Is engineering fulfilling? It’s up to you! Your sense of fulfillment hinges on your reasons for choosing the field in the first place.
Let’s explore the key factors that can make or break your satisfaction with engineering:
- Passion for engineering
- Workplace expectations
- Attitude and character
- Engineering pay
But first, let’s pinpoint what makes an engineering job truly fulfilling. After some heart-to-hearts with my fellow engineers, we agreed that a satisfying engineering gig usually includes:
- Tackling technical challenges
- Applying your expertise daily
- Regularly using math and physics
- Making a real, tangible impact on the world
#1 Passion for engineering
Reflect on your motivations for becoming an engineer. Ask yourself:
- Did your parents push you into engineering?
- Was engineering just a cool-looking option?
- Were you chasing the big bucks?
- Did you crave the prestige of being an engineer?
- Do you loathe math and physics?
- Are challenges and creativity your worst enemies?
If you mostly answered “no,” you’re likely in the field for the right reasons and will find engineering fulfilling. Passion and genuine interest are essential for feeling fulfilled.
#2 Workplace expectations
You might imagine engineering to be like Tony Stark in his lab from the Iron Man movies, inventing mind-blowing gadgets. Or maybe you dream of designing the next colossal bridge or particle accelerator. However, real-life engineering often involves more mundane projects.
For instance, I’ve designed major substations, water-pumping plants, and hydroelectric facilities. But I’ve also worked on smaller projects like water pump stations and electric vehicle chargers in parking lots.
Engineers frequently do tasks that might seem boring, like:
- Running countless basic calculations by hand or in Excel
- Repeating similar design simulations
- Drowning in paperwork
- Enduring lengthy pointless meetings
Yet, having the right expectations will help you appreciate that even small projects make a difference, and good engineering demands some tedious work.
For example, documenting a design can be a painstaking process. But a decade later, the engineer reviewing your work will be eternally grateful.
Think of boring engineering tasks as akin to some aspects of professional sports. You see athletes on TV, cheered by roaring crowds, and it looks thrilling! But you don’t see the daily, exhausting training sessions, strict diets, or the mental and physical pain they endure.
The road to great achievements is rarely glamorous. Just consider how safe air travel is today, thanks to countless hours of mind-numbing engineering work.
#3 Attitude and character
Having a positive attitude can make all the difference in the world. A good attitude helps you power through any obstacles, including the challenges I mentioned in factor #2.
When life hands you lemons, you whip up some lemonade.
You won’t let anything stand between you and your love for engineering – not even the endless bureaucracy that often plagues the field.
Level of ambition
If you’re not ambitious, you might get stuck in a job you hate, which will gnaw at your soul over time.
Imagine you chose engineering for all the right reasons – you’re passionate about designing and building things. But at your first job, you barely get to flex your brainpower. Instead, you’re stuck tweaking old designs and drowning in paperwork or pointless meetings. Naturally, you’ll find your work less and less fulfilling.
But due to a lack of ambition, you never consider switching jobs. You’ve grown too comfortable, and you just don’t have the guts. So, you slowly wither away in despair.
The switch from working at a local bank to SpaceX
I’ve got an ambitious friend who used to develop features for a local bank’s mobile app. He loathed the work because it felt meaningless.
Determined to find something better, he spent every spare moment searching for new job opportunities. After sending out hundreds of resumes, he finally scored a position at SpaceX.
Now, he’s working on groundbreaking technology that propels the aerospace industry forward and helps make humanity a multi-planetary species under Elon Musk’s guidance.
Sure, there are still dull moments in his work. Just like in sports, the journey isn’t always exciting. But overall, he feels incredibly fulfilled in his day-to-day work. He even relishes the long, grueling hours because, as an engineer, he’s naturally drawn to challenges.
Important Note: Landing a design-focused, transformative job with continuous technical work is rare. These positions are highly sought after and demand exceptional skills.
#4 Engineering pay
Not all engineering jobs come with hefty paychecks. In fact, many entry-level positions offer modest salaries. This is partly due to the abundance of engineers out there. So, it’s natural to wonder: are engineers underpaid?
Even if you adore engineering and boast an unbeatable attitude, a low-paying job can still wear you down. After all, passion alone won’t cover your mortgage or fill your fridge.
Sure, if you’ve nailed factors #1 and #2, you might last longer than most in a low-paying gig. Plus, the more modest your lifestyle expectations, the better you’ll cope.
But unless you launch your own successful engineering business or climb the corporate ladder, you might not see the big bucks, like making over $500k a year.
“Is engineering fulfilling” wrap up
Engineering is just like any other career. It doesn’t matter if you’re a mechanical whiz or an electrical genius – you have the power to make your career as fulfilling as you want it to be.
Let’s face it: every career has its share of not-so-glamorous moments. That’s why you’ll see Hollywood stars and pro athletes sometimes calling it quits at the peak of their game. They just don’t find the work fulfilling anymore, and the cash and fame aren’t enough to keep them hooked.
So, dive into engineering for the right reasons, set your expectations straight, and never settle for less. Hunting for that dream job might not be a breezy stroll in the park, but trust me, it’s worth every ounce of effort!
Do you find engineering fulfilling? What factors do you think contribute most to making engineering fulfilling? And what factors make engineering unfulfilling?
Featured Image Photo Credit: David Lusvardi (image cropped)
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Author Bio: Koosha started Engineer Calcs in 2019 to help people better understand the engineering and construction industry, and to discuss various science and engineering-related topics to make people think. He has been working in the engineering and tech industry in California for well over 15 years now and is a licensed professional electrical engineer, and also has various entrepreneurial pursuits.
Koosha has an extensive background in the design and specification of electrical systems with areas of expertise including power generation, transmission, distribution, instrumentation and controls, and water distribution and pumping as well as alternative energy (wind, solar, geothermal, and storage).
Koosha is most interested in engineering innovations, the cosmos, sports, fitness, and our history and future.