Planning for a Career in Engineering for the Long Term
by Arina Smith Uncategorized 30 August 2021
Engineering is a broad set of fields that spans various lines of work. It keeps attracting people with a certain mindset, and many types of engineering fields have great job prospects for those who follow them. On the other hand, many engineering degrees are associated with grueling work and a lot of stress. With that in mind, it’s important to understand the implications of following a career like this if you’re considering it.
In the end, there are lots of opportunities to make a real difference if you decide to be an engineer of any kind. But you have to be realistic about the way you’re approaching this and know what to expect. Researching your chosen field extensively will go a long way towards avoiding some of the problems that people commonly run into when they decide to build their careers in that area.
Choose Your Field Carefully
As we mentioned above, engineering is a pretty broad term that covers a wide range of disciplines. Here are some examples of paths you could follow and what they entail:
- Computer engineer: deals with both software and hardware, identifying problems and building solutions for them, typically by using existing technology. Usually heavily involved in the development of advanced new systems in various markets.
- Electrical engineer: designs and builds various electrical components and the systems that use them. Similar to computer engineers, electrical engineers enjoy a lot of popularity in various fields.
- Mechanical engineer: works with machines and other physical contraptions, evaluating their mechanical functions and ensuring they are safe and viable to operate.
- Civil engineer: works on the infrastructure of cities and private properties, combining knowledge from several different fields to ensure that buildings are built in a safe and reliable manner.
These are just some of the most common examples – there are dozens of engineering disciplines for you to consider. There’s something out there for everyone, including more specialized fields like chemical engineering. It’s important to take a careful look around and properly evaluate the options you have available because you never know what might be waiting right around the corner. It’s a common mistake to go for some of the most popular choices in the field, ignoring some of the less walked paths. When, in reality, there could be something that’s right up your alley in those areas. The point is, your initial degree choice is a major decision that should not be made lightly.
Understanding Future Implications
One of the most important things is to understand the future implications of your choice, both with regards to your personal development and to the changes you want to make in the world. Some fields have great prospects right now but might slow down in the not-too-distant future. Most of those changes are tied to the advancement of modern solutions like artificial intelligence, which have drastically altered many fields and have changed the requirements attached to them.
You should look into this carefully because it’s possible that you might land into a field that is on its way out. Of course, that will be obvious from the moment you start your education in that case, but it’s still good to try avoiding that wasted time and effort. If you’re confused, talk to some people with experience in the field and find out what their careers have been like.
Approaching Your Education the Right Way
Spend some time planning your education too. Use all resources you have available – including online universities and training courses. Many people still underestimate the quality of that sector of education, despite the fact that it’s been around for quite a while already. There are lots of resources you can find online, and you can even do your entire degree that way if you prefer. It’s a perfectly viable option with many benefits to consider.
There’s another aspect to this that you need to think about though, and it’s one that people rarely consider in the earlier stages of their careers. You should try to build your academic profile in a way that makes you as flexible as possible in the long term.
In other words, try not to stick to the exact same degree for your bachelor’s and master’s, and try to bring some diversity into the situation. Obtaining a master of science in engineering management online from an institution like Kettering University is a good example. Having a management degree on top of your regular engineering bachelor’s is going to open many more doors for you when it comes to moving up the ladder. Don’t underestimate the importance of that.
If you’re not certain what path you should take here, don’t worry about putting that off for later. It’s not mandatory to start your master’s degree immediately after completing your bachelor’s, and it can actually be very beneficial to put it off for a while. Take some time to focus on your work and explore your field, and this should give you a good perspective on what you should pursue in your next stages of education.
Don’t ignore the option of getting two degrees either. It doesn’t work out for everyone, but some people can benefit a lot from spreading out their options like that.
It’s Not All About Salaries
Another thing to keep in mind is that your salary isn’t everything. Sure, on a day-to-day scale it might seem like it, but it’s important to remember that this is your whole career we’re talking about. With that in mind, you should not make any compromises that you aren’t sure you can live with.
It’s never a good choice to go for a higher-paying career in a field that you know you won’t like. Many people fool themselves into thinking that they will eventually get over their feelings and will be able to focus on their work properly. But it’s actually the exact opposite. Those feelings won’t go away, they will only grow stronger.
And by the time you realize you don’t want to do this, you might have invested a good chunk of your life into it, making a transition that much more difficult. Sure, it’s never too late for a career change – but wouldn’t it be better to start on the right foot in the first place?
Why Networking Is Key
It’s not all about your education and skills either. In fact, the farther you move into your field, the less important those will become. At some point, it’s all about the connections you’ve made and how well you can leverage them. This is especially true if you have aspirations for the top. C-level positions are not something you obtain by being good at your day job and impressing your direct manager. They are the result of long plays that involve a lot of company politics and building connections along the way.
That’s why one of the most important skills you can focus on that’s not directly related to your education and the main line of work is how well you communicate. Many people think that they are good enough at this and don’t need to look into improving their skills when the reality is often far from that.
Most of us can actually benefit a lot from exploring new ways to express ourselves and to connect to others. This will also help you in your daily work itself. The ability to communicate with people on different levels in your organization is going to help you get your job done more efficiently and with a higher rate of satisfaction among your coworkers.
The Hidden Danger of Burnout
We touched on this above, but it’s an important point to explore on its own. Burnout is an issue that’s unfortunately not discussed as much as it should be. It can happen to anyone, including the most motivated ones about the work they do. In fact, those people are usually among the first to run into these types of issues.
Burnout is the gradual loss of motivation for what you’re doing, typically accelerated by constant ongoing problems or a lack of understanding with your peers. It’s not rare to see experts with decades of experience just deciding that they don’t want to do their jobs anymore, and the long-term effects of falling into this situation can be devastating.
That’s why it’s important to learn how to pace yourself and to approach problems in a healthy manner. You are going to run into roadblocks eventually – everyone does in every line of work. Engineering can be more challenging in this regard, because some of the problems you encounter will be things that literally nobody has dealt with before, leading to a lot of frustration. If you don’t manage your emotions when tackling those issues, they’re eventually going to get the better of you. You might not realize it in the beginning, but every time you allow yourself to become frustrated over a work issue, you’re moving one step closer to burning out.
Learn to Assess and Criticize Yourself
On a somewhat related note – and one that doesn’t have much to do with engineering specifically – it’s also important to learn to give yourself an honest assessment, and to act on it. Criticizing yourself is not as easy as it seems, especially when you have to admit those faults to someone else afterward. But it will go a long way towards making you a better person to work with, and someone who understands their own limits well enough to be competent at what they do.
This will also help you avoid burnout to some extent. By constantly giving yourself valid criticisms, you will gain the ability to see problematic situations in a more objective manner. When you encounter an issue that would normally frustrate you, you will be able to take a step back and evaluate the situation from a more rational perspective. This will usually alleviate a lot of the stress that comes with your daily work.
Becoming a Good Team Player
This is something we’ve covered in various ways above, but it’s hard to stress it enough. Your ability to get along with others is going to be one of the most important factors in a field like this. You’re going to face lots of issues with people who do not prioritize communication skills over their actual work, which can lead to a lot of friction. Being the person who defuses that friction can make you a great asset to any team, even if your actual skills are nothing out of the ordinary.
You should start working on this as early as you can in your career. In fact, start with your degree. Beat the stereotype of the lazy group project member who tries to get others to carry them. Be proactive about issues that affect you. Help others when you can. Making these things a habit will result in huge improvements in your ability to work with others in the long term.
Other Things to Keep in Mind
There is a lot of advice out there about how you should follow a career path like this, especially when it comes to your university studies. But remember that there is no path set in stone here, and no specific rules that you are required to follow. Take your time to assess your own situation, and figure out what course of action is best for you. It won’t always be the same thing that worked for everyone else, and it’s good to be able to recognize those moments.
If you play your cards right, this can be a great path to follow and something that can bring a lot of positive changes in your life. Knowing that you’re making a direct impact on the world around you can be a fantastic feeling, especially when combined with the rush of solving complex problems that nobody has managed to tackle before. If you feel like this is something up your alley, definitely go for it and see what options are available to you!