Engineering is among the most stable, highest-paid fields out there. Eager employers often snap up graduates right out of college, and seven of the top 10 fortune-500 CEOs are engineers. All of this points like the needle on an airspeed indicator to the hugely satisfying and rewarding career path that engineering is, right?
The truth is, money and stability do not a dream job make. Some engineers realize that what they are doing simply doesn’t satisfy them anymore, while others have been at their posts for so long that they’ve given up looking for fresh challenges. But as the new year begins and the bigger picture snaps into view, professional ambition reasserts itself.
We spoke to several engineers and found that there’s more to a great job than a steady paycheck. The team, the chemistry, the challenge, and the overall mission are a big part of why some engineers are happy – and why some aren’t.
It’s About the Bigger Picture
Easily, the common career advice is to follow your passion. It is echoed by HR executives, CEOs and millionaires, and so it comes as no surprise that most of the people we interviewed left their engineering jobs because they weren’t passionate about their company’s mission, their direction, or what they were contributing.
“I wasn’t very passionate about our products. I actually enjoyed the travel a lot, but presenting to customers made me realize how much I disliked our products and how powerless I was – not being in a decision making position – to do anything about it or improve them significantly.” – Michael Ihns, former Software Engineer, current President, Improved Racing
“I wanted to do something that was of more benefit to people. I wasn’t unhappy at my former job. I make the best of the situation I’m in, but I felt I could contribute more.” – Dr. Adrian Krag, former Production Engineer, current Director of West Coast STEM Programs, Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education
“I wanted to do something that required proper engineering – not coding that someone could pick up in an afternoon reading a few online tutorials. I also wanted to get involved in something in the real world. Web software and websites are virtual and are typically thrown away after two or three years. I wanted to build something you could actually touch.” – Michael Assad, former owner, Agility CMS, current VP Sales & Marketing, Argenia Systems Inc.
New Opportunities Abound
Fortunately, engineers are not Philosophy majors, so there is plenty of demand, many open jobs, and plenty of greener pastures for those seeking a change of pace. Software engineers weary of Web applications can refocus on more tangible fields, such as robotics or automotive systems. Mechanical engineers tired of auto manufacturing may find new challenges in aeronautics or marine technology. Some go out on a limb, applying engineering skills to fields that have nothing to do with their previous occupations. As career experts love pointing out, changing career paths is as common as changing lanes on the freeway.
“I spent some time trying to figure out what it was I really wanted to do, and that took a couple of years… I read books, did self-evaluations, took online tests and tried to imagine my dream job.” – Lesley Young, former Design Engineer, current owner, Decorating Den Interiors
“I started by looking for a new job to get a sense of what the market was like. I wanted to know how easy it would be to find a job, how much more I could expect to earn and whether the opportunities available interested me. After a couple of months of searching and going to interviews, I discovered there was a strong job market for someone with my skills and that I could be earning around $20k more a year than I was currently making.” – Michael Ihns
“I wrote a new resume and put it out there to a few organizations. I got a call a week later and left my former job to go work with the Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education. This is an ideal job for me, one of many ideal jobs for me.” – Dr. Adrian Krag
Engineer Your Career Around What You Love
Finally, for the engineers we spoke with, changing jobs led to a happier, more satisfying career. They worked on projects they enjoyed, developing products and services they could stand behind and working with teams they felt more a part of. Beyond the paycheck – some of those we spoke with actually made less after their transition – building something they believed in made a major difference in their overall career satisfaction.
“I am now working for a startup engineering company. They fit my criteria of building real-world solutions. As an engineer, it’s fun to work on products that are actually engineered in a traditional sense… in particular, their product line of railway safety systems must meet a very high standard in quality and safety. I feel like I’m making a difference to people’s lives, and even helping to save lives!” – Michael Assad
“Though I love freelancing, being a part of CrowdMed is incredibly satisfying. We’re changing the way medical diagnosis is done to help patients arrive at an answer faster than ever before, saving them from prolonged suffering and spending thousands on misdirected tests and procedures. Had I stuck to freelancing, I would have missed out on being a part of a team like this. I wouldn’t have known just how rewarding working in a company can be when you’re working on the right project with the right people.” – Jessica Greenwalt, Lead Designer, CrowdMed
“I like working with CIJE, and it is rewarding to see how kids are becoming excited by engineering and building projects that potentially make life better for other people. Our curriculum, labs and other activities are allowing students to use their creative thinking skills.” – Dr. Adrian Krag
How does your job compare with your career expectations as an engineer? Let us know in the comments.