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Engineering Career
Old 11-14-2006, 01:36 PM   #1
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Engineering Career

Just curious --
Do you stay as an engineer all of your career? Why?

Have you ventured out to another career and return to engineering (or never return)?

Do you go into management in fear that your skills may not be update to date or inadequate or age discrimination?

Do you get into management (or a leadership position) for new challenge, more money, more power, more fame, or whatever?

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Re: Engineering Career
Old 11-14-2006, 05:39 PM   #2
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Re: Engineering Career

Engineers can do anything, so you do whatever you want until you wanna do something else. Many engineers move into management just because of the money.
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Re: Engineering Career
Old 11-14-2006, 05:53 PM   #3
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Re: Engineering Career

Quote:
Originally Posted by jazz4cash
.... Many engineers move into management just because of the money.
Or, because they want to have more of a say in the decision making process (or both). That can vary all over depending upon the company environment/politics.

Quote:
Do you go into management in fear that your skills may not be update to date or inadequate or age discrimination?
Maybe I'm missing the direction of your question, - But for me, going into management caused my (technical) skills to get outdated. You aren't actually doing much of the work anymore, so you lose touch. OTOH, you sometimes have a chance to get exposed to a broader range of technology if you manage people across several skills. There can be value to that.

Tech>Eng>Mgr>ER

They all had their good/bad points, but so far, nothing beats ER :-)

But, without going through all that, I really wouldn't appreciate the freedom I have today. Life is good.

-ERD50

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Re: Engineering Career
Old 11-14-2006, 08:02 PM   #4
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Re: Engineering Career

Quote:
Originally Posted by ERD50
Maybe I'm missing the direction of your question, - But for me, going into management caused my (technical) skills to get outdated. You aren't actually doing much of the work anymore, so you lose touch. OTOH, you sometimes have a chance to get exposed to a broader range of technology if you manage people across several skills. There can be value to that.

Tech>Eng>Mgr>ER

They all had their good/bad points, but so far, nothing beats ER :-)

But, without going through all that, I really wouldn't appreciate the freedom I have today. Life is good.

-ERD50

Hi ERD50,

Some of the my friends have become engineering managers. Their rationale was that they were afraid that they might be able to keep pace with technology. They contended that young engineers may have stronger drive and convictions to keep up with the latest. As you said, ER is better.

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Re: Engineering Career
Old 11-15-2006, 07:37 AM   #5
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Re: Engineering Career

I did a few other things on the way through school, including the army, but since I graduated, always a chem eng.

I have considered other occupations over the past 30 years but never found one that paid as well. Now that I am a contractor, the pay is even better, but it won't last. There will be another bust one day. Good thing the finish line is close.

I guess I have been too lazy to try something else. It has also been fun. The management side was not fun. The good pay is in contracting which bugs the hell out of managers. Too much politics in management. When the business tanks, they lose their jobs, too. I can find work; they have trouble. I also never grew up so am quite unsuited for managerial positions.

The industries I deal with are relativel low-tech, high capital cost. Experience and relationships are crucial so I have never worried about competing with kids.

When I start taking distributions I might try consulting. The work is interesting but not steady.
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Re: Engineering Career
Old 11-15-2006, 08:55 AM   #6
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Re: Engineering Career

Well, ok engineers can "do anything" ... buutt their compensation ($$) will be the same regardless of what they do. There is no incentive for mega corp to keep raising an engineers salary beyond the cost of living ... especially for a "lifer". "He's not going anywhere ... so hold the labor costs DOWN."

Bottom line is to become promotable; which means move into management, smoozing with the customer, and/or bringing in new money/contracts.
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Re: Engineering Career
Old 11-15-2006, 09:11 AM   #7
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Re: Engineering Career

My experience has been completely different than what you just said tryan... in my 13 year career my earnings have far outpaced COL increases. One just has to be willing to switch jobs when the opportunity presents itself (which paid off especially well around 1999-2001) and keep their skills current.

I also don't see engineering as a career where going into management makes that much of a difference. I'm sure one can't make a blanket statement one way or the other but in most places I've worked director level only made about 10% more than the experienced engineers on staff... it was nothing like what going from some clerk/admin role into management would do for an income.

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Re: Engineering Career
Old 11-15-2006, 10:04 AM   #8
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Re: Engineering Career

Quote:
Originally Posted by tbrw
My experience has been completely different than what you just said tryan... in my 13 year career my earnings have far outpaced COL increases.
I would respectfully point out that 13 years puts you only part of the way into your career. You might have a different view in 20 years' time ... ask a few engineers in their 50s ...

Peter
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Re: Engineering Career
Old 11-15-2006, 10:19 AM   #9
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Re: Engineering Career

I don't understand how that's possible.

He believes engineers compensation will never go up above COL unless they go into management, and I've got 13 years of experience saying otherwise. At this point there is nothing a 50 year old engineer could tell me that would convince my income hasn't far outpaced COL raises.

I wouldn't have countered if he'd said salaries remain stagnant after age 40 or 50 w/out becoming management because I wouldn't know, but he appeared to offer his statement as an absolute for the career, not for those in the career who are above a certain age.

I'll also acknowledge it's possible my salary will be consistently reduced over the next 10 years or so to where over the entire span of my career my average raise was COLish, but again that wasn't the assertion I was responding to.
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Re: Engineering Career
Old 11-15-2006, 10:34 AM   #10
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Re: Engineering Career

Yes mega corp will reward the young engineers to get them to sit still for more than a couple years .... heck, it took 2 years before you're trained enough to be really useful. What you haven't seen, yet - because you've jumped around, are the salary caps in place for the various enigeering titles. Once you hit the ceiling and you've been deemed un-promotable you're looking at cost of living at best.

This can happen at 30, 40, 50 .... age has little to do with it. We used to say "He's got 10/20/30 years on the job and 5 years experience".
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Re: Engineering Career
Old 11-15-2006, 10:40 AM   #11
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Re: Engineering Career

When I went to college, I took up engineering because I liked the subject material (mechanical engineering) and I was good at it. It was still wicked hard, though.

I recently swished my toe around in the management pool and discovered that I hated it. There's all these interpersonal skills that you need to have and you have to deal with your employees while also being the "face" of the corporation... None of this has anything to do with engineering. I ended up doing a pretty lousy job at the management thing and now I don't have to any more! This is a great source of comfort for me now that annual review time is approaching.

But as far as "escaping" to management to avoid keeping current in technology... I have never witnessed that. On the other hand, I like new technology so I'm not sure why I'd want to avoid learning about it. I have seen engineers "work their way up" because they bought into that whole career progression stuff, and it does pay off eventually (in a bigger salary). In my experience, every single one of those career-builder types do it more for the power and prestige and bragging rights, and the money is merely a way to keep score.

That being said, working as an engineer also goes hand-in-hand with early retirement. You start off with a really great salary right out of school and it easily outpaces inflation as you gain experience. You have great math skills to figure out a savings/investment plan. The occasional change in employer is essential these days, and usually helps keep your salary climbing. As you gain experience in engineering you learn to look at things objectively, which can help you avoid common investment mistakes. But the key to early retirement is early saving and an engineering job makes that easier because of the good starting salary.

Now, as far as career changes, I have seen a lot of people switch from engineering jobs into closely related fields like manufacturing, quality control, computer programming, teaching (especially shop!), etc. So an engineering degree gives you lots of job options. As long as you don't get yourself committed to the ever increasing salary treadmill, you can feel comfortable knowing that employment will be relatively easy to find.

Your degree is "good" for an easy 10 years, maybe 20 under favorable circumstances. After that, your degree starts to become stale UNLESS you keep current. Fortunately most employers will help you out there by letting you go to trade shows, seminars, take courses, etc. You don't even have to go for a graduate degree. A well chosen certificate, a series of classes or a really cutting edge project can be enough to demonstrate that you are keeping ahead of recent college grads.
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Re: Engineering Career
Old 11-15-2006, 10:41 AM   #12
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Re: Engineering Career

Engineering is a good career – a kind of “golden mean.”

The educational investment can be moderate (e.g., Masters degree) and job stress is also low to moderate. The level of job satisfaction can be fairly high. The odds of getting wildly rich are quite low, but it almost universally permits one to earn a quite respectable salary with good benefits. Opportunities for consulting income, etc., can sometimes arise. Once one hits mid-career, upward mobility is usually limited to project or personnel management, at which point I do feel that one may fall somewhat behind in technical terms, but salary should rise.

Personally, when I hit a glass ceiling (move into management vs. stagnation), I chose to switch tracks and become a Professor. That was one of the best and also the worst move of my career. It gave me more freedom and a certain additional level of esteem, but it also came with many more stresses and nuisances (the politics, in particular, are unbelievable) as well as much less pay and a big hit in retirement expectations. It will take me a few more years (and tenure) before I will be sure it was worth it.
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Re: Engineering Career
Old 11-15-2006, 10:44 AM   #13
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Re: Engineering Career

Quote:
Originally Posted by tryan
Yes mega corp will reward the young engineers to get them to sit still for more than a couple years .... heck, it took 2 years before you're trained enough to be really useful. What you haven't seen, yet - because you've jumped around, are the salary caps in place for the various enigeering titles. Once you hit the ceiling and you've been deemed un-promotable you're looking at cost of living at best.
...
This is true! But, that cap is really high and it doesn't take a lifetime to get there, making engineering a really lucrative career and a great path to early retirement. Earnings early in life (if saved) are far more important than your salary at your last few years of employment!
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Re: Engineering Career
Old 11-15-2006, 11:01 AM   #14
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Re: Engineering Career

Agreed.

You make pretty good buck right out of the gate without an advanced degree, and that allows for a great opportunity to accumulate savings very early.

If I've hit an income cap I don't know about then this career has plenty of room for relateively fast income growth. If someone else is hitting my salary at age 30 and is capped it speaks even more for the income potential if you can be the rabbit out of the gate.

This career (along with luck in financially like minded wife picking me) has made it to where I don't really care what happens to an engineer at age 45 since it's very likely I won't need to be one.

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Re: Engineering Career
Old 11-15-2006, 11:07 AM   #15
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Re: Engineering Career

Quote:
Originally Posted by tryan
Yes mega corp will reward the young engineers to get them to sit still for more than a couple years .... heck, it took 2 years before you're trained enough to be really useful. What you haven't seen, yet - because you've jumped around, are the salary caps in place for the various enigeering titles. Once you hit the ceiling and you've been deemed un-promotable you're looking at cost of living at best.
This can happen at 30, 40, 50 .... age has little to do with it. We used to say "He's got 10/20/30 years on the job and 5 years experience".
Tryan,
what you said is true, but it's only part of the truth. I already "hit the ceiling" as far as engineering (or "individual contributor") titles at mega corp I'm working at (some titles were funny anyway, I think my current one says "Senior Principal Engineer", previous one was better as "Principal Technical Staff Member") and I'm 34.
But the managers in mega corps I've worked so far had way more discretion over bonuses and stock options alocations, and if they think you are worth it they will use these, especially when you hit the salary cap.

BTW: as a "top tier" engineer I probably earn 10% less than a director, 33% less than a senior director and about a half what a run-of-the-mill VP would earn. I earn more than middle managers (but I don't know how much more, I don't have access to middle management pay scale)
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Re: Engineering Career
Old 11-15-2006, 11:13 AM   #16
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Re: Engineering Career

A rule of thumb in times past was that a mature engineer made just about twice as much as a beginning engineer (in real dollars). A mature engineer with an advanced degree, especially a PhD, will do better than twice an entry-level engineer without an advanced degree. A junior lawyer, with a good in-house spot, makes about the same as a mature engineer (although a JD is probably not comparable to a PhD in terms of time-to-degree or subject-matter difficulty).
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Re: Engineering Career
Old 11-15-2006, 11:23 AM   #17
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Re: Engineering Career

Quote:
BTW: as a "top tier" engineer I probably earn 10% less than a director, 33% less than a senior director and about a half what a run-of-the-mill VP would earn. I earn more than middle managers (but I don't know how much more, I don't have access to middle management pay scale)
Yup same same here.

I look at what director spends their day doing versus what I spend my day doing and don't think it's worth the 10%.
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Re: Engineering Career
Old 11-15-2006, 12:22 PM   #18
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Re: Engineering Career

I think we're all saying the same thing .... but my point is more about "seeing the forest from the trees" (something most engineers don't do very well )...

Doesn't matter if the discussion is mega corp engineers, the military, or the Catholic church clergy ... very few can make it to the top of the pyramid. Soooo, stop-gaps are built in the system to hold back most people. The lion's share is closer to the top - than at the bottom. The OPM asked if it is wise to stay an engineer forever. The answer seems obvious to me ... if your goal is FIRE, it is unwise to stay in any single field for an entire career. Financial growth follows from career growth.
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Re: Engineering Career
Old 11-15-2006, 12:43 PM   #19
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Re: Engineering Career

The Professional Engineers Association of Ontario does an annual salary survey of its members. There is a substantial bell curve of salaries in all sectors. The double ROT is pretty accurate. Most of the higher spread is in supervisory roles typical of partners in consulting firms.

The higher earning engineers have left the daily pursuit of their profession to take management positions.

Keith Cowan P. Eng (retired)
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Re: Engineering Career
Old 11-15-2006, 12:49 PM   #20
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Re: Engineering Career

Quote:
Originally Posted by tryan
Well, ok engineers can "do anything" ... buutt their compensation ($$) will be the same regardless of what they do. There is no incentive for mega corp to keep raising an engineers salary beyond the cost of living ... especially for a "lifer". "He's not going anywhere ... so hold the labor costs DOWN."

Bottom line is to become promotable; which means move into management, smoozing with the customer, and/or bringing in new money/contracts.
Another way is to start a business or get into marketing or sales. A contract engineering position pays quite well also.
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