Kristen, those are some wierd memories. I do like the engineering education advice, though. Engineering is a great career. The aerospace and defense situation is one that has been repeated over the decades. The other thing about that field is that things take way longer to do than they should. That is, unless there is a war. But it needs to be a long one (the first Gulf War does not qualify).
My wife is a Mechanical Engineer (and a Professional to boot). We met in the aerospace industry. She is now working for a civil engineering firm, and they have plenty of work. I see lots of examples around me of people with engineering degrees who do vastly different things over a period of time, even while working for the same employer.
I have gone from the aerospace to the software world to the embedded systems world over a long career. Many of the basic principles and techniques translate across these disparate application areas. In fact, I am a little concerned about the loss of knowledge over time. Many of the things that are "new" today are really very old. What changes is the implementation technology and the cost of the speeds and feeds.
That's an easy question for me - I wish I understood the different areas of electronics/engineering tasks and working environments better. I came really close to going to work for Varian - I would have been working in a fab environment on their equipment. They gave me a very generous offer coming out of school. The pivotal point in my decision was that I did not want to move out of state. I found out later that I would have hated working in a fab - and I would have been miserable. I did wind up accepting a position with a semiconductor manufacturer but it was in product engineering which was a great fit and excellent learning experience for my true love: (unbeknownst to me at the time) test engineering. I naturally migrated from product engineering to test engineering as my skill set and inclinations became more obvious. I had no previous exposure besides the academic environment and not knowing more about career paths and what they really meant could have really hurt my professional career if I had made different choices.
I've thought a lot about this, and if I were going back to college today, I'd still go into engineering. The only thing I'd do differently is I'd find a co-op engineering job as early as possible in college. Nothing matches professional experience. It tells you if you've chosen wisely, and if you have, it helps you learn more about the engineering culture that you're entering. I didn't get my first part-time engineering job until my fourth year of college. If I were doing it all over again, I'd start looking in my first or second year.
I am not sure how it was across the nation, but in 1993 going to school for engineering was against the grain at my high school. Our careers and guidance counselors bought into the thought that computers were making everyone's jobs so much easier that we would go to four day work weeks and have so much leisure time and money that the services industry was the place to be. They hyped going to school for hotel manager and food service manager jobs. With the multiple recessions hitting and leisure money drying up, I wonder if these counselors fill a little guilty about their guidance.
My reccomendation to new engineering students would be to embrace all aspects of engineering including the less than glamorous items like learning how to solder and how to use a multimeter. There is no substitution for hands-on engineering experience.
I also would have chosen to go into my school's co-op program. It would have helped me understand the parts of engineering that are hard to teach in school and made getting a job afterwards much easier.
Other tips for a student starting in engineering:
Don't forget about people and communication skills. Very few people are "good enough" to be isolated geniuses. If you can't communicate how cool what you're making or designing is then it's essentially irrelevant. And that includes in language non-engineering people can understand. This doesn't need to be your strength. You can always get help. But you can't completely suck either. Consider learning something about sales as part of this.
If you feel stuck, consider staying on course, and adding a separate minor. There are many things you can do with an engineering degree other than be an engineer, if it comes to that.
And remember - "It depends" is often a good answer to a real world problem. As long as you follow it up with a series of intelligent questions, of course.
As an engineer of 42 years in electronics, I've seen once-proud British companies wither and die, and seen a lot of good engineers thrown on the scrap-heap as a consequence.
What's left in "Engineering" companies these days is Death by Powerpoint Meetiongs and endless paperwork which sreves no useful purpose. Or going over old designs so they can be re-sold into their second decade..
Can't remember the last time I actually designed something, or even picked up a soldering iron.
When considering a carear, ask yourself: can they export this job? If they potentially can, get into somthing they can't, like Medicine or Law (which incidentally pay much better). There's more girls too..
If you still like engineering, do it as a hobby in your own time....keep it fun and you'll enjoy it for a lifetime.
There's plenty of old classic cars out there that need restoring... and at the end you'll have a lovely old car to polish, not a redundancy cheque and an uncertain future.
Try to take apart and put back together again, the prototype of anything you design. This can allow a send it back we'll do it for free attitude instead of I wish I had not put this together so a real person can do this only standing on their head attitude.
Try to see where what you are designing will be used. A connector that looks beautiful and cheap in the lab, looks like the devil's work when it is too flimsy to withstand real life wherever it is, and creates intermittent failures. This can lead to customers conclusions that this thing is a piece of @#$%. If you are in Arizona, try to think of the Pacific Northwest or Boston when it comes to sealing out moisture, or the South to sealing out snakes!
But you must be careful. Allow things to get along some of the way, so you can look like a hero. When problems are averted at the very first, nobody knows and they don't see that it was your thoughtfulness and diligence that did it. All too often it is the crisis mangers that get rewarded, even though it was their carelessness that created the crisis in the first place.
I truly believe the ONE point the author of this article made about mathematics is SPOT-ON true! I don't believe one can have enough fundamental higher mathematics knowledge to fully appreciate the specific mathematics of the engineering disciplines. IF you look across the spectrum, MOST of the fundamental equations, OHM'S LAW, HOOK'S LAW, etc., they are all rooted in the same fundamental linear equation. Completely understanding these relationships is essential to a good future in the engineering sciences.
Thinking back on my education & career, when I started I majored in Mathematics & Physics, and took some "business" classes to boot, including accounting & economics, so that once in the career mode, I'd be familiar with terminology of the "bean counters". YES! There have always been bean counters in the corporate world.
One advantage that modern engineering students have is the availability of school-sponsored co-op programs & intermediate placement programs. In my day (when the abacus was still KING!), these programs were few & far between, if they existed at all. One can fill their head w/ every equation, formula, series that has been discovered, BUT unless one actually puts all this to the real world test, all that knowledge is useless. Better to go into college professorship program!
The best advice I can give is to choose a career in engineering because you enjoy solving problems and thinking creatively, not for job security or good pay. There are other, easier careers to achieve those goals. After 18 years in engineering, I still work 60+ hours a week in a salaried position with no overtime. I manage a technical staff of five and its is expected that I am up to speed on everything they are working on. There is also an expectation that I be an expert on the product line of all our suppliers also. All this requires a comittment that is difficult to maintain unless you truely enjoy your work.
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