The Joy of Engineering

A Satisfying (and Lucrative) Career!

By William D. Engelke

Copyright 1996, All rights reserved. All opinions presented herein are the author’s personal views.

The reward of a thing well done, is to have done it.” – from ‘New England Reformers’, by Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you can, you should consider a career in engineering. Why?

“Engineers are like gold . . .”

. . .a manager told me, “You just can’t get’em.” In other words, good job prospects. That’s quite a statement in today’s unstable job environment. You may have to be willing to relocate, but moving is normal and healthy: learn a new area, make new friends, build new skills.
Satisfaction. Engineering generally includes developing, building, inventing, and creating. You solve problems, make life better for people, and leave something behind as your positive contribution to the world.

Pay.

In the U.S., engineers are highly paid. If you go into a specialty area that few select, earn an advanced degree, and/or perform excellent work over time, you can achieve a very good salary level.

Do the world a favor.

Engineers create wealth, by innovating, increasing efficiency and productivity, inventing, and improving things. This kind of work is what increases living standards and makes the world a better place to live in. Why not be a part of the solution, rather than a part of the problem?

What is engineering?

Engineers work to harness the properties of matter and energy to serve human wants and needs. They learn how things work and endeavor to make the world a better place to live (usually). You can have the experience of creating new works of technology which are uniquely your own. If you have management skill as well, you will soon be supervising a department with a big annual budget (of course, if you are not people-oriented, you might want to decline that promotion and stick to engineering).

Have you thought about engineering and shied away from it? Let’s blow away some prevalent attitudes about engineering.

Myth: Engineers are nerds.

Engineers have, over the years, developed a reputation for being a bunch of nerds. Sure, some of them are, but these are most assuredly the exception, not the rule. Most engineers are savvy, worldly people with a wide range of interests in addition to math and technology.

Myth: You have to be a mathematical genius to be an engineer.

Some engineering areas are heavy in math, that’s for sure (electrical, engineering mechanics, aerospace); but there are also engineering areas where it’s more important to be able to think logically, and the math is less intense (industrial, systems, computer). Most practicing engineers spend a lot of their time in meetings, discussing solutions and approaches, and even working with customers, developing marketing strategies, and justifying costs. (Many engineers have found that the only place they needed heavy math skills was in college!) An engineer’s activities are highly dependent on the industry he or she is in: engineers in industry tend to work on very practical matters, whereas those in research institutes work on far-out projects which are very theoretical and mathematical (you should plan on getting a PhD if you prefer this type of work).

What are some examples? Here are some examples of big engineering projects:

  • The Eiffel tower
  • The Hubble Telescope
  • The Space Shuttle
  • The Golden Gate Bridge

Engineers are not perfect. Here are some of their failures:

  • The Tacoma Narrows Bridge Collapse (developed a resonance in the wind and fell apart)
  • The Challenger Disaster (launched when weather was too cold for design)
  • The Superconducting Supercollider (killed for political reasons: too expensive)

Failures serve at least to teach us the importance of humility, and that safety is not to be compromised. A good engineer does not recommend undue levels of risk, or fail to use due care to provide a safety margin.

How do I get started?

You’ll want a great education so you can succeed in this field. Very important- Here is a list of engineering colleges, organized by state. Pick a school which is located in the geographic area where you eventually would like to work (within 500 miles). Most companies fill their need for engineers with local talent. If you are able to achieve top grades, however, you may get offers from almost everywhere.