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.
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.
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.
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 felt the work was inconsequential. I was just a cog in the wheel and anyone can replace me. I worked on improving the computer, but who really cares how fast a computer runs these days. Computers will keep improving with or without me. The job was not meaningful.
- 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. 🙂
3 years after early retirement! – The shine has worn off, but life is still great!