Is Engineering Fulfilling? The 4 Determining Factors!

Is engineering fulfilling? It’s as fulfilling as you make it. The fulfillment highly depends on why you got into engineering, to begin with.

The following are the driving determining factors for fulfillment:

  • Passion for engineering
  • Attitude and character
  • Expectations in the workplace
  • Engineering pay

Before we discuss these four factors, it’s important to first define what a fulfilling engineering job is. After speaking with many engineers on this topic, I’ve found most engineers consider a fulfilling engineering job to include the following:

  • Doing technical work solving challenging problems
  • Applying your knowledge on a daily basis
  • Using math and physics consistently
  • Directly impacting the world with your work

#1 Passion for engineering

Ask yourself the following questions, as they relate to why you became an engineer:

  • Were you forced by your parents into engineering?
  • Did engineering just seem cool to you from the outside?
  • Were you following the money trail?
  • Did you want some level of perceived prestige by becoming an engineer?
  • Do you hate math and physics?
  • Do you despise challenges and creativity?

If you answered ‘no’ to most of these questions, then you’re probably in the profession for the right reasons and will find engineering fulfilling. Because you need some degree of passion and interest to find fulfillment.

#2 Expectations in the workplace 

hoover dam
Hoover Dam (Photo Credit: David Lusvardi)

From the outside looking in, you may think engineering is like Tony Stark working in his lab, as seen in the Iron Man movies, where he invents cool things on his own. Or, you may think you’ll design the next huge bridge or large hydron collider. But in reality, engineers often work on non-glamorous projects.

For example, I’ve designed large substations, water-pumping plants, and hydroelectric facilities. But I’ve also designed small water pump stations and EV chargers for electric vehicles in parking lots.

Additionally, engineers often do work, which you may view as boring, such as the following:

  • Doing endless basic calculations by hand or in Excel spreadsheets
  • Running one identical design simulation after another
  • Completing mountains of endless paperwork
  • Sitting in long meetings

With the right expectations though, you’ll understand even small projects are impactful. And a lot of boring work is required for good engineering.

For example, documentation of a design is tedious and very time-consuming. But an engineer who reviews a design you documented 10 years down the line, will endlessly thank you.

Boring engineering work compared to pro sports

I compare boring work in engineering to certain parts of pro sports.

You see athletes on TV for a couple of hours with fans cheering them loudly. Looks exhilarating!

But what goes unseen is the hours of daily grueling training and meticulous dieting. Then, playing through both physical and mental pain.

The process to great achievements is never sexy. It’s why flying in airplanes is so safe today. So much grueling boring engineering work has gone into making them safe.

#3 Attitude and character

If you have a good attitude, you can push through any and all levels of bullshit. You’ll overcome all the perceived issues I discussed in factor #2.

When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.

You don’t allow anything to come between you and your passion for engineering. Especially when the engineering medium is ripe with endless bureaucracy.

Level of ambition 

spacex falcon 9 launch
SpaceX Falcon 9 Launch at Kennedy Space Center, United States (Photo Credit: SpaceX)

If you lack ambition, you’ll stay at a job you hate, which will eat away at you over time.

For example, say you chose engineering for all the right reasons. You had a deep passion for designing and building things. But then in your first job, you find you rarely flex your mind. All you do is tweak old designs, which requires little thought.

Then the rest of the time you do endless paperwork and attend pointless meetings. Naturally, you’ll find your work to be less and less fulfilling.

Due to your lack of ambition though, you never think twice about switching jobs. You’ve become too comfortable, and you don’t have the cajones. So you slowly wither away in despair.

The switch from working at a local bank to SpaceX

I have an ambitious friend who developed features for a local bank’s mobile app. He hated the work with a deep passion though, as it gave him no meaning.

So he searched for new job opportunities every free minute he had. After sending out hundreds of resumes, he finally landed a job at SpaceX.

Today, he’s working on cutting-edge technology, which drives the aerospace industry forward. He also works to make human’s a multi-planetary species under Elon’s leadership.

And sure, there are still dull times in his work. Like in sports, the process isn’t always sexy. But overall, he feels beyond fulfilled in his day-to-day work. He even enjoys the long grueling hours, because engineers inherently gravitate toward challenges.

Important Note: finding design-heavy transformative jobs doing continuous technical work is rare. Because these types of jobs are in high demand and require exceptional skills.  

#4 Engineering pay

Not all engineering jobs pay great. In fact, many low-level positions have low pay. A big reason for this is the high supply of engineers. This raises the question, are engineers underpaid?

So, even if you love engineering and have an amazing attitude, a low-paying job can still break you. Because passion won’t pay your mortgage or put food on the table.

And sure, if you check off factors #1 and #2, you can coast much longer than a normal person in a low-paying job. Additionally, the lower your lifestyle expectations, the better you’ll cope.

But in the end, unless you start your own successful engineering business, or move up the ranks in a company, you won’t rake in the big money.

You can always level yourself up as an engineer though and even become a 10x engineer. Then you can land a stimulating engineering job with great pay.

“Is engineering fulfilling” wrap up

Engineering is no different from any other career. It doesn’t even matter what type of engineer you are, you can make a career as fulfilling as you want it to be.

Because frankly, every career has a bunch of shit stuck to it. It’s why some Hollywood actors and pro athletes retire at the height of their careers. They no longer find their work fulfilling, and the money and fame aren’t enough to keep them motivated.

So, pursue engineering for the right reasons, while setting realistic expectations of the work you’ll do, but don’t settle. No one said the search for a unicorn job would be easy…

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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