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Great advice
naperlou   8/10/2012 8:55:41 AM
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. 

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benmlee2   8/27/2012 4:50:36 PM
There are 3 types of mechanical engineer. General, technical, and management. Is different advice for each type. General are the responsible engineer, quality, out sourcing, shop work etc. If you want to be technical, then you have to have a passion to be good. Technical are the analysis like dynamic, fluid, thermal, stress, design and R&D. To be good there, you have to really know your stuff. Study to pass a course is different from study to know the concept. Spend time to discover for yourself how a freebody calculation can be solved graphically or with a matrix. Why torque can be moved anywhere on a part, but not force. Why a force can be replaced with force and a torque. Do the same with vibration, controls, fluid and other classes. If you like machines and moving toys as a kid, you are ahead of the curve. You have to develop a sense of intuition about machines. Visualize how a new design is going to work, and where the weak spots are.

Realize that a technical path will almost never get you into management, VP, CEO. They are way different. Maybe department lead, but rarely more. Your sense of technical knowledge will hinder you in politics. You are too "pure".

Management is way different. You need to take control of people without them realizing you are doing it. Be able to take control of a room full of people, not just speak in front of them. Make people feel comfortable. Suck up to them without being obvious. Be able to find a mentor that will sponsor you. Need to hear rumors and know just enough so you sound like you are in control. Having a job as a salesman in high school or college probably helps here.

Most important tip is if you get a job, and is not what you really want to do. Start looking IMMEDIATELY. Don't lose several years of your career because the job pays your bill and you are tired of more rejections.

Nancy Golden
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Understanding Your Career Options
Nancy Golden   8/10/2012 10:52:09 AM
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.

Charles Murray
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Wouldn't change much
Charles Murray   8/10/2012 5:01:27 PM
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.

Beth Robinson
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Re: Wouldn't change amuch
Beth Robinson   8/12/2012 6:02:07 PM
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.

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Tim   8/10/2012 7:30:05 PM
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.

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Advice to the Would-be Engineer
kid-jensen   8/13/2012 9:43:14 AM
Run screaming in any other direction!

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.






Omar Schmidlap
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Re: Advice to the Would-be Engineer
Omar Schmidlap   8/13/2012 3:05:15 PM
OMG, "kid-jensen," I totally agree!  The Pollyannas who say that everything is wonderful and the future looks bright leave me thoroughly baffled.  I've concluded that they must be space aliens because they can't possibly be talking about engineering careers here on Earth.

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Wish I'd known...
mrmikel   8/13/2012 9:51:36 AM
Two things that will make you valuable:


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.

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OLD_CURMUDGEON   8/13/2012 9:56:56 AM
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!

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worked for me
ChasChas   8/13/2012 10:20:32 AM

Engineers should tough through many design and make projects before they go to school - just do it before you know how to do it! (hint: Use duct tape, etc. be as safe as you know how.)

Then you will know exactly what you should be paying attention to in school.

I went school after a career as a welder and machinist in a custom fab and repair shop where you are required to design and make on the fly. This served me well in school - I knew why I was there.

It is these kind of employees that hold their jobs.

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Choose Engineering because you enjoy it, not for the money
jhess169   8/13/2012 12:23:12 PM
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.



Charles Murray
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Re: Choose Engineering because you enjoy it, not for the money
Charles Murray   8/13/2012 10:28:50 PM
Every engineering student should read your comments to get a dose of reality, jhess169. All of the job surveys that Design News has done over the past 10 years indicate that what you say is true. Sixty hours a week is pretty commonplace, design cycles are getting compressed and most engineers are juggling several projects. That's not to say that kids should be discouraged or stay away, but they should know the realities. I know many engineers who work long hours and wouldn't trade engineering for any another profession. But the realities of hard work and long hours are out there, and they don't appear to be changing in the next few years.

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Job Market
PGillaspy   8/13/2012 1:17:08 PM
All the advice given so far is about their schooling.  My advice is more about their future job. I think that is what students really want to know something about. So here are my points

(1) Try to stay in the main stream of your profession. This is because most management are selected from the main stream. However important to a company's products, specialists are not selected.

(2) There is no objective measure of performance in the job place. There is no professor to be the objective judge.  So that means your abilities is a matter of perception to others.  The only thing that matters is that the project eventually gets done. Along the way any number of poor decisions can be made, but projects are so complex and schedules so impossible, that the attitude of management is to make no effort to look backwards. They consider it a success to just get the job done. On to the next job, don't look back.

(3) The number one measure of your promotability is (and this is above all else), your social skills. Can you make small talk, can you talk shop, can you talk to a complete stranger and make them feel comfortable? Yep, nobody knows who you are until you socialize and fit in with them.

(4) Never allow your self to be in a position where your boss is less educated than yourself.  For example, if you have a Masters, your boss should have a masters or PhD.  The difficulty with having a boss less educated is that they just haven't gone through the same rigor you have, and don't have the same perspective. Your skills are effectively being judged by someone with different standards.

5) Not all of us have the attributes to be corporate VPs, directors, managers. Recognize that in yourself if that be the case.

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Advice for fresh engineers
willi   8/13/2012 9:57:38 PM
I left my home country (Vietnam) for Canada at the age of 18. After a few years I did not want to burden my parents so I took a summer job as a chemical plant operator assistant. Little did I know that the real world experience during that summer helped me get a job right after graduation. School does not teach you much about equipment and how to operate them.

We had a strike at the (unionized) plant. All staff had to replace operators to operate the plant. It was the best opportunity to learn hands on experience. Soon I was given responsibility over the operation of an Ethylene glycol unit then an Ethylene Oxide unit. I showed innovation (I develop a computer program to replace manual calculations) and I correctly diagnose the cause of several incidents. Piecing together all facts to explain an incident is not taught in school.

My mentor was an ex-foreman. He taught me during my daily tour of the plant to listen to pump noise, cavitation, bearings vibration. All senses (sight, smell, hearing, touch) can help detect/prevent equipment failure. He taught me to go to the maintenance shop to learn how mechanical equipment is built and what cause the failure/ wear.

That early experience puts me on the track of process engineering career which after more than 30 years I still enjoy.

Jon Titus
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Get Your Money's Worth
Jon Titus   8/14/2012 7:12:17 PM
When my daughter started college--not in engineering--I told her what a year at her school would cost with tuition, room and board, books, transportation, and everything else related rolled into the total.  Then I told her to figure out how many days she would be at college for a school year to calculate the cost per day.  If she didn't think she got her (our!) money's worth, either she had to work harder or take on extra work.  After graduation she told us she thought about that number every day.

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I wish...
skywirelynx   8/15/2012 5:58:12 AM
...I hadn't borrowed so much money to pay for my education. I was ill-informed enough to think that my salary after graduation would justify GSL funding the lion's share of my BSEE. My own life since then has argued that was not smart. There have been several factors, including the failed health of my wife, but the point is that doing (almost) anything to graduate with the minimum amount of educational debt is highly recommended.

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bobjengr   8/25/2012 2:48:55 PM
I've been actively involved in design engineering since 1966 and like most of the comments I have read here, there is some advice I would give as follows:
  1.  Carefully choose the branch of engineering you wish to follow; i.e. mechanical, EE, chemical, environmental, etc.  I know this is a difficult decision when you are an entering freshman but it does make a difference "down the road".
  2. Like other comments--take as much math as you can get.    A second major in mathematics would not be a bad idea.
  3. Learn to communicate effectively. Write, Write, Write. Become proficient in public speaking and making a decent presentation.
  4.  Take the EIT your senior year.
  5. Stand for your PE--take the exam.  (I have been a PE since 1974 and have obtained 2 jobs as an employee and many jobs as a consultant as a result of the license.)
  6.  Learn a second language. (I know this one seems odd but Spanish or German or whatever is a great advantage.) You must think "global" today.  You may find yourself working in a foreign country and the language ability will be valuable.
  7. When you get that first job, save as much money as you possibly can, at least 10% of your base pay.  Establish a 401K or SEP IRA, etc etc. Tough times are coming and being resourceful is a must if you are to survive.   We are headed for a huge inflationary period so be prepared.
  8. Expect to work at least a 60 hour week the first few years.
  9. Realize that there will come a time you will report to a complete idiot.  He will be a "bean counter" or the boss's son, etc etc.  Unrealistic deadlines will become the rule and not the exception.  In other words, learn to handle stress and pressure.
  10.  As much as possible stay away from office politics and the PC crowd. Become known for your engineering abilities and not BS abilities.  Be the "go to guy or gal" when a job really needs to be accomplished on time and under budget. 
  11. Never stop learning. Make learning a life-time endeavor.  Branch out.  Other fields, other technologies.  Know everything about something and something about everything.

Charles Murray
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Charles Murray   9/18/2012 7:16:22 PM
Great advice, Bobjengr. I agree with virtually every point you've made here, but especially with your advice regarding communication. As engineers, we'd all like to believe we can get to the point where we're so good we don't have to bother with communications skills, but for most of us that's probably not realistic.

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