Engineers: Not just for engineering

Engineers: Not just for engineering


There have been several posts on EB about how recruiting students into STEM is just a Ponzi scheme.  However, I finally came upon an article that provided a potential outlet for all those engineers who can’t find a job in engineering.

Management!  (I can see you hooting and hollering already.)

According to research conducted by Identified and Harvard Business School, engineers and other STEM-type people are quickly taking up many of the top spots in most businesses.  Specifically, Identified found that nearly 3/4 of CEOs in all industries have advanced engineering degrees.  The Harvard Business School study determined that part of the reason that engineers are often at the higher levels of companies is that those companies are seeking people with more specializations.

I can see a couple down sides to this: most engineers I know aren’t necessarily interested in getting an advanced degree, nor are they interested in management.  On the up side, engineers will often have a better understanding of the constraints under which most companies operate as well as a clear picture of how their product is developed.  I would assume that this would provide a lot of helpful insight that a business major simply wouldn’t have.

Would you want to become a manager?  Do you think this is a good trend?


I guess seems weird to me that this study revealed this as NEW news. I work in A/E/C and almost all management moves up through the engineering ranks. It also makes sense that product-based companies would have people who design the products move through the company and into management. Engineers even get pulled into law and investment banking, as these firms need subject-matter experts. . .if they do well there, why not move up the ladder?

What surprised me about the whole post was that you said most engineers you know don’t want MSxE degrees or management careers? It seems like the professional version of a high school diploma holder who wants a better job but doesn’t want to go to college. I personally always wanted to learn as much as I could and do the best I could do, and most engineers I know seem to have similar views.

“What surprised me about the whole post was that you said most engineers you know don’t want MSxE degrees or management careers? It seems like the professional version of a high school diploma holder who wants a better job but doesn’t want to go to college”

I’d have to disagree with you there. Just because you don’t want to go into management doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to advance you carer and get a “better job.” For some, myself included, getting into management holds no appeal to them, they’re in engineering because they love digging into the technical details of a project. A “better job” for them would be to move along a more technical career track. I can’t speak for all industries but in the IC business a fair number of companies offer the title of Fellow or Staff Scientist for their highest ranking technical employees. These employees are pretty highly regarded and are given a fair amount of leeway in what they choose to work on. They can also be just as influential in how a company is run even though they have no one taking orders underneath them.

You missed the fact that I was referring to employees who don’t want to go to management OR get an advanced degree in Engineering. I never said going into management was the only route to a “better job.” I’m well aware that there are technical paths and management paths most places.

You pointed out that companies have positions of Fellow or Staff Scientist for their highest technical employee. Wouldn’t you say most of these people have at least MS degrees in their discipline?

I dabbled in the technical track myself for a while. When I was considering that path, I took some grad classes like FEA and Fracture Mechanics. Anyone who is serious about staying in their career and advancing (management or technical paths) has to improve his or her skill set. That’s why I’m surprised the OP said most engineers she knew were opposed to both advanced engineering degrees AND the management path.

FWIW, our company management has recently indicated that advanced degrees are important for technical path people and is working with a local university to help people get engineering MS degrees while working full time. . .I’d imagine they wouldn’t look too favorably at someone who says they want to be a technical subject matter expert but who does not take advantage of that university program when the company has made it very accessible.

I’m not sure where you work, but most of the people I have worked with and many of the students I have dealt with “just want a job”. They don’t want to have further training, and many of them don’t have particularly great people skills and therefore don’t want to work in management. The ones I do know who are interested in furthering themselves either technically or in their career are the exception and the ‘cream of the crop’. Generally, they are the ones who have excellent technical skills and/or interpersonal skills. Most engineers (probably 2/3) are generally just interested in putting in their 40 hours and collecting a paycheck. I’ve even run into people who said they had engineering degrees, but got sick of all the career development they had to do in a job, so they switched fields.

I guess I didn’t really address your other point there did I. Oops :-/. I suppose I agree more with Cherish on the issue. While I can think of a few classmates who were really passionate about being engineers, the majority were only looking to make it to graduation and take the first job offered to them. Some jobs offers I heard about could only be considered engineering if you took the most watered down version of the profession.

I do agree with you on the assumption that most engineers who are Fellows or Staff Scientists also hold advanced degrees however. The only Fellow I know personally is working on Phd at the moment. It may even be his second doctorate, I’m not sure. I’d have to assume that isn’t too far from the norm when you get to be that technical.

Carmen, I think the whole debate stems from the fact that I’m old-ish and you are younger. . .and Cherish works more with students. After 12 years in industry (at which I have only worked for power engineering/construction companies that are top ENR ranked firms…i.e. companies who can get “cream of the crop” graduates), most of my peers – the ones who have survived 12 yrs through industry cycles and business cycles – are at the engineering management level or higher, or well on their way down the “technical expert” path. I agree with both you and Cherish – when I graduated, I did just want a job and a paycheck. I gave zero thought to where I’d end up 20 years later. But, working at these big firms, the very first year you have to start writing your SMART goals and getting your annual review rating in the 9-box forced distribution system. You realize quickly that you can’t be content to keep doing what you’re doing, or you’ll fall to the bottom 10% and be shown the door the next bust cycle.

I do think this is good news for engineers, and my husband is a perfect example of someone with an ME degree who secretly wants to become director of Product, or move more into a VP product design/management type role. I think, assuming they are outgoing, people-centered, engineering folk like my husband, this is great news. (However, his boss, the VP of engineering, is a great engineer, but a terrible manager w/zero people/communication skills, so it goes both ways I guess.)

I do have to laugh every time I see an article that is like “Hey Engineers! Don’t worry! You are appreciated and can get jobs!” because as someone with an English degree, I feel like Engineers pretty much have it made. They make great money, get respect just due to their title, and there are engineering jobs everywhere. I spent the first couple years of my post-college life waitressing, secretarying, and making 100 cold calls a day in Sales. During this time, I was asked almost daily if I really thought I was going to be a writer, or if I got an English degree because I wanted to be a teacher/loved children (barf to both of those assumptions.)

I had to be pretty creative and take some jobs that really sucked to move from Sales to Marketing and now I am in a job I love. But I have friends my same age who are struggling to do anything beyond EA work with their liberal arts degree, so I feel pretty lucky. In contrast, all my friends with Engineering degrees are doing quite well, and making great cash. #rant.

So, is there something I’m missing, where Engineers are struggling much more than it seems to find happiness/reward in their careers?

agammy- I hear you. I went back to school FOR engineering because my perception was much the same as yours. I had a liberal arts degree and very poor job prospects (or so I thought). It won’t make you feel much better to know that of those I went to school with, most people didn’t find a job until 2 to 3 months after graduation. Others took almost nine months. And a few are still without a job, or at least a job related to engineering. When I make comments about engineering being stable my older colleagues just LAUGH at me. I think if you are in the younger generation and this recession is the first economic downturn you’ve experienced as an adult, it can seem like comparitively STEM careers are doing much better. But really engineers were often the first cut in so many previous economic downturns especially in cities that have suffered from cuts in manufacturing since the 1970s. And while comparitively the pay can seem good straight out of college, in the long term the benefits are not the same as many other careers. The stability is also for sure not a given. I don’t think engineers are so worried that there aren’t careers available to them. But it’s not the stable, secure, high paying career many of us thought it would be. Same as you probably got your degree under the assumption that a college degree, any college degree, was the key to success. Many of us went into engineering under the assumption it would stable and at least a comfortable pay that would afford a middle class lifestyle. Unfortunately, neither of those assumptions turned out to be true.

Sorry, just reread the post and realized I kind of thread-jacked it there, I guess I was responding more to the title. I feel like Engineers have the potential to do whatever they want, and honestly, Engineer undergrad + MBA or something seems like the perfect CEO-in-training education combination.

Maybe engineers just feel like they’ve had enough schooling, and are finally making the money they want, so going back to grad school seems like a huge waste of money?

I am glad I’m not the only one who sees this opportunity because I feel like it is a largely overlooked opportunity by a lot of engineers. I also think that management needs more people like this due to the technical knowledge that we are supposed to have gained in our field and our problem solving skills. That being said, I agree with a post of above in that you have to have some sort of management and people skills as well. Otherwise, you are an engineer who is ill-equiped to do a managerial/leadership job and will be a liability in some ways.

I’m currently a PhD student in Electrical Engineering, and I’m actually thinking about a career in management. I’d like to start off in an engineering position, but I really enjoy working with people, and I often get more enjoyment out of my student org leadership roles than my research.

If it is true that more STEM type people are making it to the CEO level, then maybe we have a chance to regain world leadership in technology. Successful technology companies used to be headed by technical people, before business and financial people took over and ruined them. (Look at Hewlett-Packard, for example.) Cherish is correct that engineers have a better understanding of how products are created and produced.

However, the assumption that a good engineer will make a good manager is naive. Most engineers have not been trained in management skills, and although they may be capable of learning we’ve experienced too many examples of good engineers who turned into yucky managers. For some engineers there is a stigma to becoming a manager and a job satisfaction letdown. It is hard for an engineer to focus on management tasks when he’d rather be working with the nuts and bolts. Then there’s the yucky office politics that become more and more important as one tries to climb the corporate ladder. To some engineers it’s selling your soul.

Would I want to become a manager? I’ve been forced there in the past and found it distasteful.
Do I think this is a good trend? Overall yes, IF the engineer turned manager is able to handle the transition. This trend lends respect for engineers, and makes it more likely that logical and practical company decisions will be made.

Consider me one of the ones unashamed about hoping to move into management some day. I’m enjoying being “just an engineer” right now. At my work they kind of have the mentality that you “sell out” when you move up. But for the most part, everyone in my department and all the way up are engineers. You’d never have a situation where a non-engineer is supervising engineers, and the engineers move into high level positions in other departments too. So it’s pretty standard, but I think the folks that do it at a younger age also take some flack.

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