Our choice of career path is one of the most important decisions we face. Yet most of us decide our career path with limited input at a young age, and then some stick with the wrong decision.
Instead, an engineer's entire career should involve periodic reassessment based upon experience, aptitude, and personal interest. Decision points occur whether we recognize them or not, and no decision is still a decision.
Unlike some fields, the decision to enter engineering is often made while in high school or early in college in order to prepare for and obtain all of the required technical training.
Students usually choose engineering based on many factors. They like the high starting salaries and other financial inducements, and the glamour of technical achievement in information technology, robotics, or automation. They may have an aptitude for mathematics and the physical sciences. The field's perceived prestige and security may attract them, or their parents, teachers and friends may influence them.
Early decision point. The first year or two of college often becomes an extension of the initial decision process. Some drop out at this point to pursue other fields.
The next decision point occurs at the completion of an undergraduate degree. Engineers then face three alternatives. They can (1) continue their education for an advanced technical degree, (2) take a job in a technical field, or (3) accept a job in a non-technical field. Those choosing a technical field must decide what technical specialty they will pursue and where they want to work along the R & D spectrum.
Another turning point . Although timing varies, engineers usually reconsider their career about five years after graduation. Engineers excited by the technical aspects and financial rewards of their work often become specialists. They don't aspire to management positions and prefer to operate as free-agents as long as their skills are in demand. They tend to prefer things to people.
Others choose engineering management. These engineers become project or functional managers. As technical generalists, these careers demand skills such as planning, staffing, reviewing, and budgeting.
The choice of a career path is not a one-time decision. Everyone should periodically reassess his or her choices. No career path is intrinsically better than any other. True success should be the recognition and acceptance of what we want to do and can do. Then we should do that job to the best of our abilities. Life is too short for any other alternative.
the manager Q: What career paths are available to engineers beyond being a project manager or a functional manager?
A: Once they enter the project manager or functional management track, many engineers find that they enjoy working with people and that their engineering training provides an excellent background for performing most engineering management tasks.
However, they may need some management training. Some organizations provide this training internally, and most will reimburse tuition charges for the new or prospective manager to take evening courses at a local college or university. This track can eventually lead to a position like chief engineer or director of engineering - a very responsible position requiring both good technical and good management capabilities.
During this process, some will find that their real interests and capabilities lean more to general management than they do to engineering management. These people will often complete the requirements for an MBA and/or seek other special courses and general management experience. When this occurs, and the person demonstrates real capability, and with a certain amount of good fortune, he or she can enter general management as a vice-president for a major function or group of functions, and eventually achieve the top position in the organization.
Sometimes engineers try another alternative and leave the engineering field to enter a new field like marketing or sales or take a shot at going directly into general management through some administrative staff position. Since an engineering background is a good foundation for management responsibility, the alternative can work out well for those who choose it.