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Going Back to Engineering?

Cliff posted more than 7 years ago | from the back-to-your-(technical)-roots dept.

Businesses 65

JoeLinux asks: "I am a Systems Engineer for a Big Engineering Company(tm). I've been in the position for four years after getting my undergrad in Electrical Engineering. I've finally come to the conclusion that I will never see any form of technical challenge despite the continued promise of such. The problem is that almost all engineers usually make the transition the other way (E.E. to Systems). Seeing as Systems is looked at as a possible gateway to the dark side (Management), is there any going back to 'real' engineering? Have any readers successfully made the transition? How do you justify what would typically be considered a step back?"

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Happy Birthday, Pearl Harbor (0, Offtopic)

Adolf Hitroll (562418) | more than 7 years ago | (#17143662)

I'm glad to celebrate that excellent event which has shown the whole World how the Yankees could just get to call their carefully prepaired beach party an agression by the noble (though badly teethed) Japanese.
65 years later, it's still incredible how easily your masters can still make you dance to their (i)Tunes. Answer their question: "Upon who do you want us to demonstrate our new toys [] today?"
And just expect them to give a blatant pretext on CNN and FOX very soon.

I hereby vote the American people to be the first to migrate to a new planet. NOW!

Appendix: Suggestion for a loser/slashdotter hymn
(don't forget to frenetically masturbate upon hearing this unless your enormous belly prevents you to reach that "ramrod" of yours)

No one like you

  • Music :rudolf schenker
  • Lyrics:klaus meine

Girl, its been a long time that weve been apart
Much too long for a man who needs love
I miss you since Ive been away
Babe, it wasnt easy to leave you alone
Its getting harder each time that I go
If I had the choice, I would stay

Theres no one like you
I cant wait for the nights with you
I imagine the things we do
I just wanna be loved by you

No one like you
I cant wait for the nights with you
I imagine the things we do
I just wanna be loved by you

Girl, there are really no words strong enough
To describe all my longing for love
I dont want my feelings restrained
Ooh, babe, I just need you like never before
Just imagine youd come through this door
Youd take all my sorrow away

Theres no one like you
I cant wait for the nights with you
I imagine the things we do
I just wanna be loved by you

No one like you
I cant wait for the nights with you
I imagine the things we do
I just wanna be loved by you

No one like you

Get a hobby (4, Insightful)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 7 years ago | (#17143710)

Either get a hobby doing challenging projects or strike out on your own and do consulting in a field that you particularly enjoy.

Join an OSS developers list and start hacking. Buy some hardware and get to porting. Write the next great killer application.

Whatever you do, don't move backwards in your career. If you think a move back to development is a step backwards, I'd recommend you adjust your attitude a little.

Re:Get a hobby (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17143886)

Where did he say development? That advice is great for people wanting to do software, but I suspect this guy wants to get back into hardware.

Get a engineering degree. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17145040)

"Join an OSS developers list and start hacking. "

I think he wants to remain in engineering.

Re:Get a hobby (1)

AuMatar (183847) | more than 7 years ago | (#17150032)

I know plenty of people who took backwards steps in their careers- usually form management back into engineering. None of them regretted it- they were all happier as engineers.

Re:Get a hobby (1)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 7 years ago | (#17157102)

But do they see it themselves as a step backwards? That's the point I was making in my closing remarks.

If you see what you do as inferior to what you are doing now, can you really be satisfied?

Quit your job (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17143744)

Quit your job, it'll be outsourced by the end of the year anyway. Instead, start a Sourceforge project for a next-generation text editor. Use your newfound freetime to beg for donations on the interweb and be sure to cultivate a dirty GNU/Hippie beard. Don't forget to watch plenty of tentacle hentai for inspiration!

Re:Quit your job (2, Funny)

nonsequitor (893813) | more than 7 years ago | (#17145224)

be sure to cultivate a dirty GNU/Hippie beard
GNU/Hippie beards are passe these days. What you need are F/OSS Facial Piercings and some visible GNU/Punk tattoos.

Re:Quit your job (1)

mOdQuArK! (87332) | more than 7 years ago | (#17150374)

Hmmm, I think I've been forced to work on some code where the author used tentacle hentai for inspiration - at least judging by how violated I felt for days afterward.

Re:Quit your job (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17172330)

He must be kidding... System Engineer on the top most job postings on websites. Real EE work is pretty hard to find in my area. There are 1 EE junior opening per 50 or so .net job posted. I also hate people lumping IT job with EE. :(

Don't (1)

sane? (179855) | more than 7 years ago | (#17143816)

Although I can see how you might yearn for those 'challenges' you haven't seen, you are in a much better place that you would if you went backwards into base EE engineering. Of course that depends on just kind of SE you are doing. If its the paper chase kind then I would say move on to another employer. That's not real SE. Sure SE needs documentation, but the real value comes from the other end, the understanding of the connectivity, cohesion and architecture of a solution.

However wherever you are, you do need to understand that even 4 years isn't a long track record. Real systems engineers are controlling large scale projects, and directors tend to be risk averse, looking for a track record of experience. Either find a smaller, more constrained project that you can persuade them to let you lose on, or act as a 'bag carrier' for a SE on a larger project. Building your rep there can be a stepping stone to bigger things.

And finally, when you get those 'challenges', be aware that a hell of a lot of worry and hassle go with them. You may end up yearning for the simpler life.

Re:Don't (1)

DrLang21 (900992) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144860)

"And finally, when you get those 'challenges', be aware that a hell of a lot of worry and hassle go with them. You may end up yearning for the simpler life." mmm 70 hour work weeks.

As a fellow "out of the gate" SysE (2, Insightful)

theraptor05 (908452) | more than 7 years ago | (#17143914)

I find it surprising that you are facing no "technical challenges". Rarelly should any no experience engineer be performing management type activities, beyond what is sadly the norm for all engineers. System Engs. certinally have a higher tendency to go management, but it isn't always the case.

Have you considered that it's the company and not the profession that bother you? Any systems eng. should be able to get a job that someone with a EE degree would without "going back".

Also, a quick question: by "real engineering", do you designing a few things and mostly going to meetings, or actually building something? Because unfortunetally, the former is generally "real" engineering, and the later is technicians work. I don't know how many newb hires I've seen get upset over time at the difference.

Have you considered going back to school? (4, Informative)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 7 years ago | (#17143940)

If you have saved some scratch during your gig as a System Engineer I would recommend going back to school for a year or so to get your masters degree. Most EEs that I know(anecdote alert!) anyway say that pretty much a masters is essential, if not at the very least a career booster. Plus it would get you back in contact with some interesting technology and give you a "fresh start" in the eyes of companies.

Do a little research first. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17145096)

Not all Masters programs are equivalent in terms of the demand for their graduates.

If you're not already a member, join the local IEEE and attend the meetings. It's not what you know, it's who you know. Find as many ways to network as you can think of.

I agree with the parent. Doing a Masters Degree is almost always viewed favorably by those doing the hiring. Where I work, you won't even get an interview unless you have a Masters. That wasn't the case when I graduated but we are seeing 'credential creep'. I'm grandfathered but the lack of a Masters means that I would have trouble even getting a lateral transfer within the organization.

Re:Have you considered going back to school? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17145660)

Gig? He's an engineer, not a musician, silly.

Re:Have you considered going back to school? (1)

JoeLinux (20366) | more than 7 years ago | (#17148336)

Already got it. Sooo, another Masters really isn't going to help too much.

Re:Have you considered going back to school? (1)

JoeLinux (20366) | more than 7 years ago | (#17148374)

Already got my Master's. Navy Paid for it.

Peter Principle (1, Interesting)

krotkruton (967718) | more than 7 years ago | (#17143948)

The Peter Principle [] states, "In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence." Although this isn't quite applicable, it is seen all too often that engineers and such who do well at their jobs are eventually promoted to management, where many don't want to be, regardless of whether or not they are good at doing it.

The good news is that this might be changing. I'm currently at the University of Illinois and have had the wonderful opportunity (sarcastic) to have just finished a class on CS Ethics and Professionalism here. The class was miserable, but that's not the point. There was a lot of focus on how to do job interviews and what to look for when you are trying to get into the workforce, and this topic of engineers getting promoted to management positions came up. Our professor, along with a guest lecturer who runs the Career Management Offices (or something like that), both said that many jobs now are offering contracts that will "promise" to allow for engineers to stay in engineering and not get bumped to management, while also getting continued pay raises and promotions, so they aren't just getting stuck in engineering with no chance for advancement. This is good news for others who are worried about having a choice between management with a promotion and engineering with no chance for advancement at some point.

I also have a friend who graduated with EE and started working as an engineer at some manufacturing plant I believe. He did well and within a couple years of graduating, got into what I think is an unorthodox managment position. He is more of a contractor; he manages the other engineers in the building while working with them to get projects done. When things go wrong, he's the first one there trying to fix things. He doesn't have to deal with a lot of paperwork and salaries or anything like that, so its not my idea of management. Maybe this is the direction you were looking for?

Either way, I realize neither of those are getting from Systems to EE, but if some recent graduates are starting to have these opportunities, then maybe you will to.

Re:Peter Principle (1)

imadork (226897) | more than 7 years ago | (#17145684)

I work in a Big Company with a genuine technical advancement track. It is not uncommon for a senior engineer with key skills to be paid more than his supervisor. (But not more than his manager, of course, since middle management is so important!) These positions tend to involve a lot of technical leadership: coordinating the activities of a project team, mentoring younger engineers, and providing input into the resource planning and budgeting process. But they have nobody "reporting" to them, and they make schedules happen (as opposed to simply making schedules).

It is my experience that most big companies who are serious about attracting key technical people are structured this way. Small companies are too busy working to worry about how they're structured.

Re:Peter Principle (1) (645325) | more than 7 years ago | (#17148666)

Same here. We've got a management track and a technical expert track. The technical expert side generally involves a lot of project management, but they do quite often get up to their elbows in code or gear or whatever. The highest-level guy on that side reports directly to the CIO.

Re:Peter Principle (2, Informative)

Bender0x7D1 (536254) | more than 7 years ago | (#17148080)

Our professor, along with a guest lecturer who runs the Career Management Offices (or something like that), both said that many jobs now are offering contracts that will "promise" to allow for engineers to stay in engineering and not get bumped to management, while also getting continued pay raises and promotions, so they aren't just getting stuck in engineering with no chance for advancement.

The problem that I've seen is that there is the opportunity to stay in engineering, but there aren't as many opportunities. There may be 2 or 3 technical/engineering spots in the upper management areas, but there are 10x as many "regular" spots. So, yes - you can get raises and promotions staying on a technical track, but not as much or as fast as on a more traditional management track.

Re:Peter Principle (1)

krotkruton (967718) | more than 7 years ago | (#17150338)

From what I've seen as well, you're definitely right. I guess what I was trying to say, and didn't make clear enough, is that companies are recognizing that, see it as a problem, and are looking for solutions. From what my professor was telling us, not that that makes it true, is that companies are starting to make a shift towards allowing engineers to stay as engineers. The key word there is "starting", so it probably won't be as common as managerial positions for at least a few more years.

Make a backwards move into a forwards move (1)

kegon (766647) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144008)

As someone who has made a "backwards" move in the past and is doing another one right now; I'd say that you need to be clear in your own mind what you intend to get out of it and make sure that in the big picture it is a forwards move. Otherwise you may just be putting off the inevitable. Like another poster said, you may find the job you think you want is nothing like your understanding of it.

If you had a specialism in area X, moved to systems work but now are thinking about going back to X then this does suggest you'll end up back in systems after a short time.

When I made my so-called backwards moves, I made sure there was also a change of direction and also a contingency if it wasn't all I expected it to be; usually just a backup plan about what I want to do next and some thought into how to do it. If your backup plan is "return to systems" then you clearly haven't thought things through. In 5 years time when you move on from the engineering job, a lot of people will be asking why your resume shows you left a much higher paying, more responsible, better job for a lower one. What happened that was so bad ? Were you fired ?...

Good luck!

Give up your girlish hopes and dreams.. (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144116)

collect your paycheck and look for your opportunity to increase the little numbers on it.

Or, ya know, join a startup and when the startup gets too big, quit and join another one. You'll have no problems finding challenges (typically impossible ones) being a startup junkie. And hey, if you're lucky, you might even accidently stay at one long enough for your shares to vest and blow it on a nice car.

Check on jobs in research institutes (2, Interesting)

cerberusss (660701) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144152)

I'd like to suggest that you look for a job in a research institute. What you're asking is NEVER going to fly in a business environment. I'm currently working at SRON [] , a Dutch space research institute. My current project [] involves a supercooled instrument which receives waves in the 500-620 GHz range and will fly on a balloon somewhere next year. I'm the software guy for the project and it's great work. You get to work with very smart physics guys and the project has a bunch of custom-designed electronics which I'm reading out and controlling.

I'm under some pressure right now because we're going to fly april 2007, but normally, there is enough time to creatively do your job.

Check my website (for instance here [] ) to see some stuff we're working on.

Re:Check on jobs in research institutes (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17144262)

You're kidding right? I'm a physicist, so it's a little different to being an EE, but once you've spent time in industry, the gatekeepers of academic institutions and not-for-profit research institutes (at least here in the UK) really don't want to let you back in, even if you're one of the top people in your field.

The moment you step off the academic treadmill you're screwed if you ever want to go back, because the academics can't recognise professional experience - even when you've got a multi-million dollar research budget and publish dozens of papers each year.

It's even worse if they can't see your research because it's classified or so commercially important that it's only viewable after vetting and an NDA.

Re:Check on jobs in research institutes (1)

cerberusss (660701) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144580)

I can't really speak for a physicist since I'm a software engineer. I suspect it also depends a great deal on how many candidates they get for an opening...

Re:Check on jobs in research institutes (2, Interesting)

CastrTroy (595695) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144888)

I took software engineering in university, and while I'm not yet a P. Eng. I find that there are very few companies out there who want to do real software engineering. I find that taking software engineering provided a good foundation to develop good software, and that I find I'm better off than those who took computer science, but I also find that a lot of my knowledge isn't doing me a lot of good, because companies don't want engineered software. They want something good that doesn't crash all the time, but they don't want something that's perfect, because they don't want to take the extra time necessary to do it right the first time.

Re:Check on jobs in research institutes (3, Insightful)

rk (6314) | more than 7 years ago | (#17147206)

"They want something good that doesn't crash all the time, but they don't want something that's perfect, because they don't want to take the extra time necessary to do it right the first time."

Real engineers also understand that perfection, while a laudable goal, is nearly impossible in the real world, and that engineering is a series of trade-offs and compromises in design, functionality, cost, and time. Not that I'm advocating creating shit, but the "good enough" solution that cost a million dollars and generates five million in cost savings or revenue is better than the "perfect" solution that cost four million dollars and generates seven million in cost savings or revenue.

Re:Check on jobs in research institutes (1)

Viv (54519) | more than 7 years ago | (#17150558)

Not that I'm advocating creating shit, but the "good enough" solution that cost a million dollars and generates five million in cost savings or revenue may be better than the "perfect" solution that cost four million dollars and generates seven million in cost savings or revenue.

Fixed. There are factors other than money, and there are factors which cannot be accounted for in terms of money. :)

Just sayin'.

Re:Check on jobs in research institutes (1)

jafac (1449) | more than 7 years ago | (#17152460)

I think what the GP was saying (and he understated it) was that companies don't want engineered solutions. They want "quick-n-dirty". They want cheap. They want it to work (on paper, so they don't get sued, actually working in reality is irrelevant), and they want it yesterday.

I went back to get a CIS degree, and while I'm finding the classes very interesting, there's very little practical value to them in my current career. I'm hopeful that I'll use it in the future. Frankly, most of my co-workers who have engineering backgrounds and degrees may have been taught this stuff at one point, but most of them have forgotten it.

Act like an engineer (1)

MarkusQ (450076) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144224)

It's easy, really. Act like an engineer. Think like an engineer. Constantly. Don't let yourself get sidetracked by manager speak or pper pressure. Especially in meetings.

Whenever you encounter a number look for the error bars, and be sure to include them when you give a number ("I'll be down in five plus or minus three minutes!"). Call out peo9ple for sloppy thinking, find ways to set bounds that rule out unworkable alternatives early, troubleshoot everything.

They'll get the hint real quickly.


Re:Act like an engineer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17144298)

And then he won't have to worry about his Systems job any more,
because he'll have been fired for insubordination! Hurrah!

Re:Act like an engineer (1)

MarkusQ (450076) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144500)

And then he won't have to worry about his Systems job any more, because he'll have been fired for insubordination! Hurrah!

Not if he works in a company that does engineering. People who can hold onto the mindset and keep moving are incredibly valuable to a company that does real engineering--far more valuable that leaf-node managers, though you'd never guess from the pay schedules.

Much more likely, he would be "demoted" by giving him responsibility for one of the issues he was drilling down on (fine, fix it then), which is exactly what he's wanting.


Re:Act like an engineer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17144350)

Yes, and whenever they ask you: "How to do x?", always reply something along the lines: "No, that is not what you really want. You want to do y so you don't need to do no x". When those who asked you is somehow lower in ranks then you or you have any power over them, explicitly forbid them to do x and say you expect to see the report on y Friday.

Sometimes I forget this and ask my colleagues questions... but I am always readily reminded!

Uh, no. (1)

MarkusQ (450076) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144472)

You really don't know what it's like to be an engineer, do you?

At least, the examles you give sound like an engineer trying to move into management and not the other way around.

Real engineers ask lots of questions. Managers can often get away with nodding and smiling, or issuing edicts as you suggest, but an engineer (or someone who's thinking like one) won't be satisfied by that at all.

Management is about getting things done the way you want. Engineering is about understanding why you get what you get, and under what circumstance, and how it all interacts.


Two(or three)problems (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17144278)

Usually, company won't let you work in department in which they feel you are not well utilized (according to the company's needs) for what you are payed. If they can hire someone to fill position in engineering for less then you make, forget it.

If you threat to leave, they will formally agree to let you do what you want, as long as you do your present job (which you loath) too and your SE job has priority.

When you quit to find another job, it may happen that hiring staff in potential new employer company reject you as "too old for engineering" (meaning either you are not a "whiz kid" anymore and only young people can be geniuses, or you are not ready to work your ass out just to "prove yourself", or you may be asking for to much pay because you probably have family, or, having some experience, you may be upsetting or even endangering present project leader "primadonna" by talking back and having your own ideas).

Generally, people in your position and your intellectual needs ought to create their own startup business.

Maybe more qualifications would help (1)

sitturat (550687) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144290)

I was recently in a similar position: I wanted to work more scientifically instead of staying on the sales / project management route I was on since getting my BSEE. What I decided to do, since I am still young, is go back to university and get an MS. I'm planning to do a PhD after that, and am fairly confident that I will get some sort of technical R&D job when I'm finished.

Re:Maybe more qualifications would help (1)

Raenex (947668) | more than 7 years ago | (#17203648)

I've heard many stories of people going back for degrees to get a certain kind of job, and then not being able to find what they were looking for. I think the best way to break in to a field is to jump into something close to what you want to do, but without heavy experience requirements, and then excel and move up.

A lot of what you learn in school is a waste of time, and can be learned faster on your own and on the job, by being close to the people doing actual work.

Find work in a consultancy (2, Insightful)

scoot80 (1017822) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144400)

Since I finished my degree in electrical engineering, I've been working in a consultancy, designing products, while watching my friends dissolve into large companies, moving away from actual engineering work.
To be honest, getting extra qualifications doesn't mean much. You have your qualifications as an electrical engineer, that is enough - what you need is a hands-on design job. So as i said, look for work in consultancies and RnD houses, there would be plenty around. What you get while working for such a company can never be given to you by a masters degree or a PhD. You are working on products for tomorrow, looking for better way to do things. You will learn a lot and gain lots of experience.
Thats my advice anyway - get yourself a job in a consultancy. Where are you from anyway? I could suggest a few.

Re:Find work in a consultancy (1)

soapee01 (698313) | more than 7 years ago | (#17145092)

I'm in a similar situation as he is. The problem isn't so simple. I've been trying to get a real h/w job since I was hired on (going on 5 years now... let's just say what was promised in the interview didn't occur). Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful to have a paycheck, especially since I hired on shortly after 9/11 when most couldn't get ANY job. If he's anything like me, his company outsources all of the real engineering (the true fun design work), and you're basically a project manager.

NOBODY wants you. Even with creative resume writing, it's nigh impossible to get a real engineering job (or it has been for me). I've had some interviews, but they always hire the guy with x years experience in the field. The more time that passes, the worse it gets. If you can find a company that'll hire an engineer with no real world design experience and still pay him better than entry level (gotta support the family), I'd like to know about it.

I'm very actively trying to get the hell out of here, into another systems engineering type job at a place with better schools around. The only solution I've found is to go back to school and get my MSEE. Perhaps then, companies might be willing to give my resume a closer look.

If I can't get out of here then I suppose I'll just have to resign myself to never doing anything of any consequence, and take the mercenery route.

You are right though, IMHO a Masters is kind of a waste. BSEE/EIT should be good enough for most design work, but it hasn't born out that way in practice.

Re:Find work in a consultancy (1)

JoeLinux (20366) | more than 7 years ago | (#17148576)

I'm in Southern to Mid-California. (I'm at work right now, and can't say). Look me up on myspace for further information []

Open Source *needs* people like you! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17144558)

Open source software is a way to expose yourself and your skills to a huge audience: that way you can work in challenging and interesting projects while promoting yourself to better employers.
There are tons of projects in search for mantainers/developers. An example is Ktechlab [] ,an almost dead and powerful electrical simulator which allows the simulation of analog circuits along with PIC microcontrollers. The PIC code can be written also in a high level language or using flowchart logical blocks. Note that under linux currently the number of usable free compilers for small PICs (ie not the PIC18 series) is zero, so it's important that someone continues this project development.

Re:Open Source *needs* people like you! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17145062)

No, he wants to be PAID for his efforts, not support a bunch of deadbeats.

Been there (1)

ZonkerWilliam (953437) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144866)

I understand where your coming from. I've felt the same way, I have an undergraduate EE and wanted new challenges. I got a job that pays the bills and gives me enough to work on a few ideas of my own. I hope to form a company around them at some point.

Change Jobs (2, Insightful)

vancbc (974483) | more than 7 years ago | (#17145144)

Get a new job, if in the second job you end up in the same position, then it is probably you that is putting yourself there. So often you are your own worst enemy.

If after the second job you still aren't happy, get a job at a University and pay your way through a Masters program.

a disreputable occupation (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17145810)

I started out as a civil engineer from an ivy league school in the 1960s.

Based on a comparison of incomes and profits, all forms of engineering are functionally disreputable as an occupation. By that, I mean socially and financially. After contributing the costs of your half-life education, and the non-deductable costs for its maintenance (average half-life of an engineering degree is maybe 3 to 6 years on the outside and declining), a taxi-cab driver will make better profits, and an intelligent and educated one arguably will have a better chance of raising a productive family, because he can spend more time with his family and children than the "working engineer" will ever be able to.

Setting aside the financial tom-follery of big salaries for engineers (which management will treat as some kind of joke) -- engineers are the biggest fools and therefore also one of the greatest dangers to society, based on the financial and social disrespect that they will receive from management and from society in general, in exchange for their loyalty and truthfulness (if they can file truthful reports and remain employed). Based on the comparative hours contributed to work, and on salary, benefits and bonuses received, associates who studied financial engineering or rhetorical engineering will in a short while move way ahead of you, and their up-front educational costs, which have to be contributed to 'get a job' are much lower.

Careerwise, once you've been branded with an engineering degree, you will find you have been "branded-a-fool" for life. Decoded, the phrase "... he's an engineer ... (hehe)" means someone who cares is so stupid that he actually cares about reality and progress, rather than about getting five to ten times the money like the cracker pretty boys who manage them ... in short, being by nature scientific and honest, an engineer will find there is no place for him in the great American financial apparition.

Even if you have superlative interpersonal, communication and management skills, as a graduate engineer, you will find yourself "niched out of necessity" -- pigeonholed into an engineered corner because no one else in your company will be able do the required emergency engineering- mathematical- scientific tasks at hand ... but international competition will require that your salary be that of a construction inspector, who will ge a company car, a pension, and bonuses for filing vague reports at the right time. In short, as an honest engineer, by the end of your career, you will find yourself divorsed, broke, and have been the world's biggest fool. You will have "invested" more up-front hard-earned money of your parents in an education with a half-life of 3-5 years (and this is a non-deductable up-front personal "investment" which you will in effect donate for free, and then spend down for free, as a contribution to your employer's balance sheet -- and you will do this in exchange for the vague promise of at-will project employment -- with no continuity, pension or overtime -- and you will work more hours per day, farther away from family, children and home, under more duress of physical emergencies, and your boss' need for you to twist your words and sign falsified reports, than any of the other form of employee in your company. In short, you will take the fall, while your politically-connected boss counts the money. By comparison to the rewards offered a mail clerk, or to your bean-counter whip-thrashing boss, you are a fool.

Learn to think of "real engineering" the way Cheney and Haliburton think of it. Create a financial apparation as a Potemkin storefront, behind which you operate an "engineering" sweatshop (average turnover or job life for an engineer is about 3-5 years -- look at the average of resumes for engineers -- it's a disaster), invest in joining a country club rather than an engineering education, buttlick for political-military contracts, and just steal the easy money! Look at Iraq. Take Billions in political-military contracts, kick 50% back as bahkshish to your Republican Party-Pentagon-Haliburton contracts coordinator, and then hire a few "engineers" (said with a snicker) ... completely ruin a working water treatment plant and count the money. Based on who gets the pension and who gets to raise a family, that's what's called respectable engineering.

Re:a disreputable occupation (1)

ezrec (29765) | more than 7 years ago | (#17146530)

On the other hand, I have taken my mother's advice: "Find what you would gladly do for
free, then find some sucker to pay you for it."

I love engineering, and I'd be happy if I was paid ditchdigger's wages. (And yes,
I have a wife and kid, and I can afford my my house at a lower salary - I live in

Re:a disreputable occupation (1)

GuardianLurker (303081) | more than 7 years ago | (#17147798)

It's a shame how bitter and how accurate this is.

Society doesn't really let you opt out of the Peter Principle. Which is even more of a shame.

Re:a disreputable occupation (5, Insightful)

billdar (595311) | more than 7 years ago | (#17148596)

A couple years ago, I would have agreed with this. Life in a dilbert cartoon isn't quite so funny.

However, since switching companies the future is great again. Decent pay, reasonable hours, not a ton of managerial overhead, and the work/industry keeps me interested.

Its scary as hell to do, but like any good Engineering challenge you need to identify the problem(s) and systematically solve them. I didn't have the balls myself to initiate it, but luckily my previous companies sank and forced me to make a change.

Your bitter, dejected rant really helps me appreciate what I got now. Thanks.

Re:a disreputable occupation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17152946)

I'm quite happy with my degree(s). Maybe going to a school targetting rich snobs who get business degrees while wasted 24/7 made you expect to get more from your hard earned engineering degree. I'm quite happy with mine.

5.5 years to get an MS Computer Engineering, B.S. Computer Engineering, B.S. Computer Science.
Full scholarship from a well respected, extremely challenging university.
$55,000 starting (had no work experience) for 1 year.
Offered $15,000 raise, no negotiating required.
Told that was the max my manager could get away with and will be corrected upwards again next year.
Extremely fun, interesting, and rewarding projects. At a company growing rapidly.
A manager and coworkers that helps make me want to come in, rather than avoid, work.
Successfully meeting my goal of saving $20,000/year towards retirement.

Maybe in 20 years I'll be bitter too, but currently I'm getting more than I expected out of work. I didn't go into the profession for money, just for a job that I enjoyed and that would keep me comfortable. I save while I can because once I have a family, it'll be much harder.

Maybe I just came in with my eyes open.. it doesn't sound like you did.

Re:a disreputable occupation (1)

darCness (151868) | more than 7 years ago | (#17153082)

How many times can one use the phrase "raise a family" in one post? Here's the flipside of your rant, Mr. AC: not all of us
are going to *have* children, "raise a family", or care about what "they" think about our "foolishness" so this isn't an issue. Some of us are happy with what we make (which is decent, but not amazing) and do this work largely because we _enjoy_ it, and aren't using this to support anyone but ourselves. Crazy idea, eh? If you got into engineering thinking you were going to make a CEO's salary, you didn't do your career-choosing homework. Not to mention the fact that engineers all over the US are doing just fine financially, even if they aren't traveling to work in a yacht.

What's foolish? Choosing a career which isn't in line with your actual goals.

Wow (1)

Flavio (12072) | more than 7 years ago | (#17176606)

This is one of the most insightful, accurate comments I've ever read.

I just wish you hadn't posted anonymously. I could use some advice :(

Go back to school (1)

plopez (54068) | more than 7 years ago | (#17145868)

You want challenges and some flexibility on the problems you work on? Go back to school and get the MS or Phd. Grad schools like people with real world experience. And they are starving for applicants right now.

And let's just face it. A B.S. degree means you will usually end up doing 'grundge' work in engineering. The interesting stuff is done by people with MS or Dr. degrees.

Re:Go back to school (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17146378)

except for the fact that many advances in EE in the past 60 years were *not*
the product of someone with a MS or PhD. Legion are the BSEE degreed individuals
who faced and overcame technical challenges which advanced the application of physical principles.

Paying your dues (1)

foniksonik (573572) | more than 7 years ago | (#17146022)

4 years is nothing. It used to be that when you went in to a highly disciplined career that required a high level of education you still had to work as a flunky to learn the business and cut your teeth... this could take 8 even 12 years before you were considered seasoned enough to be given serious responsibility.

So you can either stick with your current gig and wait for your big break or go back to school to get your Masters or a PhD even... either way it will be 4 - 8 years before you do challenging work in the real world... if you need to illusion, go back to school (you'll be doing challenging work but all academic and you won't get paid).

If you want to get paid to learn, stick with it and ask to sit in on as many meetings as possible, talk with your managers about your need for challenging work... they may just have something for you eventually.

3rd option: take a pay cut and go looking for a crazy startup to join (preferably one that has been around for 2+ years, yes it's still a startup even at 4+ years).

Time to move on. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17146176)

Speaking engineer to engineer, it sounds like you need to find a job at a Small Engineering Company(TM pending). Seriously, if an engineer can be specialized into a "system engineer" at your company, then your job is too restrictive for the kind of variety of tasks you'd like to be working on.

I hope this helps somehow (1)

DeadCatX2 (950953) | more than 7 years ago | (#17146212)

This kind of reminds me of a joke I once heard...the limit of an engineer as t tends toward infinity is a manager.

I lucked out, I did Computer Engineering in college and I landed a job doing exactly what I wanted.

However, in my search for an engineering position, I noticed that most places want someone with an M.S. and five years of experience. Does your current employer have a tuition reimbursement plan? If so, get the M.S. while working there, and when you graduate, you'll have an M.S. and probably more than five years of experience. This should allow you to land a job that you actually want.

If, in the mean time, the limit above begins to apply to you, use that as cannon fodder in your interviews. "Yeah, my current employer decided to move me into management despite my pleas to stay in engineering. You guys aren't going to do that, are you?"

Good luck, man. Management is a fate I wouldn't want any engineer to have to suffer.

On a side note, one of my old roommates decided to go management willingly, after getting his degree in Mechanical Engineering. There's something to be said for having a brain-dead easy job, and you can make good use of your engineering skills as a tinkerer in your spare time. For instance, he likes to play with cars. I've found that after a long day of problem solving, debugging, and so forth, I have no desire to do anything mentally challenging; yet I have about four projects I would love to work on.

Find a smaller company (2, Insightful)

Hillgiant (916436) | more than 7 years ago | (#17146988)

The smaller the company, the more hats you wear. You could find yourself doing both Systems Engineering and Electrical Engineering (and half a dozen other things to boot).

Re:Find a smaller company (1)

niktesla (761443) | more than 7 years ago | (#17171454)

I agree. The company I work for is not small, but its hardware design group is about 10 people out of the about 200 that work at our site (we are mostly a software house:( ). This is my first job out of college and I has a BSEE, but I was hired as a systems engineer - since our company doesn't hire hardware engineers. My boss jokes that I am the first hardware hire in ten years! Yet somehow, I am now the lead and practially sole designer of a major FPGA design and have been envolved in hardware, systems, software, database, and some network engineering. So I've had to juggle many hats in the two years I've been working.

No problem going back to engineering (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17147400)

At least as far as going from management back to engineering is concerned, I think a lot of engineers face this dilemma, and so folks in management (at least the good ones) are often aware and supportive. I don't think you should have to justify the move, except to say you expect to find the work far more fulfilling. If you feel you need to make a case, you could also point out that you will therefore also be much better at it. :-)

My related story:
I'm a software guy, but spent 3 years as a manager recently. Everyone thought I was a great manager, and I learned & grew quite a bit, but I found that it was making me miserable. I was busy all the time, but not with anything particularly interesting. On Monday mornings I was basically just waiting for Friday afternoon. So, I spoke with my boss about going back to software engineering. He was supportive, although sorry to see me "step down". They made a great position for me, and I've been much happier ever since (about a year now). Now on Sunday nights, I'm still sorry to see the end of my weekend, but I also don't mind going to work. I'm glad I was in management for awhile (and perhaps I'll try it again sometime in a different environment), but I'm very glad I went back to engineering.


get the masters and get a new job (1)

carn1fex (613593) | more than 7 years ago | (#17150060)

Seriously. No 'fun' engineering can really be done with a bachelors degree for the most part. All you can really do is stick parts together that other people built and yes it gets boring and no its not all that valuable of a skill. To do anything advanced requiring research and going where someone else hasnt already gone you need a masters or phd. At my job a masters was required to even function at a basic level of knowledge of what we do. Think microprocessor theory & fab, antennas, RF circuits, IC design, comm-system design (as in being trusted to design one end to end), radars, space craft bla bla bla all these require a specialized masters degree really. And your department probly doesnt do any of these so go somewhere else. To stay out of management you need to be a master in something technical that most other engineers cant do. Hobbknobbing around and wearing alot of hats and being a general EE is usually a luxury only for fresh outs or small small companies. Good luck!

Research? (1)

Viv (54519) | more than 7 years ago | (#17150752)

I've finally come to the conclusion that I will never see any form of technical challenge despite the continued promise of such.

If they're promising you things and not delivering them, you need to take them to task for it... unless you are satisfied with the fact that they will continue to promise things and not deliver.

It's really that simple.

How do you justify what would typically be considered a step back?

You justify it by saying, "This is what I want. And I'm willing to pay the associated costs with making it happen."

That means losing out on some salary and possibly some perks. Is it worth it to you? Then very simply, find another job -- in the company or out -- that makes it happen.

If you're not willing to pay the costs, then dammit, don't do it.

As far as *how* to make it happen, either find someone willing to make it happen, start your own company where you can make it happen... ...

Or go back, get your PhD, and sign on at a research institution. You'll get plenty of technical challenges ... once you're able to get a grant or a contract of some kind.

You don't know the power (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17154012)

of the dark side!
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