What’s It Like to Be an Engineer?

What’s it like to be an engineer? If you’ve got a spark for engineering, it’s more than a paycheck—it’s a grand adventure!

Here’s my take: Being an engineer is like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle, but instead of cardboard pieces, you’re working with intriguing questions:

  1. Is it just clocking in and clocking out, or is there more to it?
  2. How much brain-sweat are we talking about here?
  3. Does the work ever get old or is it always a blast?
  4. What does the paycheck look like?

The responses to these shape your experience as an engineer, and they’ll evolve as you embark on your unique journey. Here are some nuggets to chew on:

  • Why did you become an engineer?
  • What type of engineer are you?
  • What type of engineering work do you do?

Alright, with that out of the way, let’s go on a deep dive into these puzzle pieces. But first, let me take you on a tour of my own journey through the engineer’s life.

How engineering has been for me over the years

transformers in hydroelectric facility
Transformers in a hydroelectric facility

Looking back, engineering has been an exhilarating rollercoaster ride for me. It’s filled with challenges, triumphs, and a ton of ‘Aha!’ moments that broadened my horizons way beyond what I had imagined.

Over the years, I’ve led and designed a variety of projects:

  • Water and wastewater treatment plants
  • Water pump stations
  • Electrical substations
  • Renewable energy projects like wind and solar farms
  • Hydroelectric facilities
  • Intricate underground boring

When I was a fresh-faced newbie in the engineering world, I couldn’t have imagined running these kinds of projects. I was wrestling with imposter syndrome, questioning if I even belonged. But you know what? I kicked those doubts to the curb and came out on the other side stronger.

And the cherry on top? These projects were like seeing my childhood dreams come to life. It made my work feel less like a grind and more like playtime. After all, passion is the fuel that keeps your career engine revving.

Also, there’s never a dull moment in my job—it’s always evolving, always pushing me to stay on my toes, keeping boredom at bay.

My work isn’t always glamour

Sure, there are thrilling peaks, but also terrifying drops. Sometimes, I’m just stuck, going round and round. I get to work on awe-inspiring projects, but there are days when I’m immersed in data and calculations, wondering if I’ll ever see daylight again.

Take the first hydroelectric facility I designed. I was pumped up and ready to tackle this badass cool project. But man, was I in for a wild ride! It was like playing catch with fireballs while the client kept throwing curveballs my way. Gathering data, collaborating with fellow engineers, running simulations, brainstorming—it felt like I was running a marathon in a minefield.

Ever noticed how pro athletes seem to live the dream life on TV with the crowd going wild? Yeah, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Most of their career is all about unseen hours of relentless training, day in and day out. And that’s the story of engineering too.

Other realities of my job

“Alright, let’s pull back the curtain and give you a further sneak peek into the nitty-gritty of my job as an engineer. I’m not gonna sugarcoat it – there are days when the love for my work takes a little nose dive. Picture this:

  • Typing up project proposals that could give ‘War and Peace‘ a run for its money. Sometimes, I swear my fingers might stage a revolt.
  • Playing a game of cat and mouse with subcontractors, trying to make sure they do what they’re supposed to do.
  • Crossing swords with bureaucratic government agencies over annoying permit issues that make me want to tear my hair out.
  • Juggling the occasional hot-tempered, unreasonable customer that could give a saint a run for his patience.

But hey, that’s life, right? No job’s all sunshine and rainbows. Every gig comes with its own set of roller coaster rides. But for me, the thrill of the ride far outweighs the occasional stomach-churning dips.

Being an engineer means I get to roll up my sleeves and work on game-changing projects that make a genuine difference in people’s lives. I get to hang out with a group of brilliant minds who are as geeked out about engineering as I am. Plus, who doesn’t like to be the fix-it wizard in a pinch?

Despite the bumps, I love working as an engineer, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. If you’re itching to dig deeper into the mechanics of my world, check out this article. It’s a deep dive into the intriguing universe of engineering!

What’s it like being an engineer at different workplaces?

tesla fremont factory
Photo Credit: Tesla Factory, Fremont

As an engineer with pals spread across a wide range of industries, I’ve snagged some cool insights into their diverse experiences.

Sure, this isn’t an exhaustive study and I’ll be painting with broad strokes here, but it will still give you a pretty solid idea. Remember, I’m rounding up a handful of experiences from my friends, so take this as a casual, but pretty insightful, guide.

Government position

Imagine lots of thumb twiddling with a healthy side of chill vibes. Working for the government isn’t usually about being knee-deep in the nuts and bolts of engineering design. Instead, you’re likely to find yourself managing other folks and drowning in a sea of paperwork.

Why, you ask? The nitty-gritty of engineering tasks often falls to the private sector, while government engineers are the ones making sure everything’s running like a well-oiled machine and coming up with proposals for upgrades.

Tesla and SpaceX

Now, picture a relentless storm of challenges, a pedal-to-the-metal pace, and a need to be forever on your A-game. It’s a wild ride that can be as stressful as it is thrilling. With Elon Musk’s world-shaking ambition lighting a fire under everyone, there’s no room for coasting.

The culture at Tesla and SpaceX is like nothing you’ve ever seen. Just for fun, I’ve put together a list of 20 workplace rules unique to Musk’s companies.

Sure, it’s a high-pressure gig, but my friends there are all in. They live for the chance to rub shoulders with some of the sharpest minds around and play with bleeding-edge tech. For them, there’s nothing better than being at the forefront of change, shaping the world of tomorrow.


Flip the script and you’ve got Microsoft. It’s a behemoth of a company with its own set of hoops to jump through and interesting projects to sink your teeth into. But the inevitable red tape and office politics can be a real buzzkill for some folks.

In comparison to the electric pace at Tesla or SpaceX, the rhythm at Microsoft can feel a tad sluggish.

4 Pillars that define “what’s it like to be an engineer?”

spacex rocket launch
SpaceX rocket launch

Let’s dive right into those four questions I mentioned at the start.

#1 Is it just clocking in and clocking out, or is there more to it?

At the end of the day, engineering is a job, but it’s not just a paycheck. It becomes a marvelous journey when you genuinely have a soft spot for engineering. It’s the spark that turns the daily grind into an epic adventure.

Let’s face it, your work takes up most of your daylight hours. So, loving what you do is critical, unless you want your life to feel like a never-ending Monday.

#2 How much brain-sweat are we talking about here?

You’d expect engineering to be tough as nails, right? Well, not exactly. There are moments when the work can get monotonous, like rehashing the same design with tiny tweaks, on loop.

This can wear thin real fast, especially for folks with a fire in their belly.

A lot of us became engineers to solve towering, complex problems. I mean, I didn’t become an engineer to churn out work a high schooler could master in a few weeks. I’m here for the brain-busters, and if I can’t find ’em, I’ll hunt them down.

#3 Does the work ever get old or is it always a blast?

This ties back to the challenges. Not every engineer is working on spine-tingling, bleeding-edge stuff. It all comes down to where you clock in and what role you’re in.

Take engineers at SpaceX, they’re designing rockets to scoot over to Mars, pushing the limits of what’s possible. Others might be stuck behind a desk, crafting project proposals for others to carry out.

Neither role is intrinsically superior. Some folks might thrive on the paperwork, without the knack or interest for rocket science. And that’s perfectly okay.

But, if you’re a go-getter engineer with stars (or rockets) in your eyes, pushing papers will drive you nuts. You’d rather chew nails!

#4 What does the paycheck look like?

Your paycheck will swing wildly based on where you work and what you’re tasked with. If you’re just rehashing the same low-level designs, don’t expect to be rolling in money.

But, as a head honcho in your industry, you could be pulling in some serious coin.

Broadly, engineering can offer a pretty cozy middle-class lifestyle. And for those who really push the envelope, the chance to break into the high-life is definitely up for grabs. I mean, I know a bunch of engineers raking in north of $500k a year.

“What’s it like to be an engineer?” wrap up

A good chunk of your engineering life hinges on two key things, assuming you’ve got a real hankering for engineering:

  1. Where you work
  2. The position you hold

These two elements will seriously influence your life as an engineer. It’s a bit like answering the question, “What’s it like to drive a car?”

The answer hinges on what type of car you’re behind the wheel of, and where you’re cruising. For instance, sliding into the driver’s seat of a slick 2020 Tesla and zipping around is a whole different ballgame compared to steering an antique Ford Model T.

Likewise, a road trip through the endless Vegas desert feels worlds away from winding your way along the picturesque Hana Highway in Maui.

Ultimately, if engineering sets your heart on fire and you’re not one to settle for just any gig, you’re on track to absolutely love what you do.

What does being an engineer feel like to you? Do you think engineering experiences can differ wildly?


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