Should I Be an Engineer? 9 Questions to Ask Yourself

Should I be an engineer? I’m going to go over 9 questions to ask yourself to help you decide if you should become an engineer.

If you answer ‘yes’ to most of the questions, then more than likely you’ll make a great engineer. Plus, you’ll love the work you do. A win-win!

I think it’s super important today to carefully think over your career choice. Otherwise, you’ll invest many years and tens of thousands of dollars into a career you hate.

Also, you want to choose a career you can excel in. For example, I’d hate to work in the foodservice industry. Nothing against the work, it just doesn’t fit my personality.

Blindly doing something will lead you to heartache down the road. I don’t advise you to treat your life as a night out in Vegas.

That’s why I wrote a post on what engineers do to give you a peek into the profession. With that out of the way, let’s tackle the 9 questions.

1) Do you like STEM?

What is STEM? The acronym STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. STEM covers a very diverse group of subjects.

STEM science technology engineering mathematics

Not all jobs in STEM directly tie back to engineering. But all STEM subjects do tie to engineering in some way.

In other words, if you have an interest in a STEM field, you can find an appealing job in engineering to match.

For example, we categorize biology under science. You may not instantly know how engineering ties to biology.

But, many types of engineering directly involve biology. Heck, look no further than bioengineering.

It’s no surprise that engineering today touches everything you see around you in some way.

2) Do You Love Tech?

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you love to have the latest gadgets?
  • How often do you check and read sites like TechCrunch.com?
  • Do you enjoy learning about how old and new tech works?
  • Are the books you read and Youtube videos you watch somehow tech-related?
  • Do any of your discussions with friends and family lead you to talk about tech? In other words, you drive your friends and family crazy with how much you ramble on about tech.

If you answered ‘yes’ to most of these questions, then you can safely call yourself a techie.

I think about tech every day.  I think about artificial intelligence, robotics, space travel, and so on.

When you have this level of passion, you’ll self-study. You don’t need a paycheck or letter grade to motivate you.

In pro sports, this type of passion creates superstars.

For example, think of all the players in the NBA. At one time, they were all the best athletes in their high school and college.

In the NBA though, some of these players may never even get playing time. But then we have players like Lebron James.

Lebron is not only physically gifted, but he wants success more than his peers. Lebron spends a million dollars alone on his body, every year. He has an insatiable hunger to constantly get better.

So, self-studying is the best way to level yourself up as an engineer.

Like the NBA, many can become engineers. But, to become a great engineer you need to take yourself to another level.

3) Do you think about the future?

future of technology

More of our lives will rely on tech as we move into the future.

Just think about these very basic things in your life today:

  • Home smart devices: TV, refrigerator, doorbell, cameras, and so much more.
  • Smartphones: instantly communicating with people on the other side of the globe.
  • Electric cars: electric cars that drive semi-autonomously on streets and roads.
  • Internet: instantly connecting to everyone around the globe. Also, having all the world’s information at your fingertips.

Do you think about these technologies and how you can improve them? If yes, then you think like a great engineer.

Great engineers think of how to improve the present and create the future.

I have a deep curiosity about the future. For this reason, I enjoy reading and watching sci-fi content. I want to create this amazing future that I fantasize about.

If you share this same level of passion for the future, you’ll have a constant itch to work to better engineer things.

A great example is Elon Musk. He is tackling the following future tech:

  • Electric cars
  • Rockets
  • Internet and satellites
  • Artificial intelligence

It all starts with a vision and desire.

4) Do you have a strong math background?

Do you like math?

Do new math concepts come easy to you without much studying?

If yes to both, then you’ll make a great engineer.

Math makes up a very large piece of engineering as you could guess. Now, many engineers don’t directly use a lot of math. But, understanding high-level math shows you can problem solve.

The core of engineering is problem-solving. If you can’t solve problems, you’ll fizzle out of the profession. Or, you’ll do grunt work under an engineer who can solve problems.

In short, you either do the problem solving or assist others who problem-solve.

math chalkboard with geometry algebra calculus

Real-World Problem-Solving Example

Let’s go over a simple non-math problem-solving example with book reading. Here you apply problem-solving tactics to improve your life.

To illustrate, the more you read the greater knowledge you’ll gain. As a result, you can then use the gained knowledge in the following ways:

  • Have deeper discussions with people
  • Further your career
  • Make more money
  • Spark new ideas for possible businesses
  • Become more well rounded as a person

On the same token, watching reality TV provides no benefits to your life. So, you quickly learn you need to read more and skip over brain dead activities to improve your life.

This is one type of problem-solving. You identify the good and bad things in your life. Then, you scale up the good and cut out the bad.

It sounds very simple. But, look around you. How many people do what I just outlined?

In engineering, the same concept applies. The problems are of course more complex.

5) Do you think outside of the box?

Do you build and experiment without directions or instructions?

If yes, you’ll have a leg up over many engineers. In engineering, the higher you move up, the more complex problems you’ll solve.

In lower-level positions, you’ll do more repetitive grunt work with hand-holding. I would go as far as even saying, you don’t need a college degree for this type of work.

Now, if you have an ounce of drive, you’ll soon level up to more challenging work. For example, let’s look at bridges.

The process for designing a bridge, for the most part, is straightforward. But, each bridge design will have the following unique design elements:

  • Load type distribution – dead loads and dynamic loads
  • Construction material
  • Pillar foundations
  • Bridge length
  • Natural forces: winds, hurricanes, earthquakes, rushing water, and so on

As a lead engineer, you’ll find a cookie-cutter design template doesn’t exist. You need to think outside the box to design a safe bridge around the unique elements.

Yes, you’ll recycle past knowledge. But, you’ll also design unique elements. The meat of engineering is the final 1% of work that requires outside the box thinking.

6) Do You Have a Strong Work Ethic?

The ability to push through obstacles and not give up goes a long way in engineering. When I’m asked, “should I be an engineer”, I always bring up your work ethic.

To explain, you’ll have moments where you’ll scratch your head in confusion for hours on end. Other times, you’ll want to bang your head against the wall in frustration.

In these instances, you won’t know what to do. You may even think a solution doesn’t exist.

These moments can make or break your career. For this reason, you need a strong worth ethic to push through the difficult times.

Also keep in mind, the greater role you have in a project, the more of these moments you’ll encounter. Only in low-level engineering jobs can you hide away from problems.

Working long hours

A strong work ethic also comes in handy when you need to complete a project on a short deadline. Working after hours and even on weekends may become a norm with certain projects.

For example, I had a power utility client who served hundreds of large customers. As a result, they couldn’t go without power for more than 24 hours.

We had designed new equipment for a 115,000-volt to 12,000-volt substation for the client. In the construction phase, we had to replace the old equipment with new in less than 24 hours.

To pull this off, I was available around the clock the entire week of the construction.

Like a Doctor on call, engineers also may need to stay on call. The difference is, your work doesn’t affect just one patient like a Doctor. Your work may affect thousands of people if things go wrong.

7) Do you have a high-stress tolerance?

stress in engineering and business

You need to have high-stress tolerance. If you don’t, then you probably won’t make a great engineer.

Or at very the least, you’ll continue doing lower-level work. The higher up positions in the different types of engineering will not open up for you.

Now, here are some high-stress things you’ll deal with in the engineering world:

  • Public safety: your work puts the safety of the public and workers on the line. As a result, you need to take your work very seriously. A lapse in judgment could kill many people.
  • Expensive equipment: you decide on the purchase of expensive million dollars plus equipment. Or, you may have the responsibility for a small component that goes inside a $100,000,000 design. If the small component fails, the $100,000,000 design may fail.
  • Project timelines: many times, projects have short deadlines. Then combine this with angry clients breathing down your throat. So, you need to work fast while still maintaining a high quality of work.
  • Multiple projects: a lot of times you may juggle many projects at once. So, you need to maintain your composure and properly manage your time for each project.

8) Do you have thick skin?

Many strong and difficult to deal with personalities exist in engineering. Just like many other professions, but maybe even worse.

Most engineers have deep knowledge in a complex field. Also, they may have decades of experience behind their name. As a result, many engineers think they know everything for whatever reason.

Even worse, many engineers become stubborn in their ways. Doing the same thing over and over again for decades can do that to you. So, you may come across rigid and obnoxious people in engineering.

Not to mention, many engineers operate very rationally. Given that, they may not sugar coat their words to you. Rather, they’ll bluntly cut to the chase and disagree with you.

In brief, I have no issues with this. I have no time for the formalities that do no one any good. But for many, this may come off as a big shock.

By and large, you need to have thick skin. In other words, you need to have confidence in your words and work.

You can’t allow others to walk over you.

If someone disagrees with your design, but you still stand behind it, then don’t back down. Fireback and defend your position.

Don’t allow others to bully you. I come across many loud engineers with decades of experience. Yet, they can’t complete a simple design if their life depended on it.

For this reason, you need to have thick skin to stand your ground. And frankly, back and forth heated discussions over designs are highly beneficial.

You’ll avoid costly mistakes and you’ll learn a lot. A win-win!

On the same token, don’t take failures to heart. We all make mistakes.

Above all, learn from your mistakes and move on. Every mistake becomes an opportunity to become a better engineer.

9) Do you want a stable career and maybe even become a superstar?

Everyone loves this question. Most everyone wants a stable career with the chance of becoming a superstar.

If you work hard in engineering, you can build yourself a stable career. Also, you can make above-average income in almost every corner of the globe.

Thus, you can afford a nice house, car, and lead a comfortable life. But, a different story if you live in a high cost of living city like San Francisco.

In San Francisco, you’ll need to move up the corporate ladder fast to live comfortably.

I’ve written about how to become a great engineer step by step. This way, you can more efficiently climb the ranks.

Even more, you can leverage your engineering background into starting your own business.

A technical background works great with any business, whether tech-related or not. You can easily analyze and tackle all sorts of problems.

The sky then becomes the limit on how much money you can earn as an engineer. And the worst case, if your business fails, you go back to working as an engineer.

Wrap up Over “Should I Be an Engineer?”

If you were able to answer most of these 9 questions with a ‘yes,’ then you have your answer to “should I be an engineer?”

Engineering will suit you well.

And, if you answered ‘no’ to any of the 9 questions, don’t worry. You can more than likely build the necessary traits and skills over time if you want.

With some of these questions, you may only need greater exposure to engineering. Without the right exposure, you’ll never become the best version of yourself.

Above all, build the right foundation if you want to succeed in engineering. Thereafter, you can easily level yourself up as an engineer.

Have you ever asked yourself, “should I be an engineer”? What do you think is the most important trait or quality an engineer must have?

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