Life-hacking my Engineering Day Job

Life-hacking my Engineering Day Job

Sophi Kravitz is an electrical engineer who enjoys being somewhere near the bottom of the learning curve. Currently, she is pursuing RF engineering, analog engineering and building art based on RF signals. She lives in a workshop containing a kitchen and living room with her husband.

I am an Electrical Engineer working as a Salesperson.

I love engineering, it is my true passion, and I spend lots of time in my home shop building, designing and making stuff. I live in the Hudson Valley, NY, which isn’t particularly desirable for tech people. The only large company here is IBM. There are very few design engineers in the area, which makes getting a generic engineering job at a generic small company pathetically easy.

So why did I switch?

I worked as a New Product design engineer for 7 years, enjoyably switching projects (and jobs) quite often. As an engineer, I found myself switching jobs all the time just to get a reasonable amount of time off. Whether you’re a designer on a small team, or have a controlling boss or you work with people who equate working hard with working more hours, it’s really, really hard to get out of the office for more than a week at a time.

I visited Guinee, China, New Zealand and various Western European countries, never leaving Work for longer than 9 days. I mentioned before that I have a strong attachment to designing electronics art pieces and gadgets that don’t belong to my day job. So I was constantly trying to eek out Make-cations to complete personal projects.

Inevitably, I’d finish the work project and be waiting around for something thrilling to do; while waiting for Management to provide the next project, I was just doing busy-work . My requests to go home and wait, unpaid, were always met with disapproval. And so I’d move on, taking a 6 week Make-cation in between.

After a recruiter told me that my resume had too much “jumping around”, I looked at the situation analytically and determined that a good solution would be to work part time. I mean, who wouldn’t want to hire a smart, motivated, talented and most importantly, no-benefits-desired employee such as myself? At 20% less pay for a four day workweek, it would be a great deal. AND we are having a crappy economy, although I’m not sure that this is true at all for engineers…. so this makes pretty good economic sense, right? At my interviews, I’d argue that the Google model of giving tech employees 20% time off to “think” obviously works. I’d argue that I could be paid 20% less and the company would save money. I’d argue that being in the office on Fridays is a complete waste of time- all anyone does is plan lunch and their weekend. And they shop online! And gossip all day! It’s just not healthy to have a bunch of adults stuffed into one building for so many hours together under corporate control.

This approach worked only once, in 2009-2010, the last time I worked for someone else as a design engineer. Result: 4 day workweek led to fighting with boss about schedule led to caving in to full time hours led to being laid off. Sigh.

After being laid off, I decided to stop working in engineering and try something else. 2010’s poor economy led to a fairly long Make-cation before I landed a job in Technical Sales. In Sales, you can work from your phone, from your house, from anywhere in the world. I sell thermoelectric chillers to scientists and engineers. I had a long conversation yesterday with an engineer who is designing the sensor assembly for a PET machine. For me, conversations don’t get much better than that!

Are you an engineer who is having trouble balancing your life’s work and your work’s life? What are you doing to change this? I would love to hear about it. Please comment about this – and about anything else you’d like- below!

8 comments

1. I recently quit my first job out of school and took 6 weeks office. It was phenomenal. I worked on side projects, learned a new programming language (I’m a mechanical engineer, so it’s outside the norm for me) and generally just got stuff done. It was awesome.

2. Yay for technical sales! There is nothing I hate more than talking to non-technical sales people who don’t understand what I’m doing.

Since I now work from home and previously in a satellite design office where my boss isn’t even in the same country, I’ve always had a fair bit of autonomy. This gives me flexibility to devote time to my primary personal project of social engineering. I’m trying to ensure the two carbon-based lifeform products that I take partial credit for in creating are being fed the right inputs at optimal points in time. This is all to ensure that when these products mature, they generate enough output to support their father in a hedonistic lifestyle when he retires. Hence, taking off from work to attend a school play, taking them to the doctors, or whatever, is fairly easy to do as long as work gets handed in on time.

Things will get more difficult, I predict, when I start my new job in China in a few months. Having direct reports probably means an end to my laissez-faire approach to work. I’ll have to rely on my lifeform co-inventor to do even more of the hands-on lab work.

We would love to have anyone that is competent work four days a week. Unfortunately, you are a little too far from our facility in Mt. Olive, NJ to commute.

We have a hard time finding competent engineers here. We have been lucky so far, but as we continue growing I am not so confident in that luck continuing.

I suppose the fact that we do allow flex time (for all our employees, including those working in manufacturing), work with people who may want to work part time and generally treat our employees and customer the way we would want to be treated is at least part of the reason we have grown as fast as we have and are as successful as we are.

If you ever move closer, please look us up. If your skills are in the area we need (combination of analog and simple digital for use with pressure sensing) there could be a position for you!

Dick Tasker

Hello,

I am a recent graduate from electrical engineering program, took courses in power systems, dsp, programming, digital and analog hardware.

Its funny to see you not wanting to work when I am confused as to how to get hired.

Leave any suggestion for a fellow engineer (aka me )

Peace

Dick- thank you, maybe I will sometime!

Usman- Please read my suggestions and feel free to email me off list for more.
Many times, getting hired is a matter of being in the right place at the right time- which means sending inquiries to companies that are not necessarily “hiring”. So many companies don’t have the time or resources or energy to write a job description … so when you send a blind resume, they are interested in meeting you.
I’m a little bit mathematical, so my breakdown ratio goes like this: 40 resumes = 6 job interviews = between 1-6 job offers = 1 job you really want. Repeat as necessary. None of the 40 resumes I will send out will be to anyone advertising for an engineer.

And interview as much as possible! It’s great practice, as well as being training for you to see what there is out there in the world. I’ve been to companies as small as 3 people to larger companies with 100 people. My approach does not work with large corporations at all.
Sophi

I know I am a year late to this conversation but will jump in for anyone still interested. I found my salvation to get out of the corporate world. After 30 years in big companies, I got the boot as a senior engg VP from a top tier corporation. After helping start an engg consulting business inside an industrial design business run by some folks I knew, I realized a few life changing things (please forgive me blunt style):

1. I can never go back to work for a bunch of big company hacks again. I haven’t the patience to work for idiots who all read the same popular business books-of-the-day and declare their utter genius as business execs implementing policies that failed 20 years ago. Been there, done that, not again thanks.
2. After 15 years as an engineering manager and exec, I looked around at my former co-workers and staff. I realized the only one’s who were contented were my engineers involved in creative work. They managed to insulate themselves from the office political b.s. and be creative.
3. My management peers and superiors were all as unhappy and miserable as me. Some were even more unhappy than me.
4. As a consultant, I was constantly paid (and paid well) to do the cool, creative work I enjoyed. In fact, I did the innovative and groundbreaking work on the outside while my engineering peers on the inside were doing the cost reduction and value engineering.
5. The variety of work, as a product design engineer in a consulting firm beat the heck out of the routine and repetitive work in the same company.
6. Maximizing my $$ return on my time was not at all satisfying. Beyond a certain point, I really did not need the extra money… and that extra money came with a heavy price. It was stressing me in the extreme and pushing me to compromise my ethical principles in dealing with my staff. No more!

So… after not doing engineering work hands-on for 15 years I discovered:

1. I can still do it though it took a few weeks to brush the cobwebs out of my brain. After 2 weeks, I was just as good with the CAD tools as I was 15 years earlier and my creative brain still worked just fine, thank you.
2. I like consulting because it offers me variety you can never get in the corporate world. I left the ID firm I had joined and started my own company (with a partner sharing my views). It was the easiest career decision I ever made.
3. Now that I have my own company, as long as my brain keeps cranking, I can do this as long as I want (I know several really great engineers still working and enjoying work in their 70’s). Nobody will tell me I am too old to do what I want (I suppose our clients could if I stopped providing value).

So… my morale of the story… if the corporate world is not for you, look into consulting. Some of you may enjoy or accept corporate America. Some of you may even think that a corporate gig gives you some sense of security (you realize that’s totally delusional, of course). If you can get into the right consulting firm (not run by an egotistical or self-important moron which do exist) or start your own (even better… you can be your own miserable boss), life can be good as an engineer. I’m 60 and loving it.

Hi Mitch,
Well said. I have had managers ask me at my corporate job if I would like to be a manager. I usually politely decline — I like being an enginer, and I think that it is satisfying and fulling work. I have also had my own company for years in the past — so I can relate with what you are saying on that end as well.
-Colleen

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