Things I Wish I Knew Before Becoming an Engineer

by Meg Embry
• 4 min read
TheBestSchools.org

Have you ever crossed a bridge? Used a computer? Put on makeup? Zipped your pants? Engineers made all of that possible.

Engineering is behind everything we do. Engineers are the people who invent, design, and build solutions to everyday problems. They work in many different fields and environments to make the world safer and easier for the rest of us to live in.

Most entry-level engineering jobs require at least a bachelor's degree in engineering. Advanced roles may require more advanced degrees. Many universities offer 5-year engineering programs that allow students to graduate with both a bachelor's and a master's degree.

Demand for engineers continues to rise across industries, with 140,000 new engineering jobs expected from 2016 to 2026. Meanwhile, the median annual salary for engineers is $91,000.

More than 90 percent of engineers, including those in entry-level positions, make well over the median salary for all workers.

Career Paths for Engineers
Engineer Type Median Annual Salary
Petroleum Engineer $128,230
Computer Hardware Engineer $115,080
Aerospace Engineer $109,650
Nuclear Engineer $102,220
Electronics Engineer $99,210
Chemical Engineer $98,340
Geological Engineer $93,720
Marine Engineer $93,350
Materials Engineer $93,310
Health and Safety Engineer $86,720
Biomedical Engineer $85,620
Environmental Engineer $84,890
Industrial Engineer $84,310
Mechanical Engineer $84,190
Civil Engineer $83,540
Agricultural Engineer $73,640
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The world of engineering offers unlimited career possibilities for problem-solvers who love to explore, design, and innovate. Some important qualities for future engineers are:

  • Creativity and imagination
  • Listening and communication skills
  • Math and science skills
  • Analytical thinking
  • Initiative
  • Focus

Want to know what it's really like to be an engineer in the field?

We asked engineers across industries to tell us what they wish they had known about engineering back when they were students.

There Are a Lot of Opportunities

"One thing I didn't realize is that all products and industries need engineers. Obviously cars, aircraft, and spacecraft need engineers — but also toys, mountain bikes, and furniture. I recommend focusing your education and job search on a product and industry you have a passion for. If you have hobbies and passions around specific products, you can find an engineering job in that world. Your work will be that much more enjoyable."

David Conelias, Co-Founder and CEO, Milestone C

"It's surprising how few of us there really are in comparison to the amount of work that needs to be done. A lot of engineers are retiring right now. At the same time, there are a lot of design, infrastructure, and robotics jobs coming up."

Zane Pucylowski, President, Phoenix Engineering and Consulting

Stay Nimble

"I wish I'd have spent more time learning the many variations of the engineering process and where those processes are used. Having practice at picking up new processes and jargon would have made it much easier to integrate into new work environments.

"Every company has a unique approach to the engineering process, and none of those companies are aware of how unusual their approach is."

Adam Kilmer, Electrical Designer, ZAA Incorporated

Dive Into Real-World Practice

"Knowing a lot of stuff is essential for an engineer in any field, but being able to apply the knowledge in real life is important. The best way to create a strong bridge between the things you know and the things you can perform is to take part in various projects that require action.

"You can even start accepting various paid orders from people around the city to test and improve your skills in stressful real-life conditions. The more you practice, the more valuable and firm your knowledge becomes."

Gerald Carpenter, Founder & Editor-in-Chief, SanitaryReview.com

There Will Be Meetings

"I was surprised by how much of the work day is taken up by non-engineering: there are meetings, schedule, budget, purchasing, and customer discussions.

"The work that is needed to support the actual engineering effort is astounding. If not done properly, the engineering will not happen."

— Dave Conelias, CEO, Milestone C

People Skills Are Required

"As for what has surprised me the most, I would have to say how people-oriented the career actually is. You spend a lot of time working closely with others — not just in the field, but overall. I'd also tell my younger self to brush up on social and communication skills!"

Karl Hughes, Founder, Draft.dev

It's Not the Most Diverse — Yet

"The particular team I work on has a lot of women, but I have done some remote support for other projects where I was the only woman. Generally, I have found people to be respectful, but I know that's not a universal experience. So just be aware of that! You'll likely encounter some sexism at some point or another, and having support is what will get you through and help you find resolutions."

Melony Breeze, Associate Mechanical Engineer, Lockheed Martin

Networking Matters

"Your network is always going to be your biggest asset. Many of my career moves were possible only because I had already established professional relationships. Engineers tend to hear 'network work' and misconstrue that as 'you need to go out and meet new people.' No, that's not the right idea: strong relationships can take months, even years, to cultivate. So strike up connections with interesting people and do the work to stay in touch."

— Karl Hughes, Founder, Draft.dev

"You have to make connections. Someone you meet on one project might not be the most helpful, but for another project, they are the go-to for information!"

Rachael Bartho, Manufacturing Engineer, Beckman Coulter

Meg Embry is a Colorado-based writer for TheBestSchools.org covering higher education. She is an award-winning journalist who has lived and worked in Canada, the Netherlands, and the United States.

Header Image Credit: chabybucko, SERGII IAREMENKO/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY | Getty Images

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