Satisfaction was the ticket for David H. Lewis, a partner at Revolution NMR in Fort Collins, Colo. "I love to create, design, and invent new things," he says. "I still love it 30 years later. One of the greatest feelings is seeing a customer's face when you created what they thought was impossible."
For me, engineering wasn't so much a conscious choice as a natural progression. As an adolescent, I was surprised to learn that there were whole colleges devoted to design -- engineering schools, they were called -- and I knew that that's where I'd be going. Unfortunately, the bugaboo that plagued me when I took gadgets apart as a youngster still holds true today -- when you try to put something back together again, there's always one piece left over.
Here are some valuable insights from more of our LinkedIn group participants:
Gary Kenward, an independent systems engineer who's worked at several major companies over a 30-year career: "I chose engineering because I wanted to work on solutions for immediate real world problems. I liked the idea of seeing the results of my efforts being used. Does this hold true today? No, not really. The industries where I have spent my career -- call them information and computer technology industries -- have commoditized the design and development work to the point where individuals with 1 or 2 year technology diplomas are being hired as 'engineers.' It has been a rewarding career, and often fun. Hard for me to say that I would recommend investing the time and money into a similar career path to anyone else."
Jon Titus, Design News contributing technical editor and the renowned builder, in 1973, of the Mark-8, the first personal computer kit: "My paternal grandfather was an electrical contractor and had worked for Bell Telephone... As a kid I had bells, buzzers, knife switches, small light bulbs, and large dry cells to experiment with. My grandfather had mounted them on small blocks of wood to make them easier to wire. I also enjoyed chemistry and went on to become a chemist by education. Along the way, though, I used more and more instruments and had to design equipment, too. During my time in the Army I got assigned to a base near Sandia Labs and took several lunch-time courses in digital and linear ICs. When I went back to grad school at Virginia Tech I got heavily involved with digital electronics and designed high-speed data acquisition equipment for my research and for sale to others. What a great time to get deeply into electronics. So, although I'm not formally an engineer, I think like one and have enjoyed designing computers and circuits as well as writing programs for everything from assembly language for minicomputers through to C for MCUs. If I had to do things over I'd tweak a few things here and there, but overall, no new path"
Tom Stokland, an engineer in the Chicago area: "As inane as it sounds, I wanted a career that I wouldn't get dirty by doing it (I was in the army at the time), so I chose electronics. But maybe I should say it chose me, since I've been doing it for 27 years, and there have been absolutely no regrets for my decision -- except when I'm frustrated by a bug that just won't show itself! I love doing embedded systems just as much now as when I did my first design all those years ago!"
Ed Smyth, an engineering management professional: "I was enthralled by learning about electronics via a mail order course. I was never enthralled about learning before that. My passion for learning continues today. Unfortunately I have been laid off and I'm being told that prospective employers are concerened they will not keep me satisfied (I'm 55). I guess I'll have to satisfy my passion in another field -- anyone familiar with Health Informatics?"
Why did you become an engineer, and are you still happy with your decision? Please let us know in the comment section below.
I've wanted to design things ever since I can remember. I believe it's either born into a person or not born into them. I've worked with numerous Electrical Engineers with bachelor's and master's degrees that just didn't get it - did not have that instinct to dig in and create. I feel disconnected from any job - or any task, for that matter - where I cannot create, but only get to work with something that someone else created.
Obviously, all of our creating begins with things already created. Jack Kilby and a million other engineers before and since have come up with the parts that I get the privilege of creating with, but I still get to create something new and unique. I believe that is mostly genetic - and is a way of life. Many thanks to all who have created the parts and systems that I have the privilege of creating with...
Yes, I've said that many times too, Bob - I'm proud to be a geek and a nerd.
Yes, I still also exclusively change the oil in my car, van, motorcycle, lawn mowers, etc. I don't trust the minimum-wage "technician's" with this incredibly important task - plus it takes me less time than driving the car over to the lube place to have it done...
The path to engineering was not as direct for me as for some. Excelled in grade school/high school, especially in science and math. Also tinkered with bicycles and mini-bikes. Thought I would go into medicine in junior high. I realized that was influenced more by my parents idea of "success" rather than a fit of my talents and interests to a profession. Of my high school science classes I enjoyed Physics the most. I went to college set on being a physics major. There I realized that what I liked about high school physics was actually mechanical and electrical engineering. Took classes in both departments, and then realized mechanical engineering dovetailed with the mini-bike tinkering of my youth.
I vividly remember talking to a friends mother when I was 12. I told her that I wanted to design computers. Big deal say you? Well, please know that this happened in 1965, when computers were fairly exotic objects.
Now, the odd thing is, I didn't really do anything about it. I wasn't interested in electronics, per se. It wasn't until my senior year of high school that I got really interested - I took the first programming class offered in Los Angeles Unified School District. Yep, time-share BASIC running on an HP 16-bit system, 110 baud teletype machine via modem to <somewhere in downtown L.A>.
Man, that was futuristic. I had my first program running in about 5 minutes, so I was assigned an "A" in the course and became a TA, helping the others learn to program. One girl never got it: she walked up to the teletype with a huge roll of tape. Her program ran perfectly, but the length of the tape was explained by her not understanding what a "DO" loop could, well, do. Pulled a couple all-nighters (yeah, high school) writing a Monopoly game. Helped the teacher write a statistics program to correlate NMSQT (now, PSAT) scores with GPAs.
My first real job was working for said teachers husband, building computer terminals. (1970s: computer big, muy expensivo. Serial lines to crt/keyboard units aka terminals.) Didn't know how to solder when I started. Got a chance to become production tech and learned all about how the logic worked. Swapped job with main tech, and didn't get much done for a week.
Then it clicked. Wow, logic made so much SENSE.
Became engineering-department tech. Fixed a couple busted designs, and was made junior engineer as punishment for my sins. Got to learn about microprocessors. Designed first working FPLA (Signetics) based display controller.
One day, I got an E-size sheet of vellum and designed a single-board terminal (told my boss to take a hike when he bugged me about something else) that became the company main product. Whole system fit under the keyboard. PLL-based display timing, so the screen aspect ratio was software-controlled, enabling one design to satisfy all of marketings apps. [You can actually briefly see a bunch of these things in an episode of The Twilight Zone ('80s version), the one where JFK is saved from assasination.]
Never looked back.
Somewhere in there I went to UCLA, but dropped out - I was learning so much more at work than in classes. It later turned out that the mighty UCLA School of Engineering was hovering around probationary rating with the academic accreditation people. No wonder, I thought when I found out years later. I did finish my BS at UCLA, but it was a pain working full time - I was paying for a house (never brought that up with my Anthro prof: he stopped talking to me when he found I was an engineering major) and raising a child at the same time.
Yeah, it's been a gas.
When I was finishing at UCLA, most of my classmates wanted to be engineers because they were good at analyzing problems, and they knew they could make money. They didn't know squat about putting things together, or have any respect for people who did it for a living. Beginning of the end.
Now, it almost literally brings me to tears when I think about how few American students are prepared to be engineers. They don't have the math/sciences skills, but more to the point, they don't have the imagination - they've spent too much time with PlayStation and not enough time with wooden blocks. I feel like a dinosaur among the general population - I've always liked making things that I could put in someones hands. Not as high-tone as being a lawyer, I suppose.
I was doing "assorted technical stuff" even in grade school, figuring out how and what it took to accomplish some goal. Of course, being a much better reader than my classmates helped me learn a whole lot by reading. One thing that did help was that my dad was also an engineer, and he was able to bring home all kinds of assorted things that his employer was replacing with more current and faster things. So I had a constant supply of neat stuff to take apart and examine,m which gave quite a boost to my creativity. All through high school, I also built things, but after high school, at my first full time job, it became fruustratingly clear that to do what I enjoyed most would take an engineering degree. So when I had saved up enough money I went to engineering school, and after graduating with a BSEE I eventually go an engineering position, and after some years of working became a real engineer. I am not convinced that all are engineers when they graduate, but that is an area for a whole different discussion.
I once read a factoid that enrollments in engineering programs in the 60's-70's were strongly influenced by Mr. Scott of Star Trek TV series. And likewise McIver in the 80s. And thereafter took a dine for want of a role model.
I grew up in the '80s, and I was a huge Star Trek fan - more so the original series than The Next Generation, but I think a lot of people my age and younger were drawn in by The Next Generation and the subsequent shows. It wasn't necessarily a direct influence on my becoming an engineer, since I had more or less stopped watching Star Trek by the time I was in high school (it wasn't "cool" enough), but I think it was probably a subconscious influence. I was always fascinated by the technical details - even when they didn't necessarily make sense in the real world - and this probably contributed to the kind of person I became as an adult.
Also, the general values expressed by the show (people should try to get along with one another instead of fighting, problems can be solved by creative thinking, friends should be dedicated and loyal to each other, etc.) had a big influence on me.
Now that I am married and have kids, I find that renting Star Trek videos now and then from the local public library is one of the ways I can keep myself sane.