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 these questions, then you’re on the right track to becoming a successful and fulfilled engineer. It’s a win-win!
Choosing a career is a big deal. You don’t want to spend years and money pursuing something you hate or aren’t suited for. For example, I would never excel in the food service industry – it just doesn’t match my personality.
Don’t leave your future to chance. I don’t advise you to treat your future as a night out in Vegas.
If you’re curious about what engineers do, check out my post for an inside look. Now, let’s dive into those 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 subjects may not directly relate to engineering, but they’re all connected in some way. So, if you’re passionate about a STEM field, there’s likely an exciting engineering job waiting for you.
Take biology, for example. While it’s categorized under science, you might not immediately see how it ties to engineering. But many engineering disciplines involve biology, such as bioengineering.
It’s no surprise how engineering plays a role in virtually everything around us nowadays!
2) Are you a techie?
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 tech-related?
- Do your discussions with friends and family always end up being about tech? Do you drive them crazy with your tech talk?
If you answered yes to most of these questions, then congrats, you’re a techie!
I think about tech every day, from artificial intelligence to space travel and beyond. When you have a high level of passion, you don’t need a paycheck or letter grade to motivate you.
In pro sports, this level 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, many of these players barely get any playing time. But then there are players like Lebron James. Lebron is not only physically gifted, but he wants success more than anyone around him. He spends a million dollars a year on his body and has an insatiable hunger to constantly improve.
The same goes for engineers. Self-studying is the best way to level up your skills and take yourself to the next level. Anyone can become an engineer, but to become a 10x engineer, you need passion and drive to push yourself further.
3) Are you excited about the future?
As we move forward, technology will play an even greater role in our lives. Just consider a few of the following basic technologies we have today:
- Smart home devices like TVs, refrigerators, doorbells, cameras, and more
- Smartphones, which let you communicate instantly with people across the globe
- Electric cars, which can drive semi-autonomously on streets and roads
- The internet, which connects us instantly to people all over the world and puts all the world’s information at our fingertips
Do you think about these technologies and how to make them better? If so, you have the mindset of a great engineer.
Great engineers think about how to improve the present and create a better future. I personally have a deep curiosity about the future and enjoy reading and watching science fiction content. I want to help create the amazing future I imagine.
If you share this same passion for the future, you’ll have an insatiable drive to engineer things, which make a difference.
A great example of this is Elon Musk, who is working on the following future technologies:
- Electric cars
- Internet and satellites
- Artificial intelligence
4) Do you have a strong math background?
Do you enjoy math? Do new math concepts come naturally to you with little studying? If so, you may be a great engineer.
Math is a critical part of engineering. And even if you don’t directly use a lot of math in your work, understanding high-level math shows you can problem-solve.
At its core, engineering is all about problem-solving. If you can’t solve problems, you won’t be successful in this field. You’ll either end up doing grunt work under someone who can solve problems, or you’ll fizzle out of the profession altogether.
Real-World Problem-Solving Example
To illustrate problem-solving, let’s consider a simple example, which doesn’t involve math: reading books. When you read, you gain knowledge, allowing you to do the following:
- Have deeper discussions with others
- Advancing your career
- Earning more money
- Generating new ideas for potential businesses
- Becoming a more well-rounded person
On the other hand, watching reality TV provides no benefits to your life. You quickly learn how you need to read more and skip brain-dead activities, to improve your life.
By applying problem-solving tactics, you can identify the good and bad things in your life and scale up the good while cutting out the bad.
Sounds simple, right? But, look around you. How many people do what I just outlined?…
In engineering, the same concept applies. But, the problems are of course more complex.
5) Do you think outside of the box?
Are you the type of person who builds and experiments without directions or instructions?
If you answered yes, then you’re already ahead of the game in the world of engineering. As you progress in your career, you’ll encounter increasingly complex problems, which require creative solutions.
But, if you’re just starting out, be prepared for some grunt work. Entry-level positions often involve repetitive tasks and hand-holding. Don’t worry though, you don’t necessarily need a college degree for this type of work. If you have the drive, you’ll quickly move on to more challenging projects.
Let’s take bridge design, for example. While the process is fairly straightforward, each design presents its own unique challenges. You’ll need to consider factors like the following:
- Load type distribution – dead loads and dynamic loads
- Construction material
- Pillar foundations
- Bridge length
- Natural forces like winds, hurricanes, earthquakes, and rushing water
As a lead engineer, you’ll find a cookie-cutter design template doesn’t exist. You’ll need to think outside the box to design a safe and effective bridge, around the unique constraints.
While you’ll certainly rely on past knowledge, the real meat of engineering is the final 1%, which requires outside-the-box thinking. This is where you’ll really shine as an engineer.
6) Do You Have a Strong Work Ethic?
Of course, a strong work ethic is essential in any career, but it’s especially important in engineering. When I’m asked, “should I be an engineer”, I always first ask about your work ethic.
You’ll encounter plenty of obstacles and challenges, which will leave you scratching your head in confusion or banging 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 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 once worked with 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 designed new equipment for a 115,000-volt to 12,000-volt substation for the client, and during the construction phase, we had to replace the old equipment with the new one in less than 24 hours.
To pull this off, I was available around the clock the entire week of the construction.
Just like doctors on call, engineers may also need to be available at all times. However, the difference is, the work of an engineer doesn’t just affect one patient. If something goes wrong, the work of an engineer may affect thousands of people.
7) Do you have a high-stress tolerance?
To be a great engineer, you need to have a high tolerance for stress. If you don’t, you may find yourself stuck doing lower-level work, and higher-level positions may be out of reach.
The following are some examples of the high-stress situations you’ll encounter in the engineering world:
- Public safety: Your work puts the safety of the public and workers on the line. So, you need to take your work very seriously, as a lapse in judgment could kill many people.
- Expensive equipment: You may be responsible for deciding on the purchase of equipment worth millions of dollars, or for designing a small component, which is critical to a $100 million project. If the component fails, the whole project could be at risk.
- Project timelines: Many projects have short deadlines and angry clients can breathe down your throat. You’ll need to work quickly while still producing high-quality work.
- Multiple projects: It’s common to juggle multiple projects at once, so you’ll need to stay organized and manage your time effectively for each one.
8) Do you have thick skin?
In engineering, you’ll come across many personalities, which can be challenging to deal with. Just like in any profession, but maybe even worse.
Most engineers have deep knowledge of a complex field. Also, they may have decades of experience behind their name. This can lead to an attitude they know everything for whatever reason. To make matters worse, many engineers become stuck in their ways, doing the same thing over and over again for decades. As a result, you may encounter rigid and obnoxious people in engineering.
Additionally, many engineers operate very rationally and may not beat around the bush. They’ll bluntly cut to the chase and disagree with you. Personally, I have no issue with this. I don’t have time for formalities, which don’t benefit anyone. However, for many, this may come as a shock.
Overall, you need to have thick skin and confidence in your work. You can’t allow others to walk all over you. If someone disagrees with your design, but you stand behind it, don’t back down. Fire back and defend your position. Don’t allow others to bully you.
I come across many loud engineers with decades of experience who can’t complete a simple design if their life depended on it. So, it’s essential to have thick skin to stand your ground. Frankly, back-and-forth heated discussions over designs are highly beneficial. You’ll avoid costly mistakes and learn a lot. A win-win!
At the same time, 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?
Do you want a stable career and maybe even become a superstar? Of course, you do! Who doesn’t want a stable career and the chance to become a superstar?
The good news is, if you work hard in engineering, you can build yourself a stable career and make an above-average income almost anywhere in the world. You can afford a nice house, car, and lead a comfortable life. However, living in a high cost of living city like San Francisco can be a different story. You’ll need to move up the corporate ladder fast to live comfortably in such places.
But don’t worry, I’ve got you covered! I’ve written a step-by-step guide on how to become a great engineer, so you can more efficiently climb the ranks and reach your goals.
Plus, with a technical background, you can leverage your skills and start your own business. Whether your business is tech-related or not, your problem-solving skills will come in handy. The sky then becomes the limit on how much money you can earn as an engineer. And the best part is, even if your business fails, you can always go back to working as an engineer.
Wrap up Over “Should I Be an Engineer?”
If you answered ‘yes’ to most of these 9 questions, then congrats! Engineering is probably your calling.
But don’t sweat it if you answered ‘no’ to any of them. You can develop the skills and traits you need to be an awesome engineer over time.
Sometimes, all you need is more exposure to engineering to really shine. Without the right exposure, you might never reach your full potential.
Remember, building a strong foundation is key to success in engineering. Once you’ve got that down, you can level up and become a rockstar engineer in no time!
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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Koosha started Engineer Calcs in 2020 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 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, our history and future, sports, and fitness.