You’ve been studying engineering for a little while but you start to get the feeling that it’s not for you. You ask yourself, “Was engineering the right choice for me”? Fear not. An engineering degree is actually very versatile and can open up many doors for you. If you find that you don’t like engineering you can move into many different career paths. I’m not saying that engineering is the BEST path into any one of these careers but it is ONE single path. I don’t want you to feel as if you are trapped in engineering because you’re not. In this article, I will highlight 4 other career paths that you can take and how you can get started. I will use the following format when discussing each of the career paths:
- What the career path is or what it entails
- What are the perceived strengths and weakness of engineers in this career path (I say perceived because as an individual you may or may not have these particular strengths or weaknesses)
- How to get started on the career path
- Some resources for you to look at to determine your own interest in the topic
The best place to start for any career path is to look into it and to study it. Try to learn as much about the career and what the job entails before you commit to it. I am going to recommend some resources you can look at but I encourage you to look a lot deeper. If you are still in school, I would highly recommend taking an elective in one or all these fields. If you want to work in a particular field upon graduation, try getting an internship in that field.
01 | Business
1a | What is Business?
There are two main paths that you can take in business. The first is a managerial role. This involves taking on a leadership role at an existing company. Managers help guide and look after their subordinates. They focus on leveraging and developing their workers to meet business goals. The second path you can take in business is to become an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs create and manage their own businesses.
1b | What Are An Engineer's Perceived Strengths In Business?
According to Business Insider, 20% of Fortune 500 CEO’s have a degree in engineering. That number seems stupendously high but it makes sense. Engineering teaches you several skills that would be useful in a business setting. Most notably, analytical and logistical thinking. Engineers have to learn to be grounded in reality. We learn right away that the sexiest design isn’t always the most feasible. We have to strike a balance between innovation and reality. I believe being able to execute on this balance is what makes engineers good at business. They can find ways to disrupt the market but do it in a way that’s feasible. Generally, engineers also develop a strong work ethic from the heavy workload they have in post-secondary. This can be a great asset for those who want to become entrepreneurs.
1c | What are an engineer's perceived weaknesses in business?
Engineers are generally assumed to have weak interpersonal and communication skills. These skills are a necessity in order to be a successful manager or entrepreneur. If you want to go into business then you should definitely work on these skills. Good managers and entrepreneurs are also good leaders. If you are applying for a business role make sure to highlight your leadership skills. If you are thinking about going into business, then develop good leadership skills.
1d | How can an engineer get started in business?
Many engineers go back to school after working for a few years to get their MBA. An MBA is great if you want to take on a managerial role at a company. Managerial roles involve dealing with higher level business issues as opposed to technical issues. An alternative to obtaining your MBA is starting your own business. Your business can be engineering related or not. If you want to start an engineering related business you will have to get your professional designation. I recommend working under a P.Eng who is already doing the kind of work you want to do. This will allow you to learn about that business while you are working towards your professional designation. If you want to start a non-engineering business then you can get started right away. Some engineering programs even offer an elective on entrepreneurship. If you are interested in entrepreneurship, try to sign up for one of these classes to get a taste for it. Many campuses also have interdisciplinary clubs where students can meet up and discuss business ideas. The school I attended had a place known as the eHub where students from any faculty could gather and work on business ideas together.
1e | Business Resources
The following resources are to help you learn more about business and entrepreneurship. If you find the topics interesting, there is a good chance that you will enjoy a career in business.
- Fizzle Podcast - My favorite podcast for small business owners and entrepreneurs.
- Gary Vaynerchuk - My favorite social media entrepreneur and marketer right now. A good place to gather inspiration and practical knowledge.
- Simon Sinek - Simon Sinek is a guru on leadership. If you like his ideas and talks, then there is a good chance that you will enjoy taking on a managerial role at a company.
02 | Consulting
2a | What is Consulting? What does a consultant do?
This is a very common question. Consulting can seem very confusing. Many people have no idea what a consultant does, even after having it explained to them. This is because the nature of consulting work is so broad. So let's start with the definition from Google:
This is what consultants do. They give EXPERT advice. Consultants work in all fields and help with all kinds of problems. I think that Kim from “MConsulting Prep” explained it best. Clients approach a consulting firm with a business problem. The consulting firm then assigns a consultant (or several) to deliver a solution. Consultants work with the client and use the firm's network of experts and information to deliver solutions. Kim goes into greater detail about what a consultant does in the video I listed in the resources section.
2b | What are an engineer's perceived strengths in consulting?
Consultants require strong analytical thinking in order to solve business problems. Engineers make very good consultants because they also have strong analytical thinking skills. Engineers also have a strong work ethic and are used to working long hours, similar to a consultant, in school.
2c | What are an engineer's perceived weaknesses in consulting?
Having a strong analytical background isn’t enough. Consultants also need to have strong communication skills (oral and written), leadership skills, and the ability to take complex information and break it down into simple terms (AKA - teach). If you are applying for a job in consulting, you will definitely want to work on these skills or highlight how you have already developed these skills.
2d | How can engineers get started in consulting?
Consulting can be a competitive field to get into because consulting firms accept students from all backgrounds. We already have strong analytical skills but to switch over into consulting we need to work on our other skills. A lot of engineers claim that they are bad writers. The truth is they just don’t have much practice writing. Writing is a skill that you have to learn just like math. It's a way to take all the ideas in your head and communicate them to someone else. Good writers can help anyone understand the idea in the same way that they do. Consultants MUST be able to communicate effectively to their clients. But, it doesn’t just stop there. As engineers and even more importantly AS HUMANS we should all strive to be better communicators. If you want to work on your writing skills read more and maybe start a blog. If you want to work on your public speaking, try joining clubs like Toastmasters. Many schools also have a club for students who want to be consultants where they can work on case studies together. If you are interested in being a consultant you should DEFINITELY join one of these clubs.
2e | Consulting Resources
MConsulting Prep - This is a great YouTube channel about management consulting. Kim will teach you all about consulting and how to get a job in the field. Here’s a video he made discussing what consulting is.
03 | Patent Law
3a | What is Patent Law?
It’s very common for engineers who wish to study law to go into patent law after their degrees. Patent lawyers help people get patents for their inventions and deal with any sort of legal disputes that may arise over patents. Patent law often requires a technical background and lots of technical expertise. Naturally, engineers are well suited for the position.
3b | What are an engineer's perceived strengths in Patent Law?
Engineers have a strong technical background. This gives them a better understanding of the technology and the patents that they are working with. The more effectively a lawyer understands the patents and the technology they work with, the better they can serve their clients.
3c | What are an engineer's perceived weaknesses in Patent Law?
This is obvious. We have no background in law. Unlike the other career paths, you will have to get another degree to pursue this path.
3d | How can engineers get started in patent law?
If you are still in school, I would recommend taking an elective related to law. For example, I took a course on business law in my junior year. After receiving your degree, it may be beneficial to work for a few years as an engineer (to gain some more technical expertise) before writing the appropriate exams to get into law.
3e | Patent Law Resources
Here’s a nice little video that can introduce you to Patent Law.
Here’s a longer video which gives an introduction to law school.
04 | Investment Banking (IB)
4a | What is Investment Banking
In simple terms, investment bankers work for large firms and give financial advice to large corporations or government institutions. I posted a video in the resources section that goes into more detail.
4b | What are an engineer's perceived strengths in Investment Banking?
Engineers are known to be good with numbers, and analytics which is always an asset in finance. Engineering students work long hours in school, and so they will be used to working long hours in an IB career.
4c | What are an engineer's perceived weaknesses in Investment Banking?
Generally, engineers are not very knowledgeable about finance. If you want to pursue a career in investment banking you have to start reading up on and studying finance. Investment bankers also need to be good communicators and so engineers should work on their oral and written skills.
4d | How can engineers get started in investment banking?
If you are still in school, I would highly recommend that you take a finance related elective. For example, I took a course on financial management for engineers where we learned the basics of bonds, stocks, interest, depreciation, etc. You should also start reading and learning about finance and investment banking in particular. If possible, try to grab an early internship that is finance related. This can be at a regular bank or at an investment bank such as:
- Goldman Sachs
- JP Morgan
- Morgan Stanley
I would also recommend joining a business/finance club on campus. Clubs can help you build your network up within the finance industry, learn more about finance, and maybe even get access to unadvertised jobs.
4e | Investment Banking Resources
MoneyWeek is a cool YouTube channel on finance. Here’s a video he did on investment banks.
5 | Conclusion
Those are ONLY 4 of the alternative career paths out of the MANY that you can take as an engineer. I hope that some of you will find the information and resources that I’ve provided as helpful. If you want to ask me a question or show some love, leave me a comment below!