection on whether you want something more hands on or you are ok sitting at a desk most of the time or managing people.

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