Engineering as a career

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Engineering as a career

Post by EpicentrE »

Hi guys,

Long story short, I'm pretty fed up of IT, and desperately want a career change. Engineering has always been a passion of mine (as evidenced from the fact that I do this hobby!), and I would have probably ended up going into it after school if the educational system hadn't entirely failed me.

So I've come to a point in my life where I'm considering switching to it as a career, but I want to do as much research as possible to make sure this is the right decision for me. I'm going to need to either go to university, do an apprenticeship, or somehow take on a long-term commitment in order to make this happen, so I want to make sure it's the correct one.

To that end, I'm putting out a request to anyone who currently has, or has had, a career in engineering. I'm specifically interested in mechanical/electromechanical and/or design engineering, but opinions and responses from anyone would be welcome.

What I'm requesting is to know what your job involves; what's a normal day? What's an abnormal day? Are you doing repetitive tasks, or is it quite varied? Do you get opportunities to, or are you expected to, work in multiple difference disciplines, or are you generally just working on one specific aspect of something? Do you have any general advice or observations about the career that might not be obvious, or might be less well known?

Thanks in advance.
Scott Fyfe-Jamieson, Captain of Epic Robotics. Champion of AWS38/41/42.

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Re: Engineering as a career

Post by Rapidrory »

Also job hunting for something in electronic engineering atm (Hopefully related to electric cars) so am interested to see what people have to say.
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Re: Engineering as a career

Post by BeligerAnt »

I consider myself very fortunate to get paid for doing what is also my hobby! 8) Having done electronic engineering professionally for more years that I care to remember now, I will try to give you some insight...

1) It's not all fun of course. Most engineering jobs are not just about engineering, there's project planning, documentation, processes to follow, paperwork, and all the other "housekeeping" that goes on in almost every job.

2) A passion for engineering really helps. I, and several of my colleagues, would rather employ someone with engineering-related hobbies than someone that just sees it as a job. The best engineers are those with a real interest in the subject, motivated to solve problems and learn for themselves.

The opportunity to do "a bit of everything" versus specialising in a particular discipline depends on company size/structure and also on discipline. Small companies (or larger ones organised into small business units) generally require people to be more flexible; in larger companies you generally have people working in specific areas so there will be a design group, a production engineering group etc.

Engineering is all about solving problems, so by its nature it is pretty varied. In my job a project can take 2 or 3 years to complete but within that I will be designing a number of very different boards, getting prototypes built, debugging them, working with the software team to get the code integrated, integrating the boards into a complete instrument, and many many other tasks. It's definitely not a case of doing the same thing day in, day out for me.

As an electronics engineer I also studied software as part of my degree so I do sometimes get to write code. I know several electronics engineers who have migrated to software. Not so much crossover between mechanical engineering and electronics/software but I do find that having a good understanding of mechanics (partly from building robots!) really helps when working in cross-functional teams.

The starting point for most "engineer" jobs is a relevant degree, which in turn will require a good level of maths. Remember physics is applied maths, and engineering is applied physics! There may be other routes into more junior roles but unfortunately technicians are a dying breed!

An mechanical engineering degree will require good A-level grades in maths and physics - and lots more hard work! From what I've heard the various "product design" degrees are not highly rated... The routes into product design tend to be from mechanical engineering or from the "arty" side focussing on user interface design, product styling etc.

Hope this helps (a bit?) and if you have any more questions, ask.
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Re: Engineering as a career

Post by petec »

Not sure if I really qualify for this as I trained as an electronics engineer but ended up in software development and am now an Enterprise Architect.

I think in this country now the options in engineering (what discipline?) are more limited. Part of the reason I found myself in IT was that my final year degree project was software based and when I went for interviews for electronics they told me I was too software focused and when I went for software jobs they told me I was too hardware based!! Luckily I got a job in telecoms where the coding was low level and you needed to be able to understand the hardware.

As Gary rightly says, the grass is never entirely greener and a job is still a job and needs hard work and effort to get the most out of it. I would pretty much say a degree was the least these days and you probably need to decide on a target business sector to aim for. Mechanical engineering comes in many forms but a relevant degree is important - if you wanted to do fluid dynamics (say) then having a degree in material science isn't going to cut it. Its a competitive market as much of the build work is now in the far east and design work is much sought after.

I think you are absolutely right to think and research hard before jumping ship. Having worked in IT for best part of 25 years, I can fully understand you could be fed up with that. Good luck with whichever direction you go in.

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Re: Engineering as a career

Post by daylosh »

I got into electronic engineering by a less conventional route, via my local college having achieved a bare minimum at school. I was stuck in dead end labouring jobs and was actually weeding a vegetable patch when I phoned the college and asked about electronic engineering as I'd always been interested but my school never taught it. I had to go for an interview and only because I had a B in maths (C's or lower in everything else) they let me come for a 3 month trial and it went from there.

I think my experience chimes with what's already been said here, maths will probably be important and, certainly to begin with, the learning curve is steep and requires proper commitment. That said I find the job massively rewarding and I too feel that I get paid for something that would otherwise be a hobby.

I live in the Isle of Man and it being so small there aren't loads of jobs here (I never considered this when I decided to train) so I've generally had to learn lots of skills to a fairly shallow level rather than specialise to much. This suits me but most other engineers I know (mech and elec) predominantly work in one field. For example I have friends that specialise in CAD, stress, PLC's and automotive.

Again it's already been said here but an average day for me can be summed up as problem solving. At first this feels like you've been thrown in at the deep end but, for me anyway, this just became a mind set and it's given me huge confidence in general. A lot of the time I have to work with and be sympathetic to other engineer's design criteria and restrictions so it helps if you can be flexible but you'll need to be comfortable standing your ground also or you'll end up making most of the compromises and your workload, stress levels will go through the roof. That's probably applicable to work general though.

I have never been or think I will ever get bored in this work. It is constantly changing and there's always so much to learn. This is just my experience and I'm sure that there are plenty of unhappy people in engineering but all my engineering friends, and myself for that matter, have loads of side projects to dip into when work isn't totally engaging.

Please get in touch if you have any specific questions.

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