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Why I gave up my engineering career

by retirebyforty on August 13, 2012 · 170 comments

in corporate pet peeves, employment

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One of our readers is going back to school for an engineering degree and asked me to write a detailed post on why I gave up my engineering career. It’s a great career that pays well and are in demand, but it might not be for everyone.

Studying Engineering

Computers fascinated me when I was young and I tried to learn more about them at every opportunity. So when I graduated high school, I decided to major in Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE.) Studying engineering in college was pretty tough and many students couldn’t get through the freshman year. The difference in difficulty and expectations between high school and university was too high for many students. Once you got though that first year though, almost everyone I knew were able to complete their Bachelor’s degree. My alma mater offered a 5 year MS program. If you joined the program, you can take graduate level classes during your senior year. I did this and also received some credits for being a Teaching Assistant to a few classes. I was able to complete my MS in 5 years instead of the usual 6. I think this program was a great idea.

Job

I got a job with a great company right out of college – Intel. This was pretty much my dream job. I worked on the memory (DRAM) interface and learned a lot about how the computer chips were made. The first 7-8 years was great for me because I was very good at the technical side of the job. I got promoted every few years and was compensated relatively well. I worked many 50-60 hours weeks and it was tiring, but the job was still fun because I was learning many new things.

Senior level

After 10+ years the expectation changed quite a bit. The company expected different things from their senior engineers. At the lower level, it was enough to excel at your job, but the company expected their senior engineers to lead and work through others. Being good technically was no longer enough. I was a terrible leader and things just didn’t work out well when I tried to lead. I was too laid back and I didn’t like telling people what to do. The job was no longer a good fit for me and that’s probably the biggest reason why I left engineering. There were other factors as well.

More reasons why I quit engineering

  • I got married and didn’t want to work long hours very often. Once we had a kid, I rarely worked  late or on the weekend unless I really had to. This didn’t compare favorably with young’uns who seem to enjoy working until 10pm.
  • More and more time was spent on technical writing, planning, presentations, meetings, classes, etc… I liked the technical side of engineering and I loved working in the lab. The other stuff weren’t important to me and consequently I didn’t put much effort into them.
  • I lost interest in the job/career. I’m not sure why, but I’m not really interested in computers anymore. My $400 laptop works well and I, like most regular people, don’t really care about the next snazzy upgrade. The paycheck was the only thing that kept me going into the office.
  • My area of expertise (DRAM) moved to a different site in another state, and we did not want to relocate just for this. I had to learn a new area and it was difficult. I loved debugging and playing with logic analyzers. Once that part of the job went away, it wasn’t much fun for me anymore. (I changed jobs a few times, but stayed with the same expertise until about 3 years ago.)
  • My physical and mental health deteriorated due to the sedentary lifestyle and stress.
  • Many of my close friends left the company or were laid off. My old boss was fired a few days before Christmas in 2009. That made him ineligible for the year-end bonus because you have to be on the payroll through December 31st. I thought that was pretty heartless. I knew it was only a matter of time then.

I don’t think there is any way to know if an engineering career is right for you unless you try it out. Most of my friends from college are still in the field, but a few changed careers and life goes on. Many engineers are happy with their jobs and enjoy their time at work. I didn’t like being an engineer anymore and the years of diligent saving and investing enabled me to become a stay at home dad. I will most likely rejoin the workforce someday with self employment, but it won’t have anything to do with engineering.

I hope this answer some questions for my readers with aspirations in engineering. A big company like Intel has a lot of BS to deal with. I probably should have left 5 years ago to join a small company instead, but the timing just wasn’t right. Anyway, let me know if I can answer any questions.

If you are a senior level engineer, do you still enjoy your job and will you continue to do it until full retirement age? 

Everyone who is thinking about quitting your job should read Financial Samurai’s book: How to engineer your layoff.

How is life one year into retirement? – Not bad at all.

How’s life 2 years after retirement? - Pretty darn good. :)

 

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{ 169 comments… read them below or add one }

SB @ One Cent at a Time August 13, 2012 at 4:59 am

I was a software engineer, now a manager. Surprisingly I still love my job, I have some friction with my boss but I am sure he’s won’t be staying back for long as we follow a strict rotation policy. So, you can say I am not looking for going alone at this moment.

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retirebyforty August 13, 2012 at 7:54 am

That’s great. I know some people who still like their job after 25 years. It’s great to look forward to going to work.

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Roshawn @ Watson Inc August 13, 2012 at 5:17 am

That’s horrible! I’m sorry you went through so much with your job. One thing that struck me was that your job promoted you to your level of discomfort. You said you didn’t feel equipped and was stressed out. It is sad when companies lose valuable people because they don’t recognize what makes that person so special at their jobs to begin with. Not everything is transferable.

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retirebyforty August 13, 2012 at 7:57 am

I think it’s tough to stay an individual contributor these days. It’s easy to find a young engineer to replace a senior person. The CPU is getting more and more complicated and the budget couldn’t keep up. That’s why they always try to get rid of highly paid senior people who are individual contributors.

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Daisy @ Add Vodka August 13, 2012 at 7:16 am

That sounds like a pretty tumultuous situation, however, it sounds more like a problem with a company and less of a problem with the career. I’m sure you made the right choice for you, though.

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retirebyforty August 13, 2012 at 7:58 am

Intel is one of the better company in the industry from what I understand. It was time for me to move on anyway.

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Keri August 13, 2012 at 7:37 am

Okay, this isn’t totally related, but I’ve been wanting to ask this question ever since I first came across your blog a few months ago. I’m very curious why you couch your quitting in the phrase of “retirement” rather than staying home to take care of your kid (which I know you’d said was a big reason for quitting). Since you still have a working spouse, and it doesn’t seem like you guys could get by without her income, despite working on other income streams, I don’t see how this can be in any way called retirement.

I know I’m mostly harping on semantics, and people can call themselves anything they want. I just find it interesting that whenever I meet a woman who leaves the workplace to stay home with the kids, even if they have done all the prior prep like you did (saving her income, making sure they could make it on one, building passive income to help out, etc.), no one looks at it as retirement – rather, it’s all about her becoming a stay-at-home mom.

I hope you don’t take this as an attack, because it’s really not. I just find this a very strange sociological question. My own family is living on one income. My husband is in the military, and due to us moving so much plus our two kids who need more stability than I could give them if I were working, too, I suppose I “retired” when the first one was born. Even though we save a lot and are in a good financial position (hence, why I started reading your blog for tips!), no one would ever call us “retired” until my husband does so. Then, our family will be “retired” – unless I decide to reenter the workforce at that point, although hopefully it will be because I miss it, not because we didn’t plan well enough!

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Sam August 13, 2012 at 7:52 am

The question is: Can YOU support your family as a retiree? Were you the one supporting the family mainly for 15 years?

The answers for Joe I believe is yes. If it is yes for you two, then you are also a retiree.

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retirebyforty August 13, 2012 at 8:10 am

Sure, I think of it like retiring from a career.
When a basketball player get injured and quit. He retired, right? Firefighter, military, and other careers also offer the retirement option.
What do people do after they retire from these careers? They move on to do something else.
That’s the way I think about it. The main reason why I call it retirement is because I don’t plan to go back to my engineering career. I’m not going to reenter the work force unless I have no other choice.
People retire at different time. I don’t see why the family needs to be retired at the same time.
If I’m 65 and in this same situation, you probably wouldn’t think twice about the whole retirement thing.
I contribute to about 50% of our expense and I’m pretty happy with that. If Mrs. RB40 quit her job today, we would move to a cheaper location, we could move to a cheaper location and reduce our expense drastically.
Thanks for writing!

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Keri August 13, 2012 at 10:12 am

I think I’m going to have to respectfully disagree here. While it may be true that you COULD move somewhere else and live cheaper and be financially independent (which is really the core issue, not retirement), you aren’t choosing to do this because it doesn’t make sense for your life choices. We could easily do the same, but don’t want to do so. It still doesn’t make me retired.

I do agree that using myself as an example is fuzzy because while I was handily supporting myself for over ten years when I quit the workforce, the whole idea of being financially independent early hadn’t occurred to me. So, no, when I stopped working, I wasn’t supporting us. However, I have met women who WERE in this position, left to raise kids while their husband took over, and people the word “retirement” never applied to them.

Obviously, you are free to call yourself whatever, but I still would not call your departure from the workforce a true “retirement” as long as you have a working spouse you rely on.

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retirebyforty August 13, 2012 at 7:12 pm

I’m sure many people agree with you. There isn’t a good word for leaving a career.
I choose the title Retire by 40 when I started because it was more catchy than Quitting Work by 40. :)

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mark9542y October 1, 2013 at 4:49 pm

retire
“to withdraw from office, business, or active life, usually because of age: to retire at the age of sixty.”

retirement
“removal or withdrawal from service, office, or business.”

Keri’s perception of retirement
“Obviously, you are free to call yourself whatever, but I still would not call your departure from the workforce a true “retirement” as long as you have a working spouse you rely on.”

A year late… but… yeah
different strokes for different folks. lol

davidmichael April 20, 2014 at 9:42 am

I just read this article and I agree with Joe here. The word “Retirement” means different things to different people. To me, it means “freedom of choice.” I have been retired for over 20 years, yet I choose to work about every five years or so on a seasonal basis in the USA or at a university overseas. It has both to do about purpose as well as bringing in some extra cash flow. I still consider myself retired. I have the freedom to make choices for my life without being worried about pleasing my boss, or working under stress or duress, or doing a lifestyle no longer fitting for me and my wife. Eventually, one realizes that work and, especially volunteering, can be fun and an interesting part of a retirement program.

I believe that you will see a mass movement among the Boomers in the next few years who choose to return to work for a short time and/or volunteer. Thirty years of being retired is a long time and I find that reentering the work force occasionally challenges me so that I keep my mental facilities sharp and fit. As I near the age of 80, I notice a subtle difference within weeks of my memory and mental state after being on the new job after a few weeks.

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Yasser July 4, 2014 at 11:21 pm

Dear DavidMichael,

Would you please tell me how do you get seasonal work or even volunteering at age 80, let alone 40 or 50? In computer software, which is my area of expertise (if you want to call 12 years of experience plus 2 part-time that I left over ten years ago currently useful expertise), this is outstanding. Were you a star in your field and your reputation carried over, or is there some other explanation?

Kurt @ Money Counselor August 13, 2012 at 7:38 am

Joe, I’m sure you have friends and acquaintances in the same field but who have worked for companies other than Intel. In your opinion, are the issues you mention specific to Intel, or are they likely to be present with any company over a certain size? And do you think the technology industry inherently has more pressure for employees than non-technology?

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retirebyforty August 13, 2012 at 8:12 am

It’s different for everyone. There are issues with every company, but most people deal with it. I was ready to move on from engineering so I didn’t put a lot of effort into making it work. I think the pressure is high for engineers. Ever since the downturn, the teams shrunk and the work load grew.

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makeupgirl April 16, 2014 at 7:53 am

I also work in IT as a business systems analyst, and I have faced the exact same situation as Rby40 has. It is the IT business that is completely cut-throat. Employees are viewed much more as resources than people, so they are treated that way: long hours, extremely stressful projects and timelines, changing technology to keep up with, younger and younger competitors with more energy, CORPORATE POLITICS, etc. I have worked in several large organizations as well as a mid/small sized non-profit. I have to say, I experienced it in every company as well as the insensitive lay-offs with no warning or consideration for the lives of those laid off. I’ve never been laid off myself, but many of my friends/co-workers were at horrible times, without warning, and very little compensation.
I’ve been looking to get out of IT for years now. I just turned 40, but I’m not in a place to get out yet. If I end up in one of the many, frequent layoffs that happen in the IT world, I’m never going back. I will have to reduce my lifestyle drastically, but I won’t work in IT ever again.

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retirebyforty April 18, 2014 at 9:26 am

Good luck! Life is too short to be stressed out all the time. Money is nice, but it’s much better to enjoy life with as little stress as possible. Save as much as you can and try to get some passive income rolling while you still make good money.

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Kruger April 21, 2014 at 5:46 pm

Yeah!No reason to be stressed. Life is short.

I think management jobs are better than the slaves doing engineering.
Mgte people just talk, read some emails and have fun. Engineers are the ants, always working and doing the stuff, at least 10 hours daily.

Jake August 30, 2014 at 8:05 am

Hi all! I found this article through a google of “good paying jobs for former engineers.”

I studied EE. I had one engineering job and got sacked in 2001 due to the downturn, and as the Chinese products drove our company from existence. I am a self-taught computer person and for years I have been administering enterprise class software, as well as programming ETL, for a Fortune 200. Typical EE not doing EE work, right? :)

Dittos on what makeupgirl says. I have an IT role in an Operations group. Unlike IT groups, there is little long-term planning. Everything is NOW, driven by whatever the VPSs said that they want this morning. Every job interrupts every other job. I have some planning of mainframe to open systems migration of my application, but I hesitate to call it planning because I am getting some new job request every couple of hours that I have to code NOW. I am 43. The stress has become nearly unbearable. Wish I would have saved better like RB40 but I am catching up. Several promotions and with rare exception that money goes right to the mortgage, which is within a year from payoff. I am still behind because the 40% drop in home value is many years of stressful paychecks evaporated :( However knowing that I am rightside-up and most Americans are not gives me some encouragement.

Regarding RB40′s situation of getting thrust up the management ranks, this is a typical corporate thing, not just Intel. Companies all try to shoehorn the employees. They have this idea of cross training and the company thinks that if people move throughout the ranks, that makes for a successful company. And all roles lead to what? In any “metric-driven’ company like ours they lead to the Controller. Everything is run by some financial officer. I understand that the end result must be a good financial gain, but LEADING by penny planning has proven over and over to be bad in every way. The stress of overworked employees, not having tools that would make us much more efficient, on and on.

Sam August 13, 2012 at 7:50 am

Man, that is the dream job for ECE’s!

Good stuff!

Everything gets boring after a while. You were there for for 16 years yeah?

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retirebyforty August 13, 2012 at 8:13 am

Yeap. It was great fun in the beginning, but I wasn’t able to evolve to fit the job expectation. I got tired of engineering.

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Will @ HTB August 13, 2012 at 7:54 am

Interesting that you lost interest in laptops. Seems that a lot of much-needed changes are finally happening (high-res screens, much thinner profiles). Although, like you said, most people do not notice nor care for these items (I’m hoping consumer preferences change).

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retirebyforty August 13, 2012 at 7:15 pm

I like the thinner profile, but I will wait for the price to come down. I’m much more ambivalent about performance increases. A cheap laptop works pretty well these days.

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Lance@MoneyLife&More August 13, 2012 at 9:37 am

My brother is a mechanic engineer at SpaceX and definitely puts in a ton of hours. I think I would hate a job like that. He loves the work but hates the stress. I definitely wouldn’t make it as an engineer. Kudos to you for making it as long as you did!

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retirebyforty August 13, 2012 at 7:16 pm

Wow, SpaceX sounds like a great place to work. I can see why he would love it. The stress is unfortunate but the company has to make money for the executives and shareholders.

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The Chad September 3, 2012 at 12:38 am

System Architect here (Computer System Engineer) and I totally here him on that, Lance. Most days I really enjoy what I do, but the long hours and stress level is very high in my world as well.

Like Keri mentioned above, I see the confusion on the use of the word “retired” as when I came across the blog I was thinking of that as meaning financial independence as well. Probably within the next decade I will “retire” from my line of work and take on a new career, though I’d like to eventually get to the point where I can really retire and fully replace my income with my investments…preferably before “normal” retirement age. :-) As you’ve mentiond in your other posts, staying out of debt will really help!

I’m glad you got out of a field that was no longer a fit for you, thanks for sharing!

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Kim August 13, 2012 at 10:39 am

When you are in school, you have all these grand ideas that you are going to make a difference. After so many years, you are a bit more realistic, especially just being the “cog in the wheel.” I think it’s healthy to change every so many years so you don’t end up a burn out just hanging in for the check. We all know those people and they are not fun. Most people don’t have the planning or forethought as you had, so that’s why I enjoy following your journey.

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retirebyforty August 13, 2012 at 7:35 pm

Thanks for the encouragement. It’s hard to make plan when things are going well. You think things will always be like that. Luckily we were pretty frugal and were able to save up some money over the years.

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Kathleen @ Frugal Portland August 13, 2012 at 12:07 pm

Intel’s culture is the WORST. They trap you, too, with the sabbatical offer every seven years, which is fairly brilliant for them, since they know that the average person is done with Intel after about five, so you get a bunch of disgruntled folks. I worked for Intel while in college, and realized that company wasn’t for me.

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phr3dly August 13, 2012 at 12:49 pm

Intel is a huge company. Massive. Yes, there are bad teams, there are bad managers, and there are no doubt jobs where people feel trapped. As is true at every employer, large and small.

On balance, Intel is a darn good employer. Salary and benefits are well above average for the industry, and are very generous by the standards of nearly any other industry. There are opportunities for advancement, both within a role or by moving to another role. Trapped by sabbatical? Not so. I’ve not known anyone who feels trapped by sabbatical.

The majority of the people I worked with when I joined are still here, 15 years later. It sure doesn’t sound like they’re burning out or wanting to leave!

I can definitely respect RB40′s decision to move on. In fact, I quit Intel a couple years ago to join another company (I’ve since returned). But IMO anyone who makes a blanket statement like the above about Intel’s culture should do a bit of self-examination.

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retirebyforty August 13, 2012 at 7:38 pm

I can’t complain too much about Intel. I owe a lot of what I have to them. That’s why I said I’m not a good fit for the job anymore. I think it was me that changed a lot over the years.

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jim August 13, 2012 at 2:02 pm

“the average person is done with Intel after about five”

Voluntary turnover rate at Intel is currently 2%. That puts them at #2 among the top 100 companies to work for (at least among those that report #’s)

http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/best-companies/2012/turnover/

So in fact their turnover is among the very lowest out there among all major companies.

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Kathleen @ Frugal Portland August 13, 2012 at 2:06 pm

That could be partly due to the fact that if they stick it out seven years, they get a two month paid vacation. And they get that every seven years. It is a bad financial decision to leave.

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retirebyforty August 13, 2012 at 7:37 pm

I liked the sabbaticals. :)
It’s a great benefit and most people feels better after taking them.

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Miss T @ Prairie Eco-Thrifter August 13, 2012 at 12:48 pm

No wonder you retired. I would have too. I find that many companies lose sight of what is important with employees and end up pushing them out the door. I also don’t think it is right to let your career take away everything else in your life. I know so many people whose lives have fallen apart (divorce, sickness, etc) because they sold their soul to their job. I think you are going to be much happier now Joe.

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retirebyforty August 13, 2012 at 7:40 pm

I am already much happier now. Thanks! :)
It’s tough for the companies too. They need to have the senior people be more productive. It’s not enough to just be good at the technical side. The budget can’t keep up with the complexity so the senior people had to contribute more.

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jim August 13, 2012 at 1:17 pm

I work at a big tech company as an engineer. I am going on 16 years as an individual contributor in the same job. My job is just fine and I’m happy with it. I work in a support role with regular 40 hour schedule which makes it easier since I don’t have the 60 hour workweeks and high stress to hit deadlines. BUT about 50% of my friends have disliked their jobs at the same company and quit.

I think your management and the actual nature of the job probably matter as much or more than the company.

I’ve had friends at the same company who hated their management, hated their group and/or hated their actual jobs. Most of them were very unhappy and eventually quit. One of them bounced between 4-5 companies in 4-5 years and was never happy till she finally landed at a company she settled with. Another friend had a couple crappy jobs and long stretches of unemployment and now wishes he hadn’t quit our company in the first place. One friend was originally in a really REALLY awful job in a certain division here and eventually got out of that and changed to another job internally and his job went from hell to just fine. He’s perfectly happy now at the same company in a very different role under different management. Another friend quit but for him I honestly think it was mostly that he was homesick for his home state and didn’t like living here. I have a couple other friends that have been with the company for 10-15 years and are plenty happy with their jobs. For a few years I had a couple crappy managers and I hated my job .. manager changed and job got better again. I’m very sure if I had a different job role or just a bad manager that I’d hate my job too. On the other hand I’m sure other people would hate my job and not get along as well with my management. Its all very different mixed results all under one company.

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retirebyforty August 13, 2012 at 7:43 pm

I agree about the manager and job. I changed job a few times, but it was always high stress because I was in the CPU division.
I know many people who are quite happy with their job. I think most senior people who are strictly individual contributors will eventually get squeeze out though. Quite a few older folks were forced to retire over the last few years.

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T August 13, 2012 at 4:22 pm

I totally identify with this post…I’m a database engineer..been doing this for 9 years and I’m 34 years old going on 35. Having no kids and being a frugal person, I’ve been socking away savings. I too would like to semi-retire by 40 (ideally 38 years old). I have no wish to go into a leadership/management role yet I’m not sure if I can remain in a developer role for much longer. But my biggest problem is what other career can I go into?
I feel rather stuck right now. I guess I shouldn’t complain as I’m paid well yet I’m constantly brainstorming for what other new careers/small businesses I can start.

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retirebyforty August 13, 2012 at 7:45 pm

That’s great to hear. Even if you don’t want to leave yet, it’s a good to have that option. Perhaps you can take a year off to figure out what you want to do.
I used to think I shouldn’t complain because I was paid well too, but I was pretty miserable. It’s not worth the money to stay in a job that you hate for the paycheck unless you really need it. Good luck!

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Steve August 14, 2012 at 9:08 am

Lots of companies (at least in my field of software engineering) say there is a career path for engineers that don’t want to go into management. Yet the very fact that they trumpet this makes me think that that path doesn’t really exist, or has so few “openings” that it might as well not. Nevertheless, at least in software, there is always somewhere else to work where you can continue on as an individual contributor, or where it is easier to get a management/lead role, depending on which direction you wish to go (and aren’t getting traction on at your current employer)

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retirebyforty August 14, 2012 at 7:46 pm

Intel does have a path for senior level individual contributors. It seems most of those people doesn’t do much technical works though. It’s all about meeting, planning, and that kind of work at that level.
It’s more difficult in hardware engineering because it’s more specialized.

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krantcents August 13, 2012 at 4:55 pm

I remember during my children’s college orientation the Chancellor said that you should be prepared for multiple careers. Whether you are an engineer or accountant, you shouldn’t think it will stay the same for 40 years. I have had something like 7 careers. If you do not continue to learn and change over time, you become unpromotible and stagnate

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retirebyforty August 13, 2012 at 7:47 pm

Were all those careers successful? I know you did very well at many of them. Why did you have so many career change? I think it’s good to change career too. It keeps life more interesting.

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J.P. August 13, 2012 at 7:25 pm

Hi everyone. I’m J.P., and I’m the poor sod who asked Joe about his early retirement, so blame me for this big, bucket-load of depressing misery in a post. lol

To add to the misery, I’m an IT worker that has just turned Joe’s target-age, and have been out of work for over 2 years. I’ve only recently found out the reason for not getting any jobs was that my former employer was bad-mouthing me so I couldn’t get a job elsewhere. He shouldn’t bother, as I’ve been out of work for so long now, HR departments won’t hire ANYONE unemployed longer than 6 months anymore. I’ve burned through both my savings and my 401k just surviving, and am now living with family. Hence why I’m going back to school to start-over in another field.

Electronic engineering is a tough field nowadays, especially the sub-field of computer electronics. With China, India and now Indonesia coming online with semiconductor plants and their engineers fresh out of America’s best colleges, the industry is ripe for having electronic computer engineers being brought under pressure to perform more than ever before, or get out-sourced. US Bureau of Labor and Statistics shows a DOWNWARD trend in the industry for salaries….I know because Joe’s field was my first choice when going into engineering and did some researching for it. I flipped a coin between civil- and mechanical engineering, and chose M.E., as it’s the most versatile if I ever find a need to change jobs.

Joe, it sounds like pure burnout on your end, and I’m sure the engineering community is poorer without you around. That said, maybe after your fatherhood-sabbatical, you can find your second-wind and find something else that works for you. Maybe do like Limor “Ladyada” Fried did and start a company that supplies and educates electronics hobbyists. Or maybe beekeeping (*my* hobby). Or whatever gets you up out of bed in the morning.

Thanks again for a peek into the engineering lifestyle. :)

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retirebyforty August 13, 2012 at 10:47 pm

That’s true about outsourcing. A lot of jobs are going oversea. When I first started, Intel did all the design and validation in the US and Israel. Now even these core areas are starting to go oversea. Maybe I got out at the right time. :)

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J.P. August 14, 2012 at 9:59 am

I think you might have! lol Not everyone can make the transition from worker to manager. I’ve worked over 4-5 people maximum before, and had no problems with it, so I’d probably be okay making the jump. Management usually has a bit more job protection built-in, as you said before, you’re a multiplier and should be able to oversee not just people in person, but also the outsourced individuals overseas via tele-presense doing what used to be YOUR work. BTW, did you get a letter of recommendation from your former boss? It might help you out when you make the transition back into the work force later on. At the very least, it will avoid problems like have occurred with me!

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retirebyforty August 14, 2012 at 7:48 pm

I didn’t get a recommendation letter from my old boss because I’m not planning to go back to engineering. Our relationship wasn’t that great anyway. I’m in contact with the previous boss before that and can get the recommendation letter from him if needed.

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SP August 13, 2012 at 8:23 pm

I’m not a senior engineer (about 6 years in), but I definitely can see what you are saying regarding individual contributers at the senior level having trouble staying in the field. The good news is, I really like leading technical things, making presentations, planning, etc., so I hope I’m still able to enjoy my career for years to come! Nearly all of my college engineer friends are still engineers, but then again, we are all only about 6 years in. I don’t think my job is super high stress, and my hours are typically very reasonable, but I do see that changing as people go up in the chain.

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retirebyforty August 13, 2012 at 10:50 pm

If you like the leadership role, then that’s great. You will have more options than people who just like the technical aspect of the job like me. When I was young, I thought the hours wasn’t that bad.
Hope you have a great career.

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Mike August 13, 2012 at 8:57 pm

I’ve been following your posts for a few months. Congrats on the transition.

I am 20+ years into an engineering career and currently with a big tech company. I did the management thing for a few years but moved back to being a drone because it’s better fit with who I am and where I want to be. I am happy with my job and the Company. As far as retirement, the Mrs and I have been buying rentals for a couple of years and can nearly cover our expenses. Best case, we’d like to drop out of the rat race in 5 years and join the RB50 club.

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retirebyforty August 13, 2012 at 10:51 pm

It’s great that you are planning for the future. You like your job and company now, but who knows what can happen in 5 years. I did a little moving back and forth too. Good luck!

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Manette @ Barbara Friedberg Personal Finance August 14, 2012 at 4:34 am

When I was in high school, I dreamed of taking up Computer Engineering and become the only lady engineer in our batch. For some reasons, I majored in ECE. Yes, it was really tough!

After graduation, I taught in a comunity college while finishing my graduate degree. Afterwards, I moved to a software development company. However, it was getting difficult for us to get a helper who will look after our children while my husband and I are at work. Likewise, working hours are getting longer. There were weekends that i have to report to work. One day, all my three kids approached me and they all complained (Yes, the kids, not my husband! LOL) because I am not spending enough time with them anymore. That was the last straw so I decided to leave the job and become a full-time mom. Though I know we were not ready for it, we needed to make a decision. I was glad I found a way how I can work online and earn enough while at home.

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retirebyforty August 14, 2012 at 7:41 pm

I’m glad to hear you were able to work it out too. The women engineers have it pretty tough when they have kids. The demand at the company stays the same, but you need to take care of the kids too.

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Travis @Debtchronicles August 14, 2012 at 5:33 am

I’ve been a software (writing low level I/O firmware) engineer for 16 years now, and am expecting to make that “senior” level in the next year or so. I’m a team lead, and love my job. It has it’s challenging days, but I can count on my fingers the companies in the world where I an do what I do. It gets my brain moving in ways that nothing else in my life can – maybe my perspective will change one day, but right now, I couldn’t see giving it up.

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retirebyforty August 21, 2012 at 7:59 am

It’s great that your career is working out for you. I know quite a few senior level people that are very happy with their job.

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Leigh August 14, 2012 at 8:51 am

Stories like this are why I’m saving as much as I can now. I’m not convinced that I want to stay in the corporate life forever and I’m confident that I could save enough by 35-40, like you did, that I wouldn’t need to stay in the corporate life.

I’m a software engineer and only a few years out of college. I would say that I’m an intermediate-level engineer. I’ve seen some of what you’re talking about though, with the expectations changing as engineers get more senior.

I still enjoy my job now, but I doubt I would want to continue to do it until full retirement age. I can’t imagine still working 40 years from now!

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retirebyforty August 14, 2012 at 7:43 pm

Some people are happy with the corporate life, but it’s not for everyone. It’s great that you are saving and investing now. It will give you more options no matter what happens in the future. Good luck!

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Ornella @ Moneylicious August 14, 2012 at 11:59 am

I’m not sure if you will find humor in this but here it goes: my mom is an electrical engineer, my dad an engineer (don’t remember what kind), my brother majored in Industrial Engineering of Operations and Research and co-founded Mixbook.com, my uncle is in nuclear engineer (i think), and I’m a professional in the financial industry. I majored in finance. My mom told me not to become an engineer, and so I didn’t. My immediate family are all engineers, except for me. Could I be the blacksheep? Probably not, I find my field to be a lot more rewarding. :-)

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retirebyforty August 14, 2012 at 7:50 pm

Hahaha, that is pretty funny. I don’t know. Being an engineer is not bad, it’s just not for everyone. :)
It’s great that you successful in your field.

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Kruger April 21, 2014 at 6:25 pm

Interesting post!
Financial world vs the engineering world. Or for that matter, accountant or management or leadership world. Which one fulfill better the human soul most?

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Invest It Wisely August 14, 2012 at 12:29 pm

It’s so interesting to learn more about your background, Joe! I was only in the corporate world for 4 years before making my leap, so while I don’t consider myself retired, I’m definitely out on my own. Who knows what’s in store from here on out. ;)

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retirebyforty August 14, 2012 at 7:51 pm

I think you are doing great so far. You can always go back to work in a corporation if needed. Maybe move to the Bay Area? There are a lot more opportunities there if you want a job. :)

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Amy August 15, 2012 at 6:43 pm

I’m an engineer, EE, but started and have stayed in software, and I’ve worked with everything from embedded devices to large scale communications and control. I don’t think I’m cut out to be a manager, though (I’ve only led small 3-5 person groups). My company does have the technical track, where you’re expected to continue your education (PhD), publish papers, and research, which is not a bad thing. However, I’ve been in the field for 19 years now, and I’m burned out. Since I don’t want to go the technical track, and I don’t want to be a manager, either, I’m at a dead end. And my company also moved 20 miles further away, adding to my commute time. So, I’ve cut my hours down to half time at work (I do have a great manager!), and am in the process of getting my real estate license. Some people think I’m crazy to switch careers at this point. But if you get to a point in your career where you realize that it’s not giving you value, you need to move on from there. You have to make the most of your life! I have met two former engineers who went into real estate and never looked back. Good luck in finding your next career when you are ready!

Amy

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retirebyforty August 15, 2012 at 10:50 pm

Amy, I know how you feel. It would be fine for me to keep doing the same job and getting minimal raises, but that’s not enough for the company. They always demand more and I got burned out.
I think it’s good to try something else. Some people love engineering, but I saw many people who are just hanging on for the paycheck too.
Life is short so we need to enjoy it. Working is such a big part of life that it’s not worth staying in a job that you don’t like.
Good luck to you too. I’m sure the real estate market will turn around at some point. :)

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Jeffrey Trull August 16, 2012 at 4:42 pm

I’m an engineer by education and my 2 degrees, but never more than that. I got out before I even got in to the field for real. If I had gone for it, I could’ve seen a career ending up much like yours, Joe. Many of my friends work for consultants and work nights, weekends, or whatever it takes. I can just see the trend of how their lives will become more stressful and less fulfilling, even as they move up management. I just have no desire to do that.

Thanks for sharing!

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retirebyforty August 16, 2012 at 10:59 pm

Wow, that’s a lot of pain (2 degrees) to go through, but a few of my college friends did that too.
Yeah, it’s not that bad to work a lot of hours when you’re young. It’s no fun when you have a family though.
Looking forward to seeing you next week.

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Darwin's Money August 16, 2012 at 5:50 pm

Interesting insight, thanks for sharing! I too am an engineer and have undergone a similar transformation as I’ve progressed throughout my career. I used to enjoy being in the manufacturing plant, troubleshooting complex problems, getting that high at the end of the shift that we banged something out or whatever. A few jobs later I’m running projects that take 3-4 years to totally complete, my team is all over the world so all the interactions are over the phone and the responsibilities and expectations are increased. I’ve kinda grown into my current role but I’m mid-30s. I don’t know what I’ll be doing in my 40s and 50s but I may well find myself feeling the same way you did!

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retirebyforty August 16, 2012 at 11:02 pm

It sounds like you are doing pretty well in your leadership role. That’s great to hear and I know many people who like being a manager. I’m a much better individual contributor and I’m just not comfortable with leadership. Anyway, life goes on.

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Evan August 18, 2012 at 10:56 am

I know you are loving the time you are spending at home raising the toddler, but any thought to getting an intro job for 2-3 days a week? To alleviate some of the financial pressure

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retirebyforty August 18, 2012 at 9:13 pm

I’m not planning to get a job at this time. If our cash fund dip below $25,000, then I might consider taking up a part time job. Our finance is holding steady so I don’t think I’ll need to do that anytime soon. When he goes off to preschool, I’ll definitely put more effort into self employment or perhaps a part time job.

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nicoleandmaggie August 22, 2012 at 9:26 am

My husband is going to quit his engineering job in a year. My salary will cover our expenses plus an additional 4K, even with the new baby expenses. We’ve discovered that he’s a scanner… he likes to do new things all the time, so he’s thinking he wants to do contract work. We’re talking about this more on our Sept 3rd post.

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retirebyforty August 22, 2012 at 3:38 pm

I’ll mark the date on my calender and make sure to drop by.
Good luck!

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Ernie Zelinski August 26, 2012 at 1:28 am

Just a note that I got fired from my engineering job over 30 years ago for taking too much vacation. At first it was traumatic, but it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me.

I have not had a regular job since then. I semi-retired when my net worth was minus $30,000 (due to student loans) and have been semi-retired ever since, working four hours a day or so on things I like working on.

Relating to this is one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite bloggers:

“Getting a job and trading your time for money may seem like a good idea. There’s only one problem with it. It’s stupid! It’s the stupidest way you can possibly generate income! This is truly income for dummies. Why is getting a job so dumb? Because you only get
paid when you’re working.”
— Steve Pavlina, author of “Personal Development for Smart People”

In short, if anyone offered me $10 million to go work as an engineer (or any other corporate job) for one year, I wouldn’t consider it even for a nanosecond.

Ernie J. Zelinski
International Best-Selling Author, Innovator, and Prosperity Life Coach
Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
(Over 165,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working’
(Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

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retirebyforty August 27, 2012 at 11:52 am

Thanks for your input. Most engineers are very resourceful and I’m sure they can function even without an engineering job. Wow, I would consider $10 million for one year. :)
I’ll only work on what I want to from now on and will never go back to working for a corporation.
Hopefully, my library will have your books.

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Ernie Zelinski August 27, 2012 at 2:40 pm

If you give me your address, either here, or e-mail it to success101coach (at) yahoo (dot) com, I can send you a complimentary autographed copy of “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free.”

Hopefully you will like it and will post a great review of it both on Amazon.com and here on your blog.

Thanks.

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davidmichael April 20, 2014 at 9:58 am

Ernie…Again this comes back to the definition of what each individual understands as “retirement.” As I mentioned above in an observation to a post, retirement for me means “freedom of choice.” After 20 years of retirement, I love having all of the choices in my life, sometimes trading seasonal work for money to improve our cash flow or just being challenged by a source outside of my daily routine. I also like volunteering for the same reason (mental challenges) and meeting new people. I note that you prefer writing as your new work after being an engineer. That’s the beauty of retiring relatively young (50′s for me), lots of choices and new experiences.

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Bobalicon August 26, 2012 at 7:38 am

I think you’ve invested too many years in education and professional experience to simply quit the workforce.

Every company is run differently and has different views on work/life balance. Therefore, just because Intel did you wrong does not mean you should give the notion of working for Corporate America the middle finger.

Have you considered going into programming? Business analysis?

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retirebyforty August 27, 2012 at 11:54 am

I’m pretty happy with what my education and working life gave me. I’ll try self employment for a while and if I really have to, I would consider going back to work for a small company. Most people can tolerate corporate America, but it really isn’t for me.

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Ernie Zelinski August 27, 2012 at 3:04 pm

I would just add that I totally agree with you here. It is totally irrelevant how much time, money, and education one has invested in the past. If one doesn’t like one’s job, one should find a way to leave.

Seth Godin covers this very well in his book “The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick)”

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Bobalicon August 28, 2012 at 7:20 am

@Ernie – sure, no point in working at a place that causes you both mental and physical pain. However, don’t you think it would be prudent to find another job before quitting, especially in this very difficult, ultra-competitive job market?

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Ernie Zelinski September 4, 2012 at 1:16 am

Not at all. One of my favorite blog posts ever is by one of my favorite bloggers.

The blog post is titled “Top-10 Reasons You Should Never Get a Job” and it is by Steve Pavlina, author of “Personal Development for Smart People”

http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2006/07/10-reasons-you-should-never-get-a-job/

I particularly like this part by Steve:

“Getting a job and trading your time for money may seem like a good idea. There’s only one problem with it. It’s stupid! It’s the stupidest way you can possibly generate income! This is truly income for dummies.

“Why is getting a job so dumb? Because you only get paid when you’re working. Don’t you see a problem with that, or have you been so thoroughly brainwashed into thinking it’s reasonable and intelligent to only earn income when you’re working? Have you never considered that it might be better to be paid even when you’re not working? Who taught you that you could only earn income while working? Some other brainwashed employee perhaps?”

Just a further note that in 1991 when there was a recession happening and shortly after I wrote and self-published my international bestseller “The Joy of Not Working”, I received this letter from a reader:

Dear Ernie:

I have just finished reading your book “The Joy of Not Working.” Your inspirational words have changed the way I now view my life. I always felt that working harder would eliminate my problems, but all it ever did was complicate my life and cause more problems. You have given me the courage to quit my job. I used to be a tax consultant. Now I’m a human being again.

That’s right. I marched in this morning and told them I quit because my wife, my kids, and my health (both mental and physical) were more important. I’ve been seeking security through working more, but that’s not the answer. There are so many things I’ve wanted to do but felt I couldn’t. I love reading, and I’ve always felt writing would be a natural extension of my personality. If you have the time, I’d appreciate learning how you got started writing. I also failed first-year university English.

Thank You,
Les

Incidentally, Les wrote to me a few years later and he did okay.

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First gen American August 29, 2012 at 3:04 am

I think this happens to a lot of engineers. They end up in management positions over time. My husband got promoted out of his technical job without even being interested or consulted. Although it was much better than being laid off and he’s good at it, I think most people don’t realize staying in a technical role forever is not always possible, especially once you salary gets in the 6 figure range.

Good article. The stuff I hate most about my job is the non technical stuff. Too.

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Bobalicon August 29, 2012 at 8:47 am

@FGA – Interesting, yet odd. I would think the business would initially ask your husband if he’d be interested in the managerial role. Many folks in IT/Engineering are quite content to keep their existing non-managerial roles.

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retirebyforty August 29, 2012 at 4:52 pm

Sorry to hear that. I should have quit 5-6 years ago. Now I don’t even like the technical part of the job. Oh well, life goes on.

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Michael Brooklyn September 3, 2012 at 5:06 pm

“Management” as conceived by the Harvard Business School is a massively overrated. Obviously management is required at some level, but the expected level is more to support a Wall st expectation of commoditization of everything. Engineering should have a big dose of creativity, which is something which is inherently chaotic and unmanageable.

I am a consulting engineer specializing in structural glass for buildings, and a started my own practice two years ago. I charge only a little less than big management heavy firms, but have no management overhead. Clients, including now two Fortune 500 companies, love it because they can buy the creativity from my office which has been strangled by their in house MBA’s.

I am currently 36 and may be able to retire retire at 40, but I would never do so because I like engineering too much.

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retirebyforty September 3, 2012 at 6:30 pm

Thanks for sharing your story. I think the corporate culture really killed off many good engineers. That’s too bad.

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Bobalicon September 4, 2012 at 6:31 am

@Michael – Well done, sir. You excised Corporate America bureaucracy from the equation.

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CoyJohnson September 27, 2012 at 9:15 pm

My goals and circumstance are very similar to yours. Been in software engineering field for 12 years and looking forward to financial freedom. Quit the inflated lifestyle 2 years ago. Never felt better. Looking forward to spending more time with the family. I had planned on 44, but reading your blog has got me thinking more aggressively.

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Carlos Sera November 13, 2012 at 8:24 am

My son, like yourself and CNBC’s Jim Cramer studied engineering. Unlike yourself, my son Carl and Jim both quit to work in Finance. When I asked my son why he switched he said, “I realized I would have to be an engineer.” I don’t know if this helps, but the engineering curriculum and it’s approach to critical thinking has certainly aided in his transition from Engineering to Finance.

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retirebyforty November 13, 2012 at 2:53 pm

Engineering was fun in the beginning, but I got burned out. It happens to a lot of people. Some people still love it after 20 years and that’s good for them also.

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acp January 22, 2013 at 8:49 pm

Its funny because I just graduated in December and I would love to do the exact opposite of you. The faster I get into management the better! I think of myself as a strong intellectual, but technical positions don’t seem to be for me. When I look at job postings for ECE they just all look boring. I have strong speaking skills and would be more than happy if my whole day were to be filled with meetings, presentations, etc. Unfortunately for me it just doesn’t seem to be possible to have that kind of job immediately, so I’ll end up drudging through my job until I can get there.

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retirebyforty January 23, 2013 at 12:12 am

I think you can get into the management position pretty quick if you like that. Find a good mentor and you’ll get a lot of help.
You can also see if you can get into an assistance position for one of the senior manager. You can help make presentation, set up meetings, and those kind of work. That’s a good way to get out of the technical side. Good luck!

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acp January 23, 2013 at 10:58 am

Thanks for the advice, I’ll see what I can find. I was also thinking about getting an MBA a little down the road, but I’ve heard the value of those is decreasing. And of course going back to school is always harder than going the first time.

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FutureAirborneRanger February 18, 2013 at 1:42 am

“I lost interest in the job/career”

I can strongly relate to this one. I’ve been in Civil Engineering for 4.5 years and am in the middle of a career change. I firmly believe Engineering (or any career for that matter) is something you have to have a passion for, and frankly I never had it. When I first started, my Engineering job was only intended to be a starting point so I could figure out what I really want to do (And I have figured it out at this point). I found firsthand that if you don’t have the passion you’ll eventually wind up hating it and do mediocre work at best (I’m not saying you’ve done mediocre work; this just happens to be how my story unfolded). This leaves an unsatisfied, unfulfilled worker and a company with less profit-in other words it sucks for everyone involved. Like you said it has the potential to be a rewarding career, but it’s definitely not for everyone. Thanks for sharing your story; I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s had enough Engineering!

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retirebyforty February 19, 2013 at 1:11 am

Thanks for your comment. I liked it at first, but all the corporate BS that came with it just killed it for me.
Anyway, people change career a few times these days. We need to find something that we enjoy and then the money will come. Good luck!

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Raymond May 9, 2013 at 1:52 am

FutureAirborneRanger,

Your comment really hit home for me because I quit engineering after I got my EE degree from Cal Poly Pomona. I couldn’t stand it.

I got a good GPA (3.4) upon graduation but I seriously hated it.

But I’ve always wondered how things would have went had I stayed and got a job like everyone else. I eventually went into architecture, then marketing, then Dietetics & Nutrition.

But I think you’re right though, I probably would’ve produced mediocre results at best. And like RetireBy40 is saying, I probably would’ve spent all my money trying to make myself happier.

If you get a chance, I want to hear more about your thoughts on this because I think about this scenario so often and am always wondering “What if I became an engineer?” –> Ray (at) howtoclearyouracne (dot) com.

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christian Rodriguez February 26, 2013 at 11:00 pm

I worked for Intel for 5 years, worst job I have ever had.

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thewormhasturned April 9, 2013 at 12:40 pm

I left my previous employer (listed on Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For too no less) partly because I tired of the corporate drama… makes you wonder what it is like for companies not on the Fortune list.

Engineering is team endeavor and there’s always going to be at the very least a little corporate drama wherever you go.

While my current gig is okay it has me thinking about what to do in the long term. I’ve been doing this for fifteen years and I feel it’s sort of time for a change… a long sabbatical sounds about right and I don’t know if I want to go back to engineering after that. So I how some ex engineers feel :-)

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retirebyforty April 9, 2013 at 3:34 pm

Intel is also one of the best companies to work for. It was good when I was young, but it’s not a good fit when I got older.
Good luck finding a long term solution. A sabbatical would be great to get your head straight. Cheers.

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Theo May 21, 2013 at 3:21 am

Very intersting view. However,none of you should complain. I have a masters degree in Power Distribution and Control,and still can’t find a proper job. Spending hundreds of hours even more in MATLAB trying to configure complex Power networks using Newton-Raphson equations etc,has turned absolutely useless and waste of time. I have been rejected by many companies,as I don’t have the necessary experience to work out in the field. There is no way for me then to work as an engineer,and I gave up. Sad but true.

Hence I decided to move into the area of of web design(HTML/CSS,Photoshop,Flash) and developement. I already am a qualified Java SE6 professional programmer by Oracle,so PHP is not that hard for me(at the moment),and study to obtain the mysql5 associate certification.

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retirebyforty May 21, 2013 at 3:38 pm

Good luck out there. I guess that’s why we need to keep learning new things.

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Mick May 22, 2013 at 9:55 am

I started at DEC (anyone remember them?) in 1983 as a computer technician, I started attending college for an EE degree part time in the late 80′s – tuition was 100% reimbursed back then. DEC closed our site in 1991 and I decided to finish college as a full time student, graduating in 1994 with a BSEE.

At my first job I realized the happy days of DEC and the 80′s were over. By the end of the 90′s I had been through four companies. I received my MSEE in 1999 and by this time few companies would even pay partial tuition reimbursement. I persevered. Job #5 lasted 2 1/2 years and the site was unceremoniously closed in 2003. It would be 13 months before I could even get a contracting job. My next stint of unemployment after that started in March 2012 and has continued since.

I’ve put at least as much personal time investing in my skill set as I did all my college work – ASIC, FPGA, and DSP filter development languages and tools. I’ve also done numerous circuit designs and know dozens of tool suites and work flows, some of which are now obsolete. I’ve worked in embedded, telecomm, aerospace and even military R&D. Employer skill set requirements have become increasingly ridiculous, often commanding mastery of embedded programming and hardware together (with their particular boutique of tools and architectures). Matching skills and needs, in my opinion, is getting impossible.

At the moment, everyone I know who has an EE job is worried. People have left engineering all together (one opened a package store), retired early or have given up looking. I personally don’t know what I can do, it’s a lot of human capital to give up.

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retirebyforty May 23, 2013 at 9:06 am

Thanks for sharing. Time is different now, that’s for sure. Employers are too concern about the short term profitability.
Good luck finding another EE job. Many of my friends have troubles too, but it’s much easier if you are in the right area.
Maybe you should try moving to San Jose for a few months and see if you can find anything. It’s tough.
Seems like companies prefer to hire young people with a few years of experience. They can just learn on the job and are much cheaper than experienced folks.

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Defense_Worker July 31, 2013 at 10:31 am

A guy I worked with at Lockheed (around 60 now, and laid off) was from DEC in the Boston area. If willing to move, there are oodles of defense jobs around Maryland and of course DC. Arizona also has many defense and non-defense jobs. I’m stuck in upstate NY however… plenty of SW jobs and some manufacturing related jobs, but nobody around here (except other dwindling defense companies) designs huge complex (mostly SW based) safety critical systems like I did at Lockheed.

I think Kodak in Rochester, which had 60k workers at the peak, is 100% gone now. Xerox is WAY smaller than it used to be, and Bosh and Lomb’s HQ is leaving – announced a week ago.

In Syracuse, Carrier’s union chased the manufacturing out of state and country, but R&D remains. New Process Gear (GM/Chrysler transmissions) is 100% gone. Lockheed in Syracuse and Owego/Binghamton are around half what they were 10 years ago, and the GE/Lockheed facility in Utica is gone. all defense companies w/in 200 miles have had layoffs this year and Lockheed has cut workers (around 70% to 85% over 40 years old) FOUR years in a row!

What I’ve found works is to ignore the advice that says you are also interviewing the company, because you’re not…you are basically begging for a job at this point. Don’t ask anything from them in any way, such as working from home (for example), which many people make the mistake of doing. a few guys admitted that they felt they lost jobs due to that, and I think I did too. I didn’t ask ANYTHING this time (other than how many workers were at the site – a few just for the sake of having questions), and I got the job.

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Johan July 17, 2013 at 10:13 pm

As of now, I’ve been with my company for ten years. It’s interesting because I know guys who are mostly still technical after 30 years at the company. At the same time I know many, many engineers who hit the “wall” at a particular level and are content to just sit and specialize in something and be a “go-to” guy for something. The company realized that the only way to pass on the knowledge from the increasingly graying population (to give perspective, as of the time of this writing, fully 50% will be eligible for retirement under minimum age requirements in 5 years) is to pass it on to the younger folks. Thus more of the older folks become “full-time direct consultants” rather than the go-to guys.

This is great for me because it creates both technical and leadership potential opportunities. And in my field, we’re a technology integrator, so if I want to dive deep into something I can most likely, and if I want to generalize and focus on high level stuff, I can too. On top of that, I have been networking via LinkedIn and I’ve gotten interview offers from companies across the USA and Canada.

I know some guys who are going into management and I think they came to the same conclusion you did – engineering just wasn’t fun or rewarding anymore, or found their calling. I personally find the technical details interesting and I think that I will stay that route, and seem to be OK at leading (so far LOL!). I think mentoring the younger new engineers has been rewarding and made me realize I might like being a “professor” or something. But then again, I’m just a “new” senior engineer, so we’ll see what I’ll say after a few years!

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retirebyforty July 18, 2013 at 9:04 am

Wow, 30 years experience. There weren’t many of those guys left at my old company. They all got forced to retire or got fired. That’s another reason why I don’t like the corporate world. It’s so heartless. It’s way cheaper to hire young guys and make them ramp up these days.
Good luck! I’m sure you’ll do well since you sounds like you’re having a lot of fun.

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Nathan July 25, 2013 at 9:22 am

I’ve really enjoyed this reading this discussion, as I am living life nearly in reverse from most of the people posting. I’ve “followed my dreams” since the early 90′s with a career in art handling, production of art exhibits, and picture framing. Now that I’m 40, the reality is that though I’ve loved literally nearly every day on the job, the income just doesn’t allow for any real savings or retirement planning, or auto mechanic bills or orthodontics for the kid.

Much of art installation and framing is about problem-solving and spatial thinking, so I’m thinking of returning to school for an engineering degree. Biomedical seems interesting, but I’d love anyone’s input on where the engineering field is headed these days.

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retirebyforty July 26, 2013 at 8:47 am

At least you gave it a shot, right? 95% of the people who went into the traditional workforce lifestyle, couldn’t get out of it. It’s just too hard to let go.
I think engineering is still a great field. WE always need more engineers.

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Defense_Worker July 30, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Wow, you have had similar experiences as me (I worked at Lockheed)…it’s not fun once you finally make good pay (and have the pressures of supporting a family).

I was the top math, science, and economics student ($$$!!!) out of 230 at my high school.
I have a MSEE degree with a 3.8 GPA…and graduated in 5 years basically (had 2 classes out of the 10 to take when I started working). Out of 180 EE’s, not many American born engineers graduated with a higher GPA.

HR makes it into slavery (an Israeli program manager said “engineering is modern day slavery” – too funny, it even sucks in Israel!) . We’re treated like a number 100%.
I think many engineering companies work similarly to the following (due to HR receiving similar training at college):

People in each pay level (which pretty much aligns with age/experience) are compared to each other. They literally “rank” the employees from 1 to xxx in each pay level.
Each employee needs to have 3 or 4 coworkers and leads appraise them annually. Clearly, being buddies with your team leads helps.

Raises are based on how much you are paid w/in your pay level (are you at the bottom and thus underpaid, or at the top and “fully compensated”), and performance, which for engineers is subjective, unlike a sales job.

We had 5 levels of performance rankings w/in each pay level.

Only the top 10% get good raises (ie more than 1% above inflation). I got as few of those early on, and was the only engineer out of 30 in my unit two years in a row to get it…but just a year later, doing the same work, my new manager (who was hired a few years earlier to code the software for a fantastic whitepaper I wrote, which won us new work) gave me ZERO! Total insult. and that’s back in the mid 90′s when there was a shortage of engineers, much unlike today.

The next 20% (in terms of performance) get around 1% above inflation for their raise – they are just barely keeping up with inflation!

The next group, the largest with 50% of the employees, gets from 0% to 1% above inflation. People who are above the middle of the pay level mostly get no raise – they are “fully compensated” in that pay level (but if they get promoted tot he next level, they are at much greater risk of being laid off! That’s what got me…).

The next 10% gets no raise, even if they are underpaid w/in their pay level.

The bottom 10% also gets no raise, even if they are underpaid w/in their pay level…and they are guaranteed to get axed in the next layoff, which occurred every 2 years on average.

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retirebyforty July 30, 2013 at 3:45 pm

Thanks for sharing. Your annual review process is almost exactly the same as what they had at Intel.
I’m sure it’s the standard operating procedure to squeeze as much as they can out of engineers. It’s good for the short term, but I don’t think it works in the long term. You lose a lot of good people that way.
Yeap, being on good term with your manager is pretty much the most important thing in the annual review.

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Defense_Worker July 30, 2013 at 4:17 pm

It was Jack Welch’s idea to “squeeze” the bottom 10% so they’d leave the company on their own…GE did not have layoffs like us, so maybe that made sense for them. We had layoffs every 2 years on average however (and 4 years in a row currently!), so hardly did they need to force anyone out via other methods.

All it did was piss off around 10 to 20% (depended on how well the business was doing; etc) who got no raises for a LONG time. Instead, why not give them 2% raises…that’s only 10% x 2% = 0.2% of the total payroll! So hardly did it save a meaningful amount of money compared to the damage to morale. Nobody worked extra hours unpaid anymore, and some didn’t work the 40 they charged, which is a felony.

Around half of those who got no raises were the same people as the prior year, but many were not, so around 30% of the workers at some point got shafted.

My friend got no raise, and 1-2 months later won a huge corporate award for the work he did during that same period! He had my manager at that point… My friend was transferring to a different group/program, and he’d also have a new manger. So we figure his manager figured why not screw him over since he wouldn’t be in his unit the next year anyhow.

Anyone there more than 10 years has survived at least 2-3 layoffs, so you look around and (almost) everyone else has been through the same “layoff filters” as I call them. They did not hire many experienced engineers, so they needed to have strong resumes to get hired, yet they usually did not make it past 2 layoffs.
Only the very best were left. Phd’s were laid off the year before me (especially those over 40, which most were). Almost nobody under 40 was laid off. The prior year was the same.

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Doesn't Matter July 31, 2013 at 4:26 am

Probably, you really did gave up your engineering career, but did you give up on your engineering skills too.

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struggler August 10, 2013 at 2:25 pm

I graduated from computer science master’s program, with 3.9 GPA, but landed a mediocre engineering job, and I cannot even like my career. Debugging drives me crazy. The details you have to remember drive me crazy. All the tiny little bits you have to configure exactly right to make those meaningless machines work drive me crazy. I spent all my time and energy on learning emerging technologies, with no personal life left, but I still can’t answer the interview programming questions, thus still can’t land a better job. And I doubt I will like it if I do get one.

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Defense_Worker August 10, 2013 at 8:51 pm

I loved my job the first 10 years…I think all engineers do because you get better raises the first 7-10 years and don’t have a lot of responsibility or expectations placed upon you. We also received $500 bonuses for simply meeting milestones – doing our jobs….it boosted morale a LOT though. Nobody who was laid off has any intention of ever going back. Then the penny pinchers came, and ticked everyone off.

I wonder if other careers are like ours. We could work for 20 years at the same demanding company, yet have to prove ourselves at an interview…do lawyers get asked trick questions regarding the law during interviews? What about accountants – are they asked about obscure tax laws?

We designed very complex systems. One system was literally the most complex the gov’t had ever undertaken until than – well over 5 million lines of code! 20 years later, those engineers are now mostly laid off. A company making retirement software drilled my coworkers in interviews – and that company doesn’t even pay well (their ad encourages H1 visa holders to apply and advertises a $45k salary at the low end of the range). I started out at $36k 20 years ago! That’s $57k in today’s dollars.

I was lucky and managed to get a gov’t job w/in $6k of what I used to make. Very few of my coworkers did as well. One lead test engineer, after 9 months of searching hard, took a job (doing hands on IT work) which barely pays half of what he used to make. He made around $110k at the former company – with 20+ years of experience.
I have a MSEE and top grades too, but didn’t quite make $100k even though I was the lead SE on a multi-hundred million program.

Hopefully working for the gov’t will be lower stress and have better morale…just need to get through the next few tough fiscal years.

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retirebyforty August 11, 2013 at 10:57 pm

Good point about the first 10 years. It was a lot of fun and there wasn’t a lot of leadership demand.

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retirebyforty August 11, 2013 at 10:59 pm

That’s a tough situation to be in. You should save up as much money as you can for now and explore alternative careers. You don’t have to be a programmer forever. Good luck!

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Christian Perez September 12, 2013 at 1:01 pm

I wish I had the opportunities you did, I am currently a freshman in College and am pursuing a software engineering degree. I know this unrelated to your RB40 story, but I am curious on how you dealt with the transition from highschool to college? My school offers a lot of resources but the one thing they all is an actual person from the field. Thanks for reading and any comment would be greatly appreciated. Good luck with very thing and I hope we can both find our ways.

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John Zhang September 17, 2013 at 1:52 pm

Hi, Joe:

I have been reading your blog for a while. It is good. Thanks for sharing. I wonder if possible, could you shoot me a private email since I have something to consult with you. Thanks. John

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engineer September 30, 2013 at 2:50 pm

Hi all,

I am currently in the engineering field but have lost a lot of interest in the engineering field. I am a female mechanical engineer and hate sitting at a desk for long periods at a time. I worked for a small amd medium size company and both have their pros and cons. Ultimately, I miss working with people. I am looking to get out of engineering and I will be another statistic of a female who reached the 5 uear milestone. I am looking at being a science teacher or going into healthcare. I was told a larger company would be easier to work for but based on the forum, I am not sure. Any engineers out there that went into teaching or healthcare?

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retirebyforty September 30, 2013 at 3:49 pm

It is quite depressing to sit in front of the monitor all day long. When I wasn’t in front of a monitor, I was attending useless meetings. That’s the problem with big companies.
I think science teacher sounds great. You’ll get a big pay cut though. :(
You should change job and give it one more chance. Maybe you’ll find a good group of people to work with and revitalize your engineering career. You can always quit if it didn’t work out.
Good luck!

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RF/Microwave Engineer October 15, 2013 at 6:56 am

I’ve been in engineering for 32 years since age 20. Started as a technician and worked my way through school completing a bachelors and masters degree (12 years). All paid for by the company. Engineering has been good to me but not easy. I’ve been laid off, let go, walked out, ect., ect. Each time there has been another opportunity! Everyday I get up I work for me, not the company, for me. The knowledge I get is the knowledge I take with me. I’ve worked for ten companies in the Balt./D.C. area both small and large. The only difference was the sign on the front door!
In conclusion, companies are no larger interested in engineering like back in “the ole days”. With the accountants running the companies and the quarterly profit the top priority, engineering is just a necessary evil to top management.

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retirebyforty October 15, 2013 at 11:29 pm

Thanks for your input. I probably should have changed job more often. However, we didn’t want to move and there are limited employers in our area. I probably should have moved to the Bay Area when I was young.

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Ed Smith November 3, 2013 at 3:10 am

At the retired age of 69, knowing what I know now, Never in Hell would I recommend the engineering field to any person. No job security, no significant income, long hours, hatred by non-engineers, etc., etc., etc. I know people driving fork trucks and collecting garbage who are better off than most engineers.

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retirebyforty November 3, 2013 at 4:58 pm

Really? Some people seems to do very well as an engineer. Job security is definitely getting worse though.

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Kruger April 21, 2014 at 8:24 pm

people driving fork trucks doing better than engineers? It is true!
These people are not in front of the computer 10 hours daily. At least these people are in better physical shape than most engineers.
Engineers are so skillful doing very complex works, but at the same time, people with less training are doing better by being their own boss.

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sofia November 12, 2013 at 9:10 pm

Hi.
I am also an ECE retired at age of 32. I worked for over 10yrs in two companies. I retired when my 1st child is growing up and I felt I have no choice but to give her priority. I got across your blog because after 1.5yrs of being retired I am contemplating on returning to the work force but don’t want an engineering career in the same industry. I think only engineers will understand the stresses that comes with our work and keeping up with the technology, the problem with being a single contributor and the expectations as you become a senior engineer. Those are the things that I don’t want to face anymore because being a mother when I go home at night is another whole level and totally different career for a woman. I sometimes miss programming and other stuff and would like to work again because I still want to keep my brain working and due to self worth, you know. I am trying to explore my options after 1.5yrs of not working.

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retirebyforty November 13, 2013 at 9:00 am

Maybe you can do contract jobs instead. That way you can control your hours.
Working part time is a great way to have the best of both worlds.
You probably need to get back into it very soon though. 1.5 years is a long gap in the resume.
Or perhaps try a different career or start a business. Good luck!

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Joe Smith November 16, 2013 at 12:23 am

Have been an engineer on the mechanical, manufacturing, test, design, and quality assurance side for over 35 years. Have been laid off 19 times in those 35 years of a mix of contract and full time positions. Years ago only engineers over the age of 40 were down trodden and at the mercy of contracting in order to find any type of work. Now those in their late 20′s and even engineering graduates are stuck contracting. The warning signs are clear and many with engineering degrees get out of the field real quick. I worked at a place two years ago that had 6 mechanical engineering contractors. All 6 were divorced by their spouses and still had to pay child support. Several of them were severe alcoholics stumbling late into work each day with an occassional bruise or two from the night before. Absolute mess engineering is in the USA today. 27 year old engineers being promoted to group leaders instructing 57 year old alcoholic contracting engineers. The 27 year old group leaders work 60 hours a week with approximately 1/5 of those hours in meaningless meetings. Most companies hire H-1B foreign visa workers in place of USA citizens to save costs.

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Joe Smith November 16, 2013 at 12:43 am

Would like to add an update to my comment above. One of the engineers I worked with that stumbled into work late after drinking the night before has turned things around. His child support commitment ended and he teamed up with a group of engineers that were consulting to an Italian company specializing in nano technology implementation. He is now in Italy doing “real” engineering design. So while companies are replacing older experienced engineers with cheaper foreign tech workers on H-1B visas this guy did a reverse and he is sharing his engineering expertise with the Italians. Perhaps this is a trend that will continue which is a plus for foreign countries to grab excellent engineering talent that has gone to waste in the USA.

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retirebyforty November 16, 2013 at 10:09 am

Sorry to hear about your experience. Engineering is a good field, but it’s just getting more difficult everyday. Engineers should recognize that it’s a lot harder to spend your whole life as an engineer. We need to plan an exit strategy.
Working long hours is rough on the relationship.

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dmc December 1, 2013 at 2:55 pm

I worked at BRCM in the metro Boston area in the last years before 2010. I thought the product was cool, and as an engineer back then with a decade of experience, I was excited at the start to be part of the company. However, soon the working relationships became … disheartening. A little more than 2/3 of the engineers were Americans and the rest were foreigners, largely Chinese and Indians. A handful of the line managers were foreign born. It was a perfect storm for bigotry and racism. There were few women — I could count the female engineers with one hand — and so you had testosterone fueled egotism in the mix.

What can I say? This is New England, not the Tri-State or California. Diversity wasn’t really part of the regional landscape nor the local history. It was disheartening to say the least. After two years I quit.

What has this got to do with computer engineering? Every time I start at a new job I ask myself: am in for another display of the ugliness of human nature?

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PNH December 28, 2013 at 12:26 am

Good blog. Very interesting to read. I am an embedded engineer of 10+ years. The way my career has shaken out is that I worked for my first company for 10 years (embedded engineer for a gaming company) and left on a high note (great recommendations), about 9 months before the company decided to change direction and did massive layoffs. The second company I hopped to was much smaller (instead of 5000 people, it was about 100 people). At this company I was an embedded engineer working in power systems. Big change. The engineering group was small and still very “family” oriented. However, after about 5 years there, and similar good credentials, I could see things going south with this company. So, I left there and actually went back to the first company for a year, dodging layoffs at the smaller company. After a year at the first place again, I decided to change streams and moved out of state to a company that deals with cable power systems. I am essentially a communications systems embedded engineer. I do like the place I am at now. I have made it a year here and the potential looks good. There is a ton of stress though. The expectation is high and I am kind of taking up the slack that another senior engineer has created (he is content to sit in a corner and work alone). I do have a business degree as well, but prefer the engineering side of things. I still love engineering and do a lot of projects with my daughter on the side (she is 7). Here is the problem Two years ago I suffered a heart attack after leaving a gym and doing some swimming. I essentially passed out driving back to work and was dead for at least 90 seconds to two minutes until people at work shocked me back to life (got shocked a second time in the ambulance). I have been fine since, but I have the fear of the stress and future for my family. My wife works, but doesnt bring in a lot of money. So, there is no way to live off of what she can make. We have debts from previous houses, etc. and need the type of income that I have grown to make. So, its a matter of having to live with the stress. What I would love to do is to run my own business of some form, preferably related to engineering, but am a realist in that I know it takes a good chunk of money to get going and I need to find a good niche. I have tried the freelancing side of things, but I know from that that its very difficult to get any kind of steady jobs rolling along. Engineering can be a good gig if you adjust and try different fields instead of staying in the same field. I love lots of aspects of engineering and try to learn new fields and have gotten jobs in the different niches in the phases of my career. In the company I work at now, they have actually had a partnership with an Indian company for a handful of years and are trying to pull back some of that work back to the US, in house. I am a big part of trying to do that with some projects we are working on now. As much as I love engineering though, I always go back to the thing a diving friend of mine and I say to each other. “once things get too bad, we may as well open up a dive shop and Dairy Queen in Palau and call it good” :) Heck, there have been times when I am in a grocery line and see the person bagging groceries and say to myself “man, I would love that level of stress for a day or two, it would be great”.

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retirebyforty December 29, 2013 at 5:38 am

Thanks for sharing. You should evaluate your option more and see if you can reduce the stress level in your life. You already had one scary episode and you don’t want to repeat that. I’m sure your family would rather live a little simpler and have you around for the long term. Can you handle another 5 or 10 years of this stress?
Can you downsize your home or perhaps find some other way to cut expenses?
Good luck and please take care of yourself.

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extel January 6, 2014 at 2:13 pm

Hi Joe.

I enjoy your blog.

When I was a blue badge employee, I enjoyed two sabbaticals and several grade promotions, but towards the end it wasn’t the same for me either.

At first, I was an RCG and loved working late and even on weekends.
But as the years flew by, things changed when there were dept reorgs and many managerial changes. I can’t remember how many different managers I’ve had due just to reorgs alone. I think towards the end of my employment, they had poor managerial leadership in the design teams that I worked on. They encouraged behavior which wasn’t constructive for effective team work or developing strong leaders.

Those senior folks who were good at office politics or schmoozing or shirking work onto others got better visibility and reviews and seen as stronger leaders. Since those weren’t my strengths, I was thought of as a weak leader. So even though I was able to get the technical stuff done, I was penalized because I wasn’t the most extroverted or well connected person during focal.

In hindsight, I probably could have done things a little differently to have tried to hang in there. But when they were handing out vsp, I guess that was a wake up call that I was expendable. The severance package was ok. Now though, the job market is highly competitve and sometimes I wonder if I should have not accepted separation package and stayed.

Oh well, thanks for listening….

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retirebyforty January 6, 2014 at 4:14 pm

I had 2 sabbaticals with Intel as well. It was really hard to go back to work after the 2nd one.
I was terrible with the office politic. When I had the right manager who know what I could do, it was fine. However, I didn’t really get along with my last manager and it made leaving a pretty easy decision. I guess I should have held out for a vsp, but I couldn’t stand going into the office anymore.
Good luck with the job search. Are you in San Jose? You might need to move to California if you are looking for an engineering job.

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FormerInteler January 30, 2014 at 6:44 pm

This article described what happened to me…EXACTLY. I just left Intel after 17 years as a design engineer. The first 7 years where challenging and rewarding. Technical individual contributors were left to work the magic, and actually get things done. Between my 1st and 2nd sabbatical things started to change. I became more senior and the expectation was to sit in god awful meetings all day, make slides sets, and influence others. I butted heads with my managers for a 5-7 years over this, telling them I just wanted to design things. “Well, you received such and such promotion and such and such raises.” Well, I never asked for them, you gave them to me! I’m telling you what I’m good at and you aren’t listening.

After my second sabbatical I stuck it out as long as I could, but it just got worse. Evening meetings with Shanghai teams, zero design work, meetings, meetings, meetings. I went to my boss off the month and said “I’m out at the beginning of January.”

The fact that they are putting up the DuPont, WA site for sale helped my decision, and my wife fully supported me. So much less stress now as I forge ahead with new interests.

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retirebyforty January 31, 2014 at 10:13 am

Sorry to hear that. I think it’s pretty common. They want people that can make more impact. If you like the technical side, it seems your career will be a short one. That’s unfortunate. Best of luck with your next chapter.

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Civil February 1, 2014 at 3:53 pm

I’m a civil engineer, master’s degree in structures. Graduated from a state univ summa, and started out with structures in 99. Laid off after 1 year, so I took a 2 week vacation and then started in with another firm across the street. Got tired of working in the downtown area of our metropolis and my wrists were starting to hurt from the constant clicking of the mouse, so I moved to a small town and went to work for the road design branch of my state’s DOT. My salary is public record, less than 60k a year. I’ve applied for promotions 3 times, but have been turned down; not that I desperately want to give up engineering and move into the mind-numbing management world, though the extra money would be nice. I’m considering getting back into the more high stress world of engineering because I have zero stimulation in my job (a monkey could do what I do), and my family’s needs are growing. My wife does not work. We have zero debt. Tough to move out of a home you own and leave your community to chase the idea I had back when I was in college, that I could do something significant with my technical skills. Mostly I’m feeling disillusioned. Any thoughts would be appreciated. I’m 37.

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retirebyforty February 3, 2014 at 9:49 am

You can try it for a couple of years and see how it works out. Keep up with you contact in the previous job and you’ll be able to go back to it if needed, right? Good luck!

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JS20000 March 8, 2014 at 6:51 am

I have just been recently let go (fired) from my job yesterday-right at the close of the 90 day probationary period. The manager indicated to me that he believed he made a mistake hiring me as he felt my experience level was inadequate for the workload and his expectations (he said he should’ve asked more detailed design questions in the interview. I passed the obligatory “weed out” aptitude test riddled with obscure engineering trivia and trick questions). He said he read my resume and thought he was hiring a 12 year engineer (I was hired through a recruiting firm and the job advertised a “5+ year” candidate; I had 6 years of relevant experience in that particular area of EE).

Needless to say, it’s a very small company (80 employees, 7 engineers) with completely unreal workloads and development schedules. Everyone was drowning in work and juggling their time between multiple projects, being unable to adequately complete them all within budget. The fact that I was a casualty of the 2008 crisis (6 of those eight jobs were in the last 6 years) has made me more cautious and paranoid. I do not see any stability in the future as companies look for all manner of reasons/justifications to can someone (note: I always ace the ridiculous interviews and my technical expertise is never an issue in my first review but something always happens-I’m usually laid back and like to keep out of office politics-to suddenly make me appear incompetent). The hours were painfully long and there were several Saturdays in the office. I’ve only been there three months and it seemed like three years. I woke up two weeks ago with heart palpitations. Two of the engineers are over 70 (one just retired last week) and they have no one in my age bracket (30-40) to keep them going.

The boss (president) is the quintessential workaholic-he lived at that place and demanded the same level of dedication from every employee; salaried employees were mandated to have at least 45 hours in every week (which could easily amount to 55). I’m no slacker (my boss even said so) but I was starting to get fried from all the stress and pressure (every single day was approx 10 hours (lunch not included) since I started there). The defense industry has become highly aggressive (as most defense jobs are immune from competition from H-1B candidates) and the management exploits this fact. Even a 20 year person would be overwhelmed working there.

I really like engineering; I absolutely despise the engineering industry. I’ve worked across a number of industries in different geographic regions and it’s all the same. It’s not about what you know (because they can always claim you’re inferior despite otherwise) but your perceived “value” which is subject to change on a dime. I’m seriously considering getting out altogether because this same scenario has happened to me too many times in a row. This work environment was non-existent prior to 2009.

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retirebyforty March 8, 2014 at 9:52 am

That job sounds like a nightmare. It’s good that you got out of there. There are always other jobs and there is no need to keep yourself in the pressure cooker. Keep trying different jobs, maybe you’ll find one that’s a good fit. Engineers who left the field still do just fine so there is life after engineering. Good luck!

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IowaEngStudent March 16, 2014 at 3:18 pm

Hello Joe,

Very interesting blog here. Your story caught my eye when “googling” engineering student burnout symptoms. Maybe you never expected to fall into this category, ha!

As for myself, I am a non traditional EE student, age 43. Decided to leave my position 5 years ago and pursue a BSE degree. I am familiar with the power distribution industry as a licensed electrician of 25 years, and previous city electrical inspector of 4 years. I have worked at a university lab over the last 2 years gaining some design experience.

The last few semesters have been extremely challenging and found myself completely sick of the curriculum, subject matter and mental academic gymnastics. I only have two semesters left, but grades are plummeting despite even working harder. Whew, should have done this 20 years ago.

Locally, several energy (utility) companies have been hiring entry level engineers with my range of experience. They do help with tuition reimbursement, too.

What is your opinion on taking a position now, before completing the degree, and finishing it as my schedule allows? I am having a tremendous difficulty leaving school early as it seems like a bad excuse to pursue anything before completion.

Your advice is greatly appreciated!

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retirebyforty March 17, 2014 at 10:07 am

I was a bit burned out when I was a student too. At least it was only 5 years to get my MS. A career last much longer than that. If you can get a position, I’d say go for it. Then complete your degree later. That can be hard for some people, though. I guess it depends on how much longer you have left. If you only have a year left, maybe it’s better to grind it out.
Good luck!

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EngStudent April 10, 2014 at 4:32 am

Hi, I really enjoyed your article.
As an engineering student who is graduating in 3 months, I’m having a difficulty with finding my passion and planning my career path.

I study chemical engineering at one of the best public universities in the US, but I’m not good at it. I was pushed into Engineering by my parents.

Now I’m applying to graduate schools in my country (Korea) from USA. This is mainly due to the fact that Korea is filled with over-educated engineers, so much as I don’t like it, getting a PhD seems necessary to survive the current job market.

I never got to enjoy any of the engineering classes, and my GPA once dropped near the drop-out level. I bounced back (although my GPA is still below 3.0) and started to enjoy part of my major slightly more. However, that part of the major involves mostly research experiences(surface engineering), which means a graduate school diploma will be necessary.

I think getting an advanced diploma could be a good way to “fill up” my near empty resume from the undergrad, but at the same time I am not sure if I want to do this. Graduate schools in Korea offer no financial support, and I find people there to be quite irrationally hierarchical and egoist. Also Korea has a much worse work environment than the US, with crazy work ethics that require “voluntary” overtime work(60~100 hrs a week), not enough salary (50k~ for PhD holders), and other factors. This means even with a PhD, I will probably have to work my ass off everyday, hide my personality, and actually excel at what I do. These criteria do not seem like something I will be able to meet, especially when I have no passion for engineering.

The reason i’m having a hard time turning my back on the field of engineering is because of the financial reasons, mostly its job stability/availability. My parents both studied science/engineering and are professionals in those fields. They see that engineers will always be needed and will have higher chances of getting a relatively well-paying job. But I doubt if I will be able to shine in the field of engineering. This is my 6th year in the undergraduate program because I failed many classes in my 3rd-4th years in college.

My parents also had to spend sh*t load of money for my education, and I believe they even loaned money from the bank. So the guilt I would have from leaving the field of engineering has been holding me. Also I forgot to mention I will have to serve in the military if I give up on the engineering grad school (that’s how it works in Korea.)

What I am good at and interested in is logical thinking–psychology/sociology and English. I reached a high proficiency level in English over a relatively short time period. (6~7 years from nada to very fluent and still improving.) So I’m trying to make a big decision whether I should go to graduate school or just finish my military duty, possible as an interpretation officer, and find out my true passion. (Although I’m scared that I might end up serving as a private and forget my engineering knowledge and English.)

With my background I have a few questions I want to ask.
1. Would I regret going to grad school (MS or PhD) if I do not “truly” enjoy my work? Would it be worth it when engineering job do not fit my lifestyle, interest, and talent?
2. Can money possibly make up for a job that you do not like? If you make, let’s say, $100,000 a dollar/y but have to squeeze your brain out everyday not to get fired and live under constant stress. Would it be something worth studying for. I don’t know what my job as an engineering would be like, but it doesn’t seems like studying 6 more years in grad school and doing research for the rest of my life under tremendous pressure would be the course to bet on.

As I was writing this comment, I realized that my perspective is already extremely negative. My parents now tell me to decide my own future, but they had been telling me what to do with my career path until like 3 months ago when I raged at them for manipulating my life. At the same time, I feel like I’ve become that person that they always wanted me to be because that’s what I had been doing for my entire life. So here comes more questions
3. Am I too scared? or am I being reasonably feared? Would going to a grad school actually pay off after a long period of time of no social life, tremendous workload/pressure, uncertainty of future? and would it pay off in a long run?
Your article seems to imply that engineers are, at the end, nothing more than expendable assets to the companies.

4. What is your plan, or have you been doing after you retired as an engineer?

I know this comment is extremely long, but I found it difficult to wrap up my thoughts short in length. I’d really appreciate your insight on the matters. I’m admittedly in a difficult situation and I hope you have something to say about this with your wisdom and experiences in the field of engineering.

Thank you!

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retirebyforty April 10, 2014 at 11:51 pm

Hey there, sorry to hear you have so much doubt. Can’t you try to get a job here in the US with an undergrad degree? I know it’s tough, but try anyway. You might get lucky.
1. You will probably regret it. If you invest 6 more years into engineering, then you will really feel obligated to be an engineer for a long time. You will have invested so much time in it that it will be extremely difficult to change course. IMO.
2. Money can make up for a job you don’t like for a few years. You can travel, have fun with friends, and do things to lessen the stress. Eventually, I think money won’t matter as much when you get older and more financially secure.
3. Engineers are expendable. The company can always hire more engineers. The flip side is you don’t have to be an engineer forever. Many engineers quit their job and moved on to do something else.
4. I have been a stay at home dad and blogging. Once my kid goes to school full time, then I will probably try other self employment business.
I don’t know enough about the military system. Can you be an engineer in the military? With your degree, they should maximize your usage somehow. If I were you, I would try to get an engineering job with your undergrad degree. Work as an engineer for a few years and see if it’s bearable. Save up and work part time at something you like. Always keep your eyes open for opportunities.
I hope this helps. Feel free to email me or comment more here.
Good luck!

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EngStudent April 11, 2014 at 2:16 am

Thank you for your reply.
Unfortunately the Korean military system has no interest in giving people with a diploma a chance to stay on course. It is a big waste of time that will eventually form you into an obedient dog of the system. Basically it’s a place no one would spend their time at. Also finding a job in the US as an international student, especially with the military duty in the way, is nearly impossible. The interpretation officer position is one of few ways to spend the time in the military productive, and I’m probably going to apply for it.

I consulted with graduate students and professors at school and they gave me similar answers that you gave me. I was already leaning towards not going to a grad school for now and I think I just needed assurance and make sure I’m aware of the consequences. I think I will probably give up on graduate school for now and see if I can pursue happiness in something else. (Professional interpreter for an example)

I have been already going over all my options for a long time, but I want you to know that your article helped me with actually making the decision.
Thank you a lot! I hope things go well with you as you will go through many transitions soon.

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retirebyforty April 11, 2014 at 9:09 am

Good luck with everything. You can always go back to graduate school so I think you made the right decision. If things don’t work out, then you can try graduate school. You won’t regret giving it a shot. Let me know how it turns out in a few years. I’m really glad this is helpful.

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done April 10, 2014 at 7:24 am

What an interesting read. I sort of found my self in the same boat. I fell into that whole “pick a career that relates to things you like” theme when I entered college. I was a young guy who liked the outdoors and loved to tinker, weld, paint, innovate, and customize things in my garage. So I suffered 5 years of college to earn a degree in Civil engineering. (Yes suffered, I hated almost every minute of it) Worked at a firm through college, then a contractor afterwards. Turns out that career had nothing to do with me playing in my garage or hiking/hunting the Midwest. Those were just things I liked to do. I found the engineering aspect fascinating, it certainly broadened my ability to solve complex math problems, but that’s really all I got out of it. Now I’m 32 and looking to start over. Quit my job, looking to make up for some lost time. Was it a mistake? I have no idea, quite frankly I don’t care at the moment…. I didn’t know better at the time, I don’t know a lot of young adults that do. If most young adults are certain of there future then consider me one that isn’t. Life is short….. it only becomes more evident every passing year.

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retirebyforty April 10, 2014 at 11:53 pm

Good luck! It’s never too late to start over and create the life that you want. Engineering was fun in the beginning, but it’s not for me anymore.

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Brandy April 24, 2014 at 6:17 am

Thank you for your thoughts! I am sorry if this question has already been asked, but what are you doing now for work? Do you enjoy it (considerably more)? Are you making more money? Do you get to spend more time with the family?

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retirebyforty April 24, 2014 at 3:50 pm

I’m a stay at home dad/blogger now. I make a little money with my blog. It is much much better than working for a big corporation. I make much less money, but I do get to spend most of my time with the family. Life is short so enjoy it! Cheers.

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Sandman April 25, 2014 at 1:34 pm

Enjoyed reading your blog and found most of your comments to be spot on. I left a mechanical design engineering career nearly 20 years ago. My reasons were similar to those I’ve read here – it’s hard to stay on the technical side and advance your salary so you have to eventually move into management as they hire fresh graduates to take your place. And when you reach your late 40′s or early 50′s the accountants will decide to lay you off with the first hint of an economic downturn and replace you with a lower salary team member that you probably trained/mentored. Nobody in your particular industry will hire you because they’ve just laid off your peers. Nobody will hire you as entry level because they think that you will bolt for the first better paying job that comes along (and they would be quite right in thinking this).

So… you either plan for your early “retirement”, struggle because you didn’t, or change careers altogether. So unfair but that’s life it seems.

FWIW – the grass isn’t always greener in the career alternatives. I found this blog brainstorming for some way of returning to engineering from my current career as a physician. Doesn’t look very promising from what I’ve read here and elsewhere on the internet.

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retirebyforty April 26, 2014 at 3:35 pm

Thanks for sharing your experience. I don’t know if it would be possible to get back into engineering at your age (I assume older than 50.) You’d have to compete with 20 something kids who don’t mind spending 80 hours on the job. It’s not going to be fun. Maybe start your own business or join a consultant? That might be a way to get back into engineering.

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Retired2 April 30, 2014 at 5:10 am

Just to share in the ‘what is retirement’ conversation, I retired from the military after thirty-three total years, six of which were as a ‘part-time’ soldier at the same time I was a government employee. The career was long, I made it to Sergeant Major, and I would not have traded a minute of it for anything in the world. Not only did I love the work I did but I felt a strong sense of belonging and doing good. I retired because it was time to go because of age and to make room for others to move up. Also, I promised my wife that we would settle down some day and stay in one place for longer than four years. I now work for the Department of Veterans Affairs as a Training Specialist and absolutely love it. While I loved the military, this is zero stress comparitively. I have a good retirement, some money in the bank, and a good new career. When do I plan to really quit working? I’m thinking 66-70. I like to stay moving. By the way, we’ve been in place for eight years no and my wife is starting to talk of moving. Go figure!

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computer freshman May 4, 2014 at 10:11 pm

hi, I’m a freshman studying computer engineering. I just received my programming grade and got a C-. I need a C+ to pass the course. Do you think I should continue studying engineering? I’m really confused.

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retirebyforty May 6, 2014 at 10:35 am

How do you like the courses? If it’s not something you enjoy, then maybe it’s time to look for other alternatives. Do you think you can improve with time? Good luck.

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Joe June 16, 2014 at 1:22 pm

I am also an ECE and have about 30 plus years of computer experience ( Software Engineering) and have been on four companies, longest of which was for 18 years. My 2nd company, got bought and I dont want to relocate.
My 3rd company I was with, the job was outsourced to India and new president made a mass layoff. The 4th company, my job was also outsourced to Ireland( Main company based in UK ).
I loved my job coding, debugging and fixing broken codes, re-designing and making enhancement to the product, but after the 4th company, I find it hard to land another job. Most companies hire young ones because the interviewers are much more younger than you are and mostly on their early 30s. My wife already accepted, that I will never get an IT job because of my age. Sometimes, I still miss my busy schedule. I am working part time right now on a retail store ( not IT ), so not to get bored.

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steven June 26, 2014 at 3:08 pm

Hey just found your site and it’s super helpful!! Anyways I just scrolled past the comments so sorry if I re-ask a question but I was wondering if your could’ve redone your education and major in something different what would it be

.I ask because I’m in high school and I’m tied between being a software engineer or a Dr. in Physical therapy using my programming for apps and websites for my clinic..

I think that programming skills are really important but I don’t want to sit in a chair all day! :(.. I would really appreciate your advice. Thanks!

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retirebyforty June 27, 2014 at 9:45 am

I would go for Oceanography! You get to spend a lot of time in the ocean and that sounds like fun. I guess you can work for the federal biology department or become a professor with an Oceanography degree. Anyway, that’s just a dream. :)
You can try both, right? Take some programming and anatomy classes. You should see what classes is required to get into a PT program. You can get a Computer Science degree and take all the PT requirement classes too. That way you’ll have a choice when you graduate.
Good luck!

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Pankaj S July 23, 2014 at 11:45 am

I have just completed my 3 years in this IT field and the same kind of insecure feeling i have got. I work in a good reputaed MNC and work life and culture is pretty good here but when i think of my career after 10-15 years i feel worried . I am good at technical side but i know for sure that i wouldn’t like to end up my life by doing this and even i don’t like the manager job. The craze for programming and IT field seems to be gone now for me. What all i want to get a structured growth,peaceful life and less stress. Very soon i will put myself out of this life.
Thanks for sharing your real experience !

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Karin July 24, 2014 at 8:27 pm

When I was 48, I quit my engineering job but went back after 2 years off. I consider myself semi-retired because I take 4-6 months off every year. I find it hard to find a 30 hour week job so I tolerate the 50-60 hours/week but take off after 6-8 months. I am now 55 and still working as a contractor for engineering companies. The best part of being seasonal is that I rarely get asked to be a supervisor or a Lead.

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Vaj August 6, 2014 at 9:01 pm

I love engineering, I love what I do. I think engineering is the greatest thing in the world. But man, am I envious. Envious of the sales person, who on his slowest month still makes more money than I do. Envious of the receptionist, who spends all her days on the iphone and make still make 95% of my salary. Sometimes a little respect from management is all I ask for… And forget about being envious, it is sad to know that my job can be outsourced to China, while sales people and receptionist are needed here…

And there is a lack of engineers out there. We can not fill any vacant position. There is a high demand for experience engineers willing to work for pennies on the dollar…

Again, I love what I do but if given the chance I would not do this again…

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retirebyforty August 7, 2014 at 10:35 am

Sorry to hear that. You probably should focus more on yourself and ignore how other people are doing.
Engineers are overworked and under appreciated. I don’t know why they keep trying to make engineers a manager if there is such a shortage. It’s silly.

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Karen August 8, 2014 at 8:12 am

I am glad to read you still stand by your decision almost after 2 years??? and actively blogging. I am in a fairly similar situation as what you mentioned; the biggest problem is dealing with politics in a sunset industry because there is no real upside of raising to management level.
I hope you can share prob some of the regrets or internal struggle you may have to deal with since you retire; besides a drop in income. How do you keep a positive outlook to take you to self employment eventually.

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retirebyforty August 8, 2014 at 9:42 am

Thanks for visiting! I added the one year and two years after retirement links at the bottom of the article. Check them out. :)

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Danno September 11, 2014 at 9:25 pm

Greetings,

Don’t know where to start… I got my EE and after my first gig at a small defense contractor, I went to work at Compaq Computer (later HP) in ’89. For a while, it was a dream job. Long hours yes, but there was an energy, a life to that place that was amazing. The pay and recognition was great! I met some of the smartest people in my life while working there, and to this day I love all (or at the least most) of the engineers there. But as the 90′s progressed, and the company grew larger, it became a marketing company, then finally by the turn of the century it became a supply-chain company. I was eventually promoted to program manager, which in the old days was a VERY prestigious position. I actually liked that job, believe it or not, even though 90+% of the real engineering work was done by our ODM. Yet it was challenging, and I enjoyed the China trips initially.

The real burnout was due to the slow disintegration of benefits, constant layoffs, forced vacations, zero raises, and in one year they actually docked the entire company’s salary 5%…. and after a fantastic and profitable year, the gave the 5% back and called it your “raise”. Not to mention dealing with ignorant, petty marketing people and terrible moral takes it’s toll over a few years. I finally quit when they laid my director off, who by the way is a BRILLIANT man and a great guy to work for. He was a top-shelf engineer, a top-shelf program manager, and a top-shelf director. They simply eliminated his “position”, and he was not allowed to interview for a job elsewhere in the company because of “policy”. What a load of crap! They replaced him with a corporate automaton from another company that they had bought, who knew nothing and wanted to change the entire way we had been doing projects for years. A real moron, who’s only goal was to work there for a year so he could collect his $200,000 retainer. Just recalling the period of life makes me want to retch my guys out.

So, I “retired”, relying solely on my wife’s income, and then 6 months later she was laid off. Joy. So I went to the main Taiwan supplier I had used while I was at HP and became their local FAE to HP, which was kind of bad because now I became the dog they liked to kick. Once they started asking me to travel to China, I quit again in 2010. Now, my wife just lost her latest job, and again, we are both unemployed. Luckily, we have a couple of years worth of money we can siphon off of our IRA’s, but at 51, do I really want to do that?

Now I’m 4 years out of employment, perhaps 10 years out of any real technical work. I thought about making contact with some of my old buds who are still there and try to scrape up some kind of work, but reading this blog and these comments reminded me why I left. I was unhappy, and I really don’t want to go back. Like a dog with his tail between his legs.

I’ll say this… I don’t know if engineering is the big problem, I think engineering is a cool occupation if you like the work and also (very important) when you are in the right environment. I think big corporations are the bigger issue, controlled by millionaire board members driven by the almighty dollar, and they make EVERYONE’S life miserable. Whether your an engineer, supply chain, middle management, or even a corporate lawyer, they feel like they OWN you. And they let you know, in subtle ways and not, that you’re just lucky to be there. And it permeates the entire environment, like a really smelly fart.

My words of wisdom to any reader here is, Beware the Big Corporation. They’re taking over. You are expendable. They don’t care about you. At. All.

Frankly, now that I have to get back into the workforce, I have no idea what I’m going to do. We’ll probably have to sell the dream house we designed and built on 4 acres in the country, something we put our hearts and souls into. It’s just not worth the pressure of having to bring in well into 6 figures just to get by. I’m just about ready to go to Colorado and grow pot for a living, or maybe open up a head shop and sell pipes and bongs. LOL! Seriously, it is very sobering when you realize that you are smarter and harder working than 90+% of the idiots around here driving their $70,000 BMWs, and I probably won’t be able to get even an entry-level engineering salary unless I go back into the hell-hole.

Nope. I guess I gotta figure something out. I wanted to go back to school and get a Physical Therapy Assistant degree, but right now I’ll probably have to take anything I can get, just to minimize the damage to my IRA.

If I’ve learned anything, is live light. Beware the big house, the expensive car, spending money like it grows on trees. Because when you hit my age, if you haven’t saved your money, it can get bad really quick. Wish me luck, and I wish the best of luck to all of you.

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retirebyforty July 5, 2014 at 8:13 am

David work at the Amazon fulfillment center around Christmas as I understand. It’s not glamorous and it wasn’t what he did as a full time job. You have to be flexible.

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