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A Career in Engineering: Is it worth it?

If you were a high school student contemplating an engineering career, what questions would you ask of the working professionals? I was recently invited to respond to just such a set of questions from a high schooler at Carmel Indiana High School. The questions – both asked and unasked – may surprise you.  — John

I was wondering how the work conditions were in your field of engineering?
[JB] The CEOs of large chip design and manufacturing companies constantly tell me that they see a shortage of electronic engineers, especially in key areas like analog/wireless/rf and package design. However, when I talk to working engineers, they perceive no such shortage.

If the job brings high stress?
[JB] Engineering jobs require a lot of education and experience. Yet most jobs provide very little job security. Plus the older an engineer becomes, the more likely he or she will be laid-off, mainly since older engineers command a higher salary AND (in theory) have outdated job skills. So most of the stress comes from job insecurity.

Do you think that becoming an engineer is worth all the school?
[JB] There is no better experience to handle life’s challenges than to become an engineer. Engineering teaching you how to make rationale decisions based upon facts – not just feelings or emotions. Engineering also teaches one to be economic, i.e., balancing what can be done with what is practical (cost effective) to do. Plus engineers get to play with (and understand) all of today’s coolest technology.

What specifically does your field of engineering do?
[JB] My BS degree was in Engineering Physics, so I’m a bit of an odd ball. Still, my MS was in EE, so my “specialty” field was electronic engineering – in both RF and digital design. Since graduating many years ago, I’ve also gained considerable experience on the software side of engineering – programming and software engineering. So now my specialty is systems engineering, in particular, both hardware and software engineering/integration.

If you could would you go back in time and speak with the great Engineer William Gilbert? If so what would you ask?
[JB] If I could go back in time, I’d rather talk to Maxwell or Edison (Goethe would be interesting, too.)  But for Gilbert, I suppose I’d ask him about how he invented the “versorium.” I’ve always been interested in the actual process, the creative energy, involved in inventing anything.

What kind of new technology do you use in your study and or job of Engineering?
[JB] Probably the newest mechanism for studying and performing engineering is the embedded electronic system. Embedded systems are starting to replace traditional PCs in both volume and connectivity.

Is there any cool gadgets that you get to use?
[JB] Nanotech is fascinating. Wireless, MEMs bio-electronic devices are also very interesting.

If there is any other tips and tricks that you have feel free to share
[JB] As you become an engineer, be sure to develop your human side. Take courses in communication, acting, writing and business. The greatest obstacle for most engineers is that they are one-sided, i.e., not very good at dealing with or communicating to other human beings. Good luck.

3 Responses to “A Career in Engineering: Is it worth it?”

  1. Brian Fuller Says:

    John, great post and thank you for sharing with us the interaction between yourself and the student from Carmel, Ind. (An aside, one of the great semiconductor innovators of the past 40 years emerged from Indiana (Terre Haute): Bernie Vonderschmitt, Xilinx founder).

    It’s refreshing to see you champion the profession. Many EEs have been disillusioned by the layoffs of recent years, and it’s hard to blame them. But at the same time, the world economy doesn’t turn around without electronics innovation enabling it to happen.

    Thanks again, John.
    Cheers,
    Brian

  2. Mike Says:

    You wrote:
    “Plus engineers get to play with (and understand) all of today’s coolest technology.”

    Not true in most cases. You work on what the company is shipping or repairing.
    in 30+ years of working in EE, I and many I know work on stuff that is 5 to 20+ years old technology., Especially if you hire on with a defense contractor.

    And you wrote:
    “As you become an engineer, be sure to develop your human side. Take courses in communication, acting, writing and business. The greatest obstacle for most engineers is that they are one-sided, i.e., not very good at dealing with or communicating to other human beings.”

    So true. This is the problem when companies usually promote from within EE team to a position of management. Just because the guy is top technically, yet he/she are terrible managers and never build their skill set dealing with people. The groups get all screwed up and you work for a managerial moron !
    Of course I did have 1 or 2 managers who were both tech sound and good managers. The other 20 or so never should have been given the job !

  3. John Blyler Says:

    Good point, Mike. Your first comment touches on a point that I didn’t include, namely, that engineers must grow their careers. Staying in one place, with one company or in one industry, is dangerous. Depth must be balanced with breadth of knowledge to improve an engineer’s odds of staying employed throughout most of their career.

    Nobody said it was easy. But it can be interesting – at the very least.

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