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Should I Go Into Engineering?

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Should I Go Into Engineering? Over the years, I received several emails asking whether going into engineering is a good idea. It’s a tough question. Engineering is a huge field. You could study chemical, biotech, mechanical, civil, or electrical engineering. These are all vastly different and you can go into all kinds of careers. I only have experience with computer hardware engineering so my point of view is limited, but I think working for any big corporation would be pretty similar.

Now that my son is getting a bit older, this is more relevant than ever. He is good with math and learns quickly. I think he will be a good fit for a career in STEM. Should I encourage him to go into engineering? My experience with the engineering career isn’t that great. I enjoyed it at first, but got burned out and retired only after 16 years in engineering. Now, I’m a SAHD blogger and I love it. Here goes.

*Updated in 2020

Career choice at 18

It seems a little ridiculous to expect an 18 year old student to choose what they would like to do for the rest of their life. At that age, I didn’t know much about various careers. My parents had a restaurant and that was a difficult business to be in. They worked all the time and rarely had any time off. I’d rather work in a cushy white-collar job. Physical labor isn’t my strong point because I had some health issues. My parents encouraged me to get into engineering and I thought why not. I was good at math and science, so engineering was a good fit.

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

Talk to some engineers

For prospective engineers, I think the best thing you can do is to talk to someone who is already working in the career that you’re considering. Ask them what kind of things they do in their job. For example, these were some of the things I did as a computer hardware engineer.

  • Design. I worked in the memory interface team for most of my career. Our team figured out how the CPU communicates with the memory, then optimized for speed and power. I wrote code to specify how the logic should work.
  • Validation. The code I wrote was compiled with other codes to simulate a computer chip. I made sure my part worked with all the other interfaces. There was a validation team that ran the simulation on the whole chip. They found plenty of bugs when they put the designs together. I worked with the validation team and fixed my code whenever they found a problem.
  • Post silicon. Once the code was in tolerable shape, it was sent out to the fab. After a few months, we’d get a real chip back. We’d put the sample chip in a big test machine that simulates the rest of the computer system. There were still plenty of bugs to find at this stage. We’d fix them in the code and send it out to the fab again.
  • System validation. Once the computer chip started working somewhat properly, we’d put it in a real test system. This looked like a big open frame desktop computer. We ran all kinds of software tests at this point.
  • Corporate BS. Meetings, meetings, reorg, and more meetings. Engineers usually start out doing a lot of technical work and very little corporate BS. The more senior you become, the more corporate BS you deal with. Eventually, it’s all BS all the time.

So those are some of the things I did when I was a computer engineer. Does this sound interesting to you? If so, going into hardware engineering might be a good idea. However, if this sounds boring, then you should look at something else.

I enjoyed the technical parts immensely when I started out. It was interesting to learn how to build a computer from scratch. However, most engineers work long hours, with no extra pay. That was fine when I was young and single. Not so much after I had a family. The job was also frequently stressful. The time to market is extremely important. If the product was late, the competitor could get ahead and the company wouldn’t make as much profit. The engineers were always under a ton of pressure to get rid of the bugs so the company can sell the final product.

Anyway, reach out to real engineers and see what they do at their work. You can ask your parents or post on Facebook and LinkedIn to see if anyone would be willing to talk. I think most engineers would be happy to help. Don’t forget to ask what they dislike about their job as well.

Pros and cons of engineering

Let’s make a pros-and-cons list of engineering to help our young readers out.

Pros of going into engineering

  1. Engineering is an in-demand field. You probably can get a job in your field after college.
  2. Most engineering careers pay pretty well. Engineers make good income right from the beginning of their careers.
  3. If you like solving problems, then the right engineering job will keep you busy and happy for many years.
  4. The world will keep getting more technically complicated and we’ll always need more engineers.
  5. If you enjoy learning, then engineering is a good field to be in. Engineers have to keep their skills up to date and keep learning new things.
  6. Engineers have better job security than people in less skilled careers. Most everyone is replaceable, but that’s a lot truer if your job doesn’t need specialized knowledge. For example, it’s easier to replace a restaurant worker than a computer engineer.

Cons of going into engineering

  1. The engineering coursework can be very difficult. If you don’t have the aptitude for it, then you might not be able to get through it.
  2. In the US, there is fewer than 1 female engineer to every 10 males. This is a male-dominated field.
  3. Long work hours. Most engineers spend a ton of time at work. I frequently spent more than 60 hours per week at work when I was young. It’s hard to maintain a good work/life balance with that kind of demand.
  4. This is just my experience – Working for big corporations can be a big letdown. There is just so much overhead as you progress in your career. I spent a ton of time dealing with useless meetings, political maneuvering, tight deadlines, and BS training. I heard it is better in a small company.
  5. You need to keep learning new stuff to stay current in your field. I quit my engineering career 8 years ago and there is no way I could go back. It’d be tough to go back even after a year. All the tools and specifications change very quickly.
  6. You’ll spend a ton of time staring at a computer screen. I guess that’s true for most office jobs these days, but I spent 10+ hours on the computer every day for 16 years. It wrecked my eyes.
  7. Everyone is replaceable. Engineers might have more job security than a barista, but not much more. Companies have no loyalty and they’ll do whatever it takes to improve the bottom line. Every time a company lays off a bunch of workers, the stock goes up. The CEO has a lot of incentive to lay off workers.
  8. Salary plateau. Engineers can get raises and promotions very quickly at the beginning of their careers. However, the salary will plateau if you don’t evolve. I enjoyed the technical work and was pretty good at it. My salary increased quickly over the first 7 years then plateaued. At that point, I had to go into management to get more promotions and raises. I refused and my salary was stuck.

Engineers, please add your comment below and I’ll update the article with your input.

Your career is not set in stone

All in all, I think it’s a good idea to study engineering if you enjoy solving problems. You need to talk to several real engineers and see what kind of things they do at work. If those tasks sound like something you’d like, then go for it. Engineering is a good field to get started in. Young engineers usually can find a job quickly and they make good money right out of college. However, you have to evolve after about 10 years. Once you become more senior, you have to take on more management responsibilities or else your career will get stuck.

The most important thing I want to share is you don’t have to be an engineer forever. Most engineers I knew got tired of the job and transitioned to a different career. They moved into patent law, management, entrepreneurship, marketing, and many other fields. For me, being a junior engineer was the most fun part of the career. I got to work on interesting stuff and I didn’t have to deal with much corporate BS. I quit engineering once it wasn’t the right fit anymore. You can do that too if you save and invest a large percentage of your income. Many engineers change careers. You don’t have to get stuck in the field if you no longer enjoy it.

Good luck! Engineering is a great field to go into. However, there are some downsides too. Don’t be afraid to change course if it doesn’t work out.

photo credit: This is Engineering

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. He spent 16 years working in computer design and enjoyed the technical work immensely. However, the job became too stressful and Joe retired from his engineering career to become a stay-at-home dad/blogger at 38. Today, he blogs about financial independence, early retirement, investing, and living a frugal lifestyle.

Passive income is the key to early retirement. This year, Joe is increasing his investment in real estate with CrowdStreet. He can invest in projects across the U.S. and diversify his real estate portfolio. There are many interesting projects available so sign up and check them out.

Joe also highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. He logs on to Personal Capital almost daily to check his cash flow and net worth. They have many useful tools that will help DIY investors analyze their portfolio and plan for retirement.
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{ 63 comments… add one }
  • drplasticpicker June 27, 2020, 8:13 pm

    I think if I hadn’t been a doctor, I would have been trust and estates attorney. We hired a pediatrician who was a aerospace engineer for Boeing for her first career. She’s really good.

  • WTK June 27, 2020, 5:06 am

    Hi Joe,

    Frankly, all the specifications are more or less the same as per my perspective. Be it engineering or other profession. I think that one can make the necessary decision towards changing profession when the interests are not longer there. Having said this, this will require one to have the financial buffer to manoevere towards the various professions as per one’s desire.

    The change in professions will be hard. I believe that this can be done provided that one continues to make the effort to do so. This is depending on the determination of one and whether the interests still maintain at the prevailing point of time.

    My two cents of views.

    WTK

  • Steveark June 26, 2020, 2:58 pm

    The sheer volume of comments indicates just how many financially successful engineers there are in this community. I didn’t wait until 18 to know I wanted to be a chemical engineer. I knew at 13 and never hesitated. I took a job in my home state and was flying all over the country in a private jet after my first year. I always felt overpaid and eventually ran the enterprise for my Fortune 200 corporate overlords. I thought it was a great adventure and I got to do design work, project management, engineering management, lobbying and finally corporate management. I never felt burned out, Rarely felt stressed. I felt like a lottery winner and looked forward to Monday mornings generally. I think it’s a great career choice, one that allowed me to retire slightly early with more money than I need.

  • Lazy Man and Money June 26, 2020, 5:52 am

    I was good with math and loved problem solving with software as a kid, so it just translated through college. After 25 years of coding (including the time as a kid), I got burned out. As you point out, it’s hard to keep learning all the time in addition to the long when you have other responsibilities such as a family.

    I think most kids growing up today are going to know some basics of programming (not sure about hardware). They’ll probably be more generalists like I was. It’s hard to compete as a generalist in a highly specialized world. I don’t know if there’s an easy answer for kids choosing a career nowadays.

  • Greg June 26, 2020, 5:36 am

    Civil engineering is different from what you are describing. Benefits include getting to work outdoors more than software people, working on real world (as in “physical”) problems. The hours aren’t so bad as in the tech sector, and there is a much more balanced male-female ratio. Women are very good in engineering because they seem to have more patience to work through problems and modeling, and in Colombia there are more girls than guys in civil engineering university programs. Civil doesn’t seem to have a burnout problem, but the salary level isn’t so spectacular. You can graduate and get a good-paying job, and it’s a job you can do for life and enjoy it. I’m 71, still doing it, still enjoying it. I love problem-solving.

  • FITrailHiker June 25, 2020, 8:08 pm

    I am a chemical engineer in early part of career. I know my salary will reach a plateau in next 4/5 years… however what I find encouraging that I can do a mba or some certification and transition on technical sales and marketing. I guess engineering is a good platform to transition later. Also there will be no shortage of engineering jobs in USA in foreseeable future

  • Adam June 25, 2020, 1:38 pm

    One point to consider is if you have a personality that is compatible for engineering. If you are decently good at math and can solve quantitative problems you have a good start. In college, engineering majors usually start with the physics and math classes before getting to any engineering. The point is to weed out people who shouldn’t be there. Typically, there are plenty of those.

  • Jonathan L. June 25, 2020, 1:26 pm

    I would recommend going into a job that pays well enough for you to retire in 10 to 15 years.

    Also you should understand there is a difference between your “work” and your “job.”

    Work is what you were trained to do, what you went to school for, and hopefully is something that is related to a subject area of your interest.

    A job is the subjugative societal structure that enables you to get paid for your work. It includes mundane, pedestrian, and soul-leaching things such as meetings, teleconferences, deadlines, bosses, managers, presentations, reports, proposals, administrative B.S., office politics, etc. — stuff that nobody likes and really has nothing to do with your “work.”

    You may love your “work,” but trust me, absolutely nobody loves their “job” — unless you are a masochist.

  • Jim from PA June 25, 2020, 11:48 am

    Joe,
    Great piece and well though-out lists! This is such a tough question and I agree it’s because Engineering is such a vast area of different experiences. Though I graduated with BSME, I relate closely to your thoughts from the standpoint of “eventually it all becomes Corporate BS” with a bit different experience on the tech-centric “salary plateau” – where you mention “I refused and my salary was stuck”, I went for management (a couple different flavors) and somewhat faltered, thus being set up for “later career but rookie layoff.” What also then hurts is the lag in one’s tech skills thus not exactly welcomed back to the old career.
    Like many careers but also with Engineering, I tend to think the most ideal career scenario is to have developed a specialty niche (within the first decade) and be able to offer such services independently as a consultant; ideally with schedule flexibility. But maybe I am romanticizing this – would be great to hear any comments from other readers that may have lived this type of engineering career/business….

  • Jerone Hammond June 25, 2020, 9:52 am

    I can 100% relate to this posting. I’ve been in engineering within semiconductors for 19yrs now. It was definitely more rewarding earlier on, but over the years has become much less enjoyable. I’ve been with the same company since college and have seen so many people come and go (mostly through reductions). The ridiculous schedules, workloads, meetings have just continually gotten worse. Actually have been waiting for the last few years to get a package, but it never comes. My last group actually was re-organized and they laid off half the group then moved me into an even more stressful group. After my youngest daughter (1yr) had some medical issues I asked if I could work part-time for 6-9 months till we got through her issues and they essentially said no. I told them I’m taking my vacation and essentially going part time. When I’m out of time, I’m walking away. My last day is Aug 1st. Looking forward to spending some quality time with my 4yr old and 1yr old in the near future!

    • retirebyforty June 25, 2020, 10:00 am

      Good luck! Engineering is a great career in the beginning. You just need to save and make sure you can evolve into something else.
      I think you should ask for a severance package. At this point, some companies will start to lay off people soon. Ask to be laid off instead of quitting. That way you can file for unemployment for a while. You could also file for unpaid leave or medical leave of absence. I’m not sure if MLOA would cover taking care of your daughter, but it’s not too hard to get. Just tell your primary care physician you are really stressed out and can’t take it anymore. They can prescribe time off. If you have short term disability coverage, it will pay around 50% of your salary.
      In short, try to milk it a bit. They owe you.
      Best wishes.

    • Joe June 27, 2020, 12:33 pm

      Have you considered changing companies? I’m in Silicon Valley, there are enough companies here that there are different corporate cultures. Also, consider requsting a layoff and a package during layoffs, I did that during my career when I wanted to change companies anyway. In fact, my manager suggested it when I gave notice.

  • [email protected] June 25, 2020, 7:39 am

    I feel this article of yours was kind of like that scene from Starship Troopers where the veteran asks the main character which branch of federal service he joined. The main character replies “mobile infantry sir”. The veteran replies “congratulations, son! Mobile infantry made me the man I am today.” Then the main character notices the veteran is missing both his legs.

    I agree with you and most of the responses. However, I would point out that just about every job has burn out. It becomes monotonous or parts of it become annoying after 15-20 years. At least most engineering degrees are in high demand with good income and as you stated with experience is fairly easy to migrate to something else.

    • retirebyforty June 25, 2020, 10:07 am

      Engineering is great if you have the right aptitude for it. I still think every young engineer should save 50% of their income to prepare for a transition. You don’t want to get stuck in a job with no choice. Having some savings can help smooth out the transition.
      Thanks for your input.

  • Sport of Money June 25, 2020, 7:02 am

    I think Engineering is a great field to go into if you want financial success and be on the path to wealth. I believe one of the key elements of reaching FIRE is to be in a high income earning profession. Engineering definitely fits that bill as you have listed as a pro on this post.

    There are entry level Engineers at a few companies making over $200,000 a year. That number can increase to the high 6 figures after 15 years of work. Being in a high paying profession is how I got on my path to financial success.

    Being an Engineer is a great start to FIRE.

    • retirebyforty June 25, 2020, 10:09 am

      The great thing about engineering is that you make good income right away and you can get raises very quickly.
      Engineers should save as much as they could, though. They will need to evolve and most can’t continue in the technical role for their entire career.

  • Adam June 25, 2020, 5:28 am

    This hits close to home. I went through a very rigorous technology-oriented path from 3rd grade to 12th grade — for context, Sergey Brin graduated from the same high school program I did. But then I made identical scores on the math and verbal portions of the SAT, which didn’t help focus my aspirations at all. So I said “eff it,” got a music performance degree, and then worked in the bicycle industry for six years. Here I am now with a dozen years in veterinary software, troubleshooting problems and playing around in databases. At least I had some fun along the way.

    Engineering (especially software and aeronautical) has made very comfortable lives for many of my friends… but it would drive me insane. At least I’m not beholden to the same choices they made of fancy cars, big houses, and long commutes.

    • retirebyforty June 25, 2020, 10:11 am

      Thank you for your input. As long as you live modestly and save a big percentage of your income, it doesn’t really matter what field you’re in. Engineering is good, but there are many other great fields too.

  • wonder bird January 1, 2015, 12:09 am

    It’s all depend on what do you want to do. I have an BS in Chemical Engineering, but I have quite rough time for the last two years in my university. I just hate the courses im learning because it’s boring and i don’t like it.

  • das1 December 25, 2014, 9:42 am

    it does not mean that an engineer with good marks may get good job after passing or in course of his career with moderate salary.Moreover pressure of workload,tension, anxiety, disorder of balance of family life, probability of transfer at remote place, no time limit of
    working hour ( may be 16-17 hrs/day depending on emergency, may be happened 2-3 days/week for over production or for repairing of m/c leads an engineer tired,fatigue,irritated and makes his family unhappy at the age of over 40. Frequent tour may deteriorate his health.An engineer can be laid of easily when company is not going ok,
    when management feel to replace him and to hire a new one with less salary,when management does not hold good impression on him ( here management means in most cases his manager,his director , may be the thinking of them is not justified) or when a
    misunderstanding occurs.
    It is seen in most middle and small private company where there is no minimum respect for engineers from owner. At the age of 40+ an engineer get tired,if he wants to quit the organization and wants to join another with same salary-may be difficult to him at the age of 40+ because vacancies of such companies having same product rarely exists and life gets unstable through out the span.
    Engineering job may be challenging at the early age with the zeal of passion for learning
    but if all learning may not be utilized in future, then where is the success? then all learning will be diminished gradually and will be acquired another learning may not be related to engineering but may be useful in life.
    I am stating the scenario of west bengal, india. There are so many engineers passed out but no chance to get job due to scarcity of industry.
    I am narrating the bad side, may be there are some engineers working at MNC, OR Govt.Organizations with high pay package and leave and enjoying holiday.
    Life of engineers are very rigid, tough, painful, miserable in most cases, can be understood at the age 40+ when family demands you not for money but for time.
    It is my opinion may be not right for all. An engineer may be obliged to stay at remote places year after year without his family.
    So if you want to sacrifice and to devote for work throughout the life and do not want work/life balance,may be quite fit for engineering job.
    otherwise choose other profession.
    ANY ONE GIVE COMMENTS ABOUT MY WRITING. ITS MY PERSONAL EXPERINCE MAY /WILL NOT FIT TO OTHERS BUT CAN THINK ABOUT IT.

  • JohnC October 4, 2013, 6:55 am

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

  • Ryan July 3, 2013, 8:57 am

    Engineer here. My advice, go with a general engineering degree like Mechnical. As you progress through college you can focus on a specific area within Mechnical that you like. Try to do summer internships. Get a job in a city/area that has a lot of options. The best way to see pay increases is moving to different companies. Sure you have to learn a new system, maybe move (hence the find an area with options comment), but if you can bank a lot of money early on, you can start to branch out to things you actually like to do that pay less. Also you’ll build your network if you move around the industry versus staying at the same company.

    • Rob Flori June 25, 2020, 11:58 am

      Spot on Ryan. I’ve been a Mechanical for 31 years now, and I have been able to move into new realms fairly easily. I do find the hands-on more interesting. I would not be a good fit for programming, although I did design for 25 years. In Engineering, you need to expand the tools in your tool box, to be able to offer your employer (or potential employers) more capabilities. Mechanical with design, project management and financial management opens up a lot of opportunities. In any discipline, know your marketability and control your career. I believe that many who join the Engineering field are quite Analytical, which is great, but you need to also develop that Driver mentality, and to not be afraid to be Expressive. But I’ve been lucky enough for my situation to be a good fit and develop into something I still enjoy (most days). My son is a 4th generation Engineer in the family, and is not in a job that he enjoys. He likes Engineering, but not his current role. I believe that a Bachelors in Engineering provides your best bang for the buck out of the gate. If you want to move into another realm (no matter what it is), an undergraduate Engineering degree is not a bad one to have, as compared to other degrees. I don’t criticize folks for getting degrees like liberal arts at all, but the facts are clear on the financial and career value of those degrees if you want to move around.

  • Financial Samurai June 27, 2013, 1:28 pm

    The ones with the highest GMAT scores and GPAs were engineers in my b-school class, but ALL of them wanted to get out of engineering and get into management. They were sick of being the $120,000-$180,000 a year blue collar worker at tech firms when managers were making double to triple.

    Some perspective!

    • FITrailHiker June 25, 2020, 8:42 pm

      The funny part is that the ones that are technically weak moves to management earlier and start the BS and politics in office.. same time earning more.

  • Chris June 26, 2013, 7:09 pm

    As a Sr Software Eng, never stop learning or trying to expand on the work that you are doing or have done. That also causes the burnout to be more difficult. As you learn new tips, try and share them with members of the staff that you work with … remember, what goes around, comes around.
    If you like electronics and/or programming, pick up a Raspberry Pi or Axon MCU to simply fool around and see what you can create. Open up your creative mind as much as you can.

  • thepotatohead June 26, 2013, 6:33 pm

    I loved playing with and building Legos when I was younger, so I always figured I’d be an engineer when I was all grown up. I found out though that I really didn’t like math, so that pretty much killed that career path. A few of my family members are/were engineers though, and I think for the most part they like it…except for some of the same things you hated…there are certainly a lot of meetings and BS in all companies, especially larger ones.

  • Kevin @ RewardBoost June 25, 2013, 9:31 am

    In my opinion there are very few acceptable majors for someone looking at college as an investment. Nursing, pre-med, pre-law, computer programming, accounting, and engineering are those that come to mind. If you don’t acquire a skill in college then you’re not going to be very marketable when looking for a job.

    If you can learn something by experience (pretty much anything in a “business” degree) then you should do that over going to college in my opinion. An entry level job where you work your way up is going to give better experience and you can actually make money instead of spending it.

    Those are my 2 cents on college.

    • nicoleandmaggie June 26, 2013, 5:36 am

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

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

      It’s difficult to time markets for these things since education takes 4+ years. The best we can ask of college is that it teaches us how to learn and how to be flexible in an ever changing market. And plenty of majors can do that.

      • Ryan July 3, 2013, 9:02 am

        I do not recommend pertroleum engineering. Just go with general mechanical and take some classes geared towards petroleum industry. Petroleum engineers expect to get paid big bucks based on their degree, but companies can find similar candidates with mechanical degrees that don’t feel so entitled.

        • KM June 25, 2020, 2:19 pm

          Don’t go for Accounting! It can be easily automated and it’s happening right now. I switched from being in Accounting (CPA) to a software developer. Now I automate financial functions.

  • Paul @ The Frugal Toad June 25, 2013, 7:49 am

    You are right to be hesitant before giving advice on a career Joe. An 18 year old has a much different perspective and my biggest fear would be to discourage them from pursuing a potential career because I said I spend most of my time in meetings or something similar! Having said that, I would encourage the 18 year to ask as many questions as they can and sign-up for an internship while in college.

  • Nathan June 25, 2013, 2:08 am

    I think you’ll know if you are right for an engineering degree, you’ll already have an interest in fiddling, fixing and creating ‘things’.

    While there is scope to change within the field during your education, I can’t think of any thing more painful than forcing yourself to rote learn incredibly abstract stuff you don’t care about.

    Seriously what kind of working life would you be setting yourself up for?

    I just followed my interests from EE to CS and later to HCI, didn’t ever lose interest in the subject matter, just lost interest in permanent work 😉

  • [email protected] June 25, 2013, 2:05 am

    After high school, I started into college as an Electrical Engineer at a decent school – Cal Poly.
    Within two years I was wanting to go to a trade school to be a welder, and was two semesters on probation.

    As RB40 mentioned, at 18, you really don’t understand these things.
    Maybe they do better now, but I didn’t at the time.
    When I graduated from high school in 1981, I loved doing electrical kinds of things.
    We’re talking auto shop electrical things – starters and gauges, and such.
    So, Electrical Engineer – yeah, that makes sense.

    The chemistry was overwhelming.
    The physics lecture was understandable, the lab way beyond what I was grasping.
    The 101 elecronics class and lab – one female in the class, no females in the lab.
    In those first two years, I saw most students working together, and living in the dorms.
    I was living at home, bartending on weekends.

    While I’m intriqued by circuit board design, and would love to understand it, and would love to find somebody that can design me some wireless sprinkler valves in the US like those at the Remconix site, I realize it’s more than I can handle.

    After two years at Cal Poly, I switched to a Business Admin Major with a focus on Computer Information Services. Focus was on programming, with an overall understanding of business.

    Mom and dad were right – it was better than the welding trade school.

    One of these days, I’m going to again try to re-take that physics lab. Maybe when I’m old enough to confuse them more than they confused me.

    For now, I’ll stick to http://www.sparkfun.com and the Make magazine and just consider myself to be a hobbyist wannable engineer – I’m good with that.

    Greg
    Greg

  • Daisy @ Young Finances June 24, 2013, 8:00 pm

    I used to consider engineering, but I don’t think I would want to do that for very long, knowing me. I went for business and it turned out to be a good decision. My partner was thinking of engineering at one point too. He still may decide to go back to school.

  • krantcents June 24, 2013, 4:39 pm

    As a teacher, I always tell my students to pick a career that they are interested in and have the skills. There is plenty of time to investigate a lot of things in college. Not everyone is college material. In Los Angeles, the electrician union is begging for people who are good in math. An electrical contractor has a good future too! I wish young people would spend more time figuring out what they like and what they are good at rather than what might be lucrative.

  • [email protected] June 24, 2013, 2:44 pm

    Definitely a worthwhile investment, if you’re inclined to pursue those studies. Also, lots of flexibility of what field eventually to work in afterward.

  • Mom @ Three is Plenty June 24, 2013, 12:22 pm

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

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

    I picked the career path I liked – computer science with a minor in EE (I had more flexibility than straight computer engineering). But I’m not doing anything related to either of those for work – I got into computer security. The schooling has helped provide background information and theory, but I rarely use it in my day-to-day job.

    • retirebyforty June 24, 2013, 10:57 pm

      Thanks for your input. I think the career track is much better laid out now than when I first started. Even with the technical route, the company still want you to take on quite a bit of leadership role. It’s hard. Everyone has to figure out what’s right for them.

  • Jason June 24, 2013, 11:51 am

    Long-term SW engineer here. As RB40 has said, the first 5 years will be the most fun, but it tends to burn people out quickly. So, the main advice I’d give to someone that wants to start in this career is

    *Have An Escape Plan*

    When you begin, you may think you want to work forever, but it’s possible you won’t after 15 or more years. So, plan for it.

    • retirebyforty June 24, 2013, 10:54 pm

      I wish someone told me that earlier in my career. That’s good advice.

      • Jason June 25, 2013, 10:19 am

        Actually, I think this advice can be applied to ANY career choice. In this uncertain time, you always need to have an emergency bail-out plan for your career, even if you have retired.

        Readers: What would YOU do if you had to bail on your career in the next year?

  • Pension Retirement June 24, 2013, 11:43 am

    I think a degree in engineering (whichever type) is valuable because it lets you learn how to solve problems. As you mention, you career isn’t set in stone, and where ever you go, you’re going to have a leg up if you can solve problems. The mindset is transferrable even if the actual tasks learned in school aren’t so much.

  • jim June 24, 2013, 11:12 am

    I don’t think the #4 con is really a con of engieering. THe downsides of big companies are a con for anyone that works at a big company. Engineers can work at small companies or government too.

  • nicoleandmaggie June 24, 2013, 10:47 am

    “Not many women are in engineering programs. I guess this could be a pro if you are a woman…”
    More likely a con. Still, there are undergraduate engineering programs that are supportive for women– something definitely to ask about when you’re looking at schools. There are some schools women should avoid like the plague and others that are fantastic.

    My sister is hitting #4 right now. Another problem is that sometimes they expect you go to into management and a lot of engineers don’t like that.

    I think engineers are awesome.

    • retirebyforty June 24, 2013, 10:53 pm

      It’s really hard for women in engineering programs.
      Taking on more leadership roles didn’t work out for me. I’m not good at it and I didn’t want to do it. It’s almost impossible to avoid leadership responsibilities once you made higher pay grades though. It’s tough for engineers who like doing the grunt work.

  • Sam June 24, 2013, 9:23 am

    I think in most degrees there will be a disconnect between the job you will be doing and the coursework. Certainly the coursework in my experience was much more abstract than the very practical problems I deal with as a software engineer. I feel like the abstract coursework has enabled me to do any math-centric career, though. (My degree was a long hard slog in electrical engineering but I soon found out circuits, ASICs and power grids weren’t for me and switched to software after 2 years. It was my only A, I should have known 🙂

  • Savvy Financial Latina June 24, 2013, 9:09 am

    I think coursework is different from actual work, work. I did my background is supply chain (operations research). When I started working, I quickly found out the work and studies I had done in university did not match the work I was getting paid for.

  • Bill June 24, 2013, 9:09 am

    Engineering is a hot profession right now and should continue to be for the foreseeable future. I got my Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering and worked as a design engineering for six years while I got my MBA and moved into management where I was better suited. Engineering/business training is a highly versatile combination and you can do just about anything with it. Yes, a reputable engineering curriculum will be challenging. In college, the engineering students are the ones that stay home to study and work engineering problems while others are out having a good time – but the rewards can be great and lifelong. In whatever career you choose, you may find it is more important who you work with, than the work itself. Bad work situations can make your life unpleasant. Career choice is a very personal decision and my recommendation to young people considering a career is to first, “know thyself.”

  • steve June 24, 2013, 9:01 am

    Another con for engineering (more specifically, programming): You end up spending most of your working life sitting alone in an 8×10 cubicle staring at a screen. Very little human nteraction, and during the winter months you’ll barely see daylight except on the weekends.

    • pia June 24, 2013, 12:21 pm

      Hmmm. I have to say that is probably common that is you’re a software engineer you are working like a lone wolf. That’s true in my first job but not all. A lot of programming jobs have embraced what they call agile development and pair programming where interactions in the team are prominent.

    • Tommy June 24, 2013, 12:26 pm

      So true.

    • retirebyforty June 24, 2013, 10:49 pm

      Yeah, I think that’s true for many engineering branches now. We work so much on the computer these days. I got tired of staring at the computer screen 10+ hours/day and that’s one of the reasons why I left that career.

    • Jeff September 20, 2013, 10:25 am

      Not all engineers work in cubicals: there’s always need for people in the field where you get a better understanding of how the plants and machinery work as well as spending time outdoors.

  • Kurt @ Money Counselor June 24, 2013, 8:31 am

    It is difficult to know when you’re only 18 or 20 what career you’d like. I earned a B.S. in Chemical Engineering. The further I got into the Chem Eng program, the more I disliked chemical engineering! But I was stubborn (stupid?) and kept at it because I knew the degree would be valuable and I didn’t want to abandon the coursework I already had under my belt. But by the time I was a senior, I pretty much knew I didn’t want to work as a chemical engineer. My solution was to go directly to grad school and earn a MBA-Finance concentration. It’s a great degree combination and got me out of a career doing hardcore chemical engineering work.

    • retirebyforty June 24, 2013, 10:47 pm

      That’s a great way to go. An B.S. in engineering can open many doors.

    • Jeff September 20, 2013, 10:23 am

      I also got my BS in Chemical Engineering and near the end of the program wondered if I should have been a EE instead but in the end I feel that it paid off, even though I went into Process Control instead. That field combines my ChemE degree with my prior computer science and IT experience and I have an advantage as after ChemE it’s rather trivial for me to pick up the electrical stuff while on the other hand those who started as EEs continually struggle with concepts like chemistry and fluid mechanics.

      • retirebyforty September 20, 2013, 4:43 pm

        That’s great. I think EE is much easier to pick up than ChemE. Chemistry and fluid dynamic are so mind boggling/numbing. 🙂

  • Pretired Nick June 24, 2013, 7:58 am

    Thank goodness you said “you have to enjoy it”. I worry a lot about people that choose a career path for money reasons. They end up hating their lives in way too many cases.
    But, certainly, like you said no career has to be forever. Looking back I think I would have been good at engineering but I didn’t enjoy math so became a writer. Oh well!

    • retirebyforty June 24, 2013, 10:45 pm

      Many people also don’t realize that they can change their lives by changing career. It’s hard when you have more responsibilities though.

  • Liquid June 24, 2013, 12:57 am

    It’s sometimes hard for young adults coming out of high school to decide which career path to take in post secondary. I made the mistake of going into engineering right away when I didn’t have the aptitude for it. After one year I had to drop out of the program because my grades weren’t good enough. But at least it made me realize what I wanted to do, which is art. Some of my friends went on to get their EE degrees and those cool rings. But the workload wasn’t something I could see myself doing for 5 years (which is how long it takes to get an engineering degree,) and even after that engineers usually work longer than 40 hours a week like you mentioned, so that focused work ethic has to continue into one’s career. In the end I think the best job is one where you can have fun and get paid enough doing it 🙂

    • nicoleandmaggie June 24, 2013, 10:48 am

      My husband recently stopped wearing his ring because people kept asking him if he was Canadian.

    • retirebyforty June 24, 2013, 10:44 pm

      That’s lucky in a way because you found out earlier. Many of my friends changed major early on too. Thanks for sharing.

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