The question this article attempts to answer is a very important one:
Is Engineering Right For Me?
It’s important because how I answer it could end up deciding your future. If you’re reading this article, you are most likely at one of two crossroads in your life:
1. You’re deciding what major to study in post-secondary and engineering happens to be one of your potential choices.
2. You’re currently an engineering student or engineering graduate and having second thoughts about whether engineering is really right for you.
This question is asked frequently but there are hardly any adequate answers online. Before writing this article, I took to Google to research what answers are out there right now. I kept coming across the same old stuff:
- Are you good at math?
- Do you like to solve problems?
Numerous articles will have you believe that - by answering yes - you are immediately a good candidate for engineering. Personally, I felt that these questions only scratched the surface of determining whether engineering was really a good fit for a student. Answering yes to these questions MAY indicate a good fit for engineering, but I think the actual answer requires digging a lot deeper. I believe that the answer to this question is actually a three part formula (I know...I’m such an engineer):
Is Engineering Right For Me =
Do I Feel A Sense of Belonging + Would I Be Good At It + Would I Enjoy Doing It
If I could confidently convince a student that they would:
- Be good at engineering
- Enjoy doing it
- Feel a sense of belonging
then I wouldn't have to convince them any further. They would believe that engineering is right for them. However, without actually doing engineering how could you possibly know the answer to any of these questions? It’s at this point that students look to Google or YouTube to determine answers to these questions. They look into what engineers are like, what kind of skills do they need, then they ask themselves if they would enjoy it. I hope that this article does a lot better of a job than all the other content out there right now in helping you determine whether engineering is right for you or not. I’ll start by going through each part of the equation.
01 | Do I Feel A Sense of Belonging?
The career we choose will make up a portion of our identity. When we think about which career is right for us, we want to feel like that career says something about who we are. I feel that there is a huge disconnect between the mainstream media representation of an engineer and the reality of the average engineer. A lot of the current media that exists on engineering is discouraging - to say the least. For example, take a look at the most popular “is engineering right for me” video on YouTube:
I understand what the authors of this video were trying to accomplish. They were trying to show that engineering is an exciting and diverse field where you get to solve problems using technical and analytical skills. Unfortunately, I think the video itself does not excite young students to study engineering. The video has a very cold, and impersonal feel to it. It feels very dated but, to be fair, it is from 2008 which is a long time ago in the digital age. The video lacks youth, and so it feels very un-relatable to its main demographic! On top of that, most of the time no one is looking into the camera and then, a little past the midway point of the video, we see complex simulations being shown! Imagine this video being your first impression of the engineering field. But it doesn’t stop there, take a look at one of the biggest Hollywood representations of an engineer:
Howard Walowitz, from the Big Bang Theory, is the epitome of all the negative stereotypes of engineers culminated into one person. He’s:
- Lives with his mother,
- and he’s basically a grown man-child.
No one watches Big Bang Theory and thinks, I want to be Howard Walowitz when I grow up. They laugh at him. On the other hand, you have Ironman.
Ironman is a combination of all the glamorous stuff in engineering. Fame, money, and building lots of really cool technology. While Ironman is really cool and inspiring he’s also very unrealistic.
I think the most accurate mainstream representation of engineers is actually in the Disney movie "Big Hero 6." The film's protagonist is a young engineer named Hiro and his older brother Tadashi is currently attending a prestigious engineering school. The reason I like these characters, Tadashi in particular, is because they’re relatable to the average person and a lot more grounded in reality. In the beginning, we meet Tadashi and his friends and see that they are mostly a normal group of friends with an interest in engineering.
Tadashi is specifically working on a robot called Baymax which is meant to act as a personal doctor or nurse for the average person. Outside of school, we see that he’s just a normal, kind, and loving older brother.
This is the kind of people engineers really are. They’re just normal people who want to do work that helps the world in a technological way.
When you’re thinking of whether you “fit in” with engineers remember that they are more like the characters in Big Hero 6 and a lot less like Howard Walowitz from the Big Bang Theory. Even Cooper from Interstellar is a better representation of your typical engineer than Howard.
02 | Would I Be Good At It?
Let’s take a look at the second part of the formula: Would I Be Good At Engineering? So, if you’ve never done engineering, how do you determine this? I’ll help. I think the first step is to answer two really important questions:
1. Am I good at gathering and interpreting data?
This is also known as having strong analytical thinking skills. The engineers of today use computer software to do all the tough computations and calculations. Therefore, an engineers value and measurement of skill really comes from their ability to take this data, make sense of it and gauge its accuracy. The better your analytical skills are, the better you will become at engineering.
2. Am I curious by nature?
Successful engineers are very curious people. They are always wondering how things work, or how they can optimize and make them better.
After answering both of those questions, I think some good but much less important questions are:
3. Am I mathematically inclined?
This will help you more in school than in your career, to be honest. Engineering curriculums have quite a bit of math so being mathematically inclined may give you an edge in class.
4. Am I good at physics?
You will use physics a lot more than math in school and in your career. If you’re good at physics you’ll have an easier time understanding the fundamentals of engineering which will take you a long way in your career. If you’re not good at physics, don’t worry. You can work at it and learn.
5. Am I an experienced “tinkerer”?
If you have some experience with opening things and figuring out how they work, building things, experience with coding, or other similar activities , you will naturally have an engineers mind. I never tinkered too much before studying engineering so it’s definitely not a necessity.
03 | Would I Enjoy Doing It?
I think, for many potential engineers, this will be the most important part of the formula. Would I enjoy engineering?
Personally, I believe this is best answered by asking yourself the following questions:
- What qualities do people who enjoy engineering have in common?
- Do I have these qualities?
Here's my first hypothesis for why these questions are important:
1. On a macro scale, people are not that different. You may like to dress differently or listen to a different type of music but in more ways than not we are all very similar. We all like to be loved, have fun, laugh, enjoy each other’s company, and so on. If we were as different and unique as some of as us think we are, I doubt we would be as social of a species as we are. The major ways in which we are similar outweigh the minor ways in which we are different.
If you agree with this hypothesis, then we can move on to my second hypothesis:
2. If we can determine the qualities that an engineer who enjoys their career has, we can create a “character profile”. The “character profile” would consist of the most common traits that happy engineers share and that would represent what a good candidate for engineering looks like.
So the next question is:
- How do we determine what these qualities are?
My answer (for now):
- Google. In the future, it would be best to do an actual study.
I took to Google to research the many different reasons as to why certain engineers enjoyed their careers and why others did not. In order to create the engineering “character profile," I boiled these answers down to the most basic qualities that I could.
Quality #1: Engineer’s Are Curious and Want To Know How The World Works
This was by far the most common quality that I kept seeing pop up. People who enjoy engineering are always questioning and fascinated by how the world around them works. Furthermore, they like getting into the details of how everything works from a technical standpoint.
Quality #2: Engineer’s Enjoy The Creative Process
Any creative knows that creating is a lot of hard work. You go through cycles of creating, revising, destroying, rebuilding, and re-editing over and over until you feel that you have no more improvements to make. I found that people who enjoyed engineering enjoyed this process and liked working hard to build something. They felt extreme satisfaction in creating useful products, systems, processes, and tools.
Quality #3: Engineer’s Have Altruistic Tendencies
I found that many engineers have a deep desire to help the world in some way. They choose engineering because they believe that their work can have profound and immense changes on the people around them. More specifically, engineers wanted to use technology in order to better the world.
Quality #4: Engineer’s Enjoy A Challenge
Engineering school and work can be very challenging. So, it doesn’t come as a surprise to me that people who enjoy engineering also enjoy being challenged.
Quality #5: Engineer’s Who Practiced Big Picture Thinking Were Happier
I found that engineers who constantly reminded themselves of the bigger picture were happier. They realized that they may have been a small cog in a larger machine, at certain companies, but they were okay with that. They understood that they were contributing to a goal much larger than themselves. A goal that would only be achievable when lots of small gears spin together to move a larger gear.
So The Final Character Profile For An Engineer Would Be
1. Curious About How The World Works
2. Enjoys The Creative Process
3. Has Altruistic Tendencies
4. Enjoys Being Challenged
5. Practices Bigger Picture Thinking
These are the 5 qualities - I found - that happy engineers have.
04 | Conclusion
If you can get past the bad representation of engineers in media, feel a sense of belonging, feel that you would be good at engineering, and you feel that you fit the character profile then I believe that engineering may be right for you.