View Full Version : Engineers?

11-12-2004, 11:28 PM
I am graduating with a BS in ME this spring and am undecided about what field to head towards. Am considering grad school as well so any thoughts about that route would be great. I know there are several engineers on the board, and am curious as to what types of jobs some of you hold or have held in the past and your thoughts on the current developments/job market.

I hope to find some kind of position where I can keep a certain amount of hands on experience in my work. I spent three years here working on projects where the students took ideas from conception to completion, including all the machining. It would be nice to be able to keep some aspect of this in an actual job as opposed to finding ways for Nissan to make every car .1753 cents cheaper as so many of my friends have wound up doing.

Would also love to hear some of the machinists' and technicians' opinions of what makes a good engineer.


J Tiers
11-12-2004, 11:42 PM
Smaller companies are where it's at.

You do it all, you solve everything. It's the best way to work, and mighty educational.

Not for everyone, though. Some folks are more comfortable with a 9 to 5 working for many years with prime responsibility for the upper outboard aft hinge bolt...... They now work over at the airport for "Mac-Boeing-Boeing".

I couldn't stand that.

11-12-2004, 11:46 PM
I am a Level 3 ISA rated instrument technician, Certified JW Electrician and a wannabe machinist.

The best engineers, electricians have toys they are proud of. Airplanes, motorcycles or old cars. They are hands on type of people. Something about doing things with your hands you can't get out of a book.

If they ain't mechanically inclined, look out. YOu'll soon see drawings of six 500 mcm cable splices in a 12x12 box.. Ya gotta work in the field to know where a tator comes from sometimes.. I think they should be apprenticed in every craft in the shop before getting that sheep skin..

ANd I thought I was going to see a steam train.. engineer.. HA..

David Cofer, Of:
Tunnel Hill, North Georgia

11-12-2004, 11:51 PM
If you work for a small company for 2 to 5 years you get a great education, better than at university. If you are not vested in that company, find a bigger small company to work for.

Right now this minute start a retirement fund, either an IRA or RSP or whatever you have in your area. $50 a month for the next 40 years adds up to a lot.

As far as grad school that depends on the area that you want to specialize in. Plus find a grad school that wants you there, they generally pay everything.


11-13-2004, 12:02 AM
Learn how to make things that are producible. I've run into a number of young engineers and had one working for us until recently who had spent mucho time in front of a CRT (or LCD) doing 3D solids and had no ability to tolerance parts or design them so that they could be manufactured in quantity.

Three, four or five levels of prototyping until we couldn't take any more. And this was to get some simple countersinks done right.

IMHO and as JT says, small companies are the place to be. While they can be as bad as large companies as far as politics go, they can also be very rewarding in the level of involvement you will have in a product.

Regarding products, get to know what your company builds and who buys them. This knowledge will also propel you ahead.

One other point ... have fun at what you do. Not that work should be your hobby but you should enjoy it. If you get to a point where you need to decide higher salary vs something you could really get into and stick with, go with the latter (unless you already have bad habits to pay for http://bbs.homeshopmachinist.net//wink.gif ).

One other thought ... cross disciplines. If you can, try to dabble in another field, whether it be electronics (to control your monsters), chemistry, process control, embedded systems for control, etc. etc. It will make you more valuable and you may actually help solve problems on a project or at least give you a better understanding of the whole thing.

I graduated in '75 and have been designing products ever since then. Even back then, we only had a brief amount of time during a single semester to get an intro to machine shop. How much time have you spent in a shop? As an ME, I would hope that your various projects have helped you to find your way there from time to time. Knowledge of fabrication methods in general and machining specifically (for prototyping, proof of principle, etc.) are invaluable but you probably have already had that.

Starting to ramble so that's enough out of me for now http://bbs.homeshopmachinist.net//wink.gif


Rich Carlstedt
11-13-2004, 12:37 AM
I was a Manufacturing Engineer, specializing in Machining and Assembly of Precision Dies and parts.I have seen and worked with hundreds of engineers during my life, and what the other fellows said is 100 % correct.
The best engineers got their hands dirty.. they understood what they were building, and therefore designed better products.
Even when working in a union shop, I kept my machining skills up by using my home shop, as an example.Good Engineers ask questions of people building their designs..poor engineers could care less of what others think..Careful here however!....I am not saying that you want the machinist to design the product, but "KNOW" what impact the design had on him or the processes

To be good:
Go where the problems are !!! when others back off, you charge ahead. Do not..I repeat....Do not be afraid of failure!
You will learn beyound your dreams !
your successes will confound others!

and most important..treat sucess AND FAILURE with the same ANALYSES.....
Ask "why did it work.....and why didn't it work..what impacted the results....what control did I have over this impact
Such questions will keep your path true !.

Last...a simple truth.. many guys make the mistake of complaining to their boss about problems...NEVER do that..
Exhibit confidence and take care of the problem your self...Bosses, especially "Presidents" don't want to hear about problems...thats why they hired you !
If you feel you must 'discuss" the issue, then at least have your solution in hand...not request his !
You should do well

J Tiers
11-13-2004, 01:33 AM
A couple more things.....

Even if you work for a small company, it (hopefully) will get bigger. That means more people working there, more engineers.

If you learn your work well, learn cross-discipline stuff as mentioned, and dive into problems, you will usually get another benefit.

That is that others will come to you to get answers. When the boss notices that people keep dropping into your office to ask questions and get advice, that usually puts you up a couple notches, and dead last on the layoff list.

A couple times of bailing out the boss when otherwise they can't ship, and you will be gold.

11-13-2004, 02:15 AM
I worked as a senior technician for Xerox for 23 years. We used to joke (it wasn't actually a joke) that the new design engineers on a product team were given the job of designing the covers for a machine after all the budget has been spent. Many if not most machines had covers that were a nightmare to remove. Xerox finally wised up and instituted a program that required all new job candidates in engineering to travel with field reps for three months. It took a few years to filter down to actual product design but it did seem to help.

My advice is to find employment where you are at least somewhat welcome on the production shop floor. Ask the advice of the people that have to make the parts. I worked for a large aircraft manufacturer in Edmonton for a time. We were making a part for Hawker-Sidley, a tail rudder lock mechanism. I have never seen such a complex multi-cored and machined aluminum casting in my life. I could have made the same part for one hundredth the cost from three pieces of bent and fabricated aluminum sheet.

As has been said, find a small to medium size company to work for. A large company will not afford any opportunity to interact with the people that must implement your designs.

11-13-2004, 02:42 AM
I'm not an engineer but almost was. My father worked as an engineer for NASA and my brother in an engineer at Ford, I went to culinary school instead but left that career for my current job at a small company. MY titles include, lab tech, computer administrator, tech liaison, fabricator, machinist, designer, maintenance, sales, production worker, and management. Obviously I work for a small company that is family owned. If you want to be hands on this is the only way to go. Both my father and brother are never very hands on at work and frankly I think they are sometimes jealous of all the diversity my job allows. Dad's a skilled woodworker and Mr. Fixit, my brother a skilled fabricator and carpenter, these are the hobbies they hand to take up in order to fulfill their lives, I get fulfillment right at work. I also agree on starting a retirement account immediately, if I continue only at my current savings amount in dollars per month and get a decent return on investment I'll have over 2 million in the bank when I retire, 32 years from now that might not be enough but like I said that's not allowing for increasing my savings amount as my income grows.

A big benefit of working for a small company is the education you get, I am fortunate enough to work for the semi-retired father of the current owner who is a renowned adhesive chemist, in the last five years I have learned a great deal of hands on chemistry and been granted two patents with a third pending. I never would have learned the practical knowledge of chemistry that I now have at a university.

Find a job at a small company with a good mentor and be prepared to relearn much of what you learned in college, even if you move on in a few years the experience will be something you'll have for life.

11-13-2004, 04:18 AM
Man, this is some great stuff and it has only been a couple of hours!

I've always kept the idea of working for a small company in the fore front of where I'm heading. I have so many friends that have graduated recently and are working for major auto or other large companies. Some like it and some don't, but I haven't heard a single job description from any that sounded really interesting.

To answer a few questions, I've been working with the Formula SAE team here for three years. I've been in the machine shop the entire time. Made chain drive differentials, dozens of various suspension pieces, and many other things. Have TIG welded two complete space frame chassis, as well as intake manifolds, oil pans, etc. Steel and Aluminum. Had a few welds leak the first time round, but nothing break. I was the project leader of this the past two years, and in this role was responsible for not only designing and building parts, but also teaching new people as much as I could. We did everything from coming up with ideas, to raising 100% of the needed funds ($20,000 a year), to getting in the shop and building it. I’ve worked with other machine shops and learned a lot in the process, both good and bad. The whole “Quick, Cheap, Quality pick two please” thing becomes painfully obvious when trying to get work done for free. I’ll have to post pics of some of the stuff we’ve turned out.

I’ve also worked as a draftsman for two different companies. The first was in tooling, and I worked with the toolroom on a daily basis. Insurance guidelines wouldn’t let me run a machine, but I could watch as much as I wanted to, and the machinists loved to answer questions. Without this job, I would have absolutely no idea of what goes into making dies. Its just not taught here. Theory and computer simulation is about all we seem to get.

I’m now working as a draftsman in product design for a company that makes valves for the chemical industry. It a very different setting, and has really rounded out my CAD skills, particularly tolerances. After the time with the toolroom I had trouble using (+-).030 tolerances, but have come to see the reasoning behind it.

I’m also setting up my own shop. Have a lot of old stuff from my Dad. He was a toolmaker for TRW before he passed away. Lots of measuring tools, tooling, Sheldon lathe, Benchmaster vertical mill, homemade bandsaw, etc. Just picked up a US Machine Tool horizontal in North Carolina for $100. Still has scraping marks on all the ways. The shop technician at school is parting with an old Bridgeport for $1000 this January and I’ve got an eye on it. Spent the last 7 or 8 months building exhaust headers for all the little jap cars running around. Can’t stand most of those guys, but if they want to pay me for some quality work that’s fine with me. Cash deposit required of course…

Anyway, sorry to ramble, and please keep the advice coming!

11-13-2004, 07:37 AM
Congradulations on "finishing" your formal education to get you Bachelors Degree. All the advise you have gotten from these fine fellows is worth loads, and they have more experience than I in their fields so listen to them.
Now for my advise, success will likely not be totally (or even mostly) related to "job", most people fail because they are to focused in one direction and it unbalances them. The unbalanced sides cause the failure. Get a good foundation in "Money" matters then get a good amount of legal education, and last but most important be very carefull who you might choose to share your life with. Don't borrow money and fall into the "big house, car, trophy wife, etc." trap that many people do. Buy a small affordable house and pay it off with everything you can scrape together, eat franks and beans for a few years you will be surprised at how fast you can pay it off. This will be a key element to make the rest of your life stable, once you have a place of your own put away a good amount of cash, hide it very well and don't tell anyone where it is or that you have it, this will play a key role in your life when the "rain starts to fall" we all make mistakes and when things start to go wrong you might find that the Government or your"loving wife and her lawyer" or any number of other people that feel you should owe them for the rest of your life decide to lock down your "assets" till a judge decides what you can have back (likely nothing) your cash will see you through, it's a small insurance policy that will keep you sane through the worst time in your life.
The "worst times" will arrive plan for them now, I don't say this totally out of bitterness it is the same advise I gave my son (he graduates as an ME this year)
The last piece of advise is small and won't make much sense but remember it when your old and grey and it will have been true.
Resist the urge to buy a boat!

11-13-2004, 11:16 AM
Don't be afraid to move on when you feel like you've learned about all you can at your present place. Keep in touch with past co-workers and bosses whom you liked and learned from. Years ago, I was asked by a former co-worker if I was interested in working for his father part-time making drawings for a special project. After several years of part-time work, I was offered a full time engineering position as the project came on-line. I left an engineering management position to take this new assignment because I felt that I needed a change. At this new job, I was able to learn CNC programming and operation when the engineering was completed. The owner knew that I had experience on manual machines, and a home shop. It was a start-up devision of a well established company, and I was doing it all. I never had days fly by like that! In the end, the project folded, but the owner took me into his core business and I learned another industry. Because of my hands-on experience, I was able to help out in the tool room when there was no engineering to do.

As others have said, if you stay out of debt and have savings, you can afford to take some chances. After all, we only go around once. My Dad worked 50 years for one company, and he's the one who advised me to move around.

Another benefit of working for a small company is that you will deal with vendors. In this vein, I was able to secure my own part-time work, as they sometimes need help with their pet projects.

Best wishes

[This message has been edited by Bob-O (edited 11-13-2004).]

Al Flipo
11-13-2004, 12:02 PM
I don’t think you need our guidance, you are well on your way to becoming a successful entrepreneur.
The advice on women offered here is another matter, I would get a condo close to your place of business (just for the occasional shower), work 4 days in your business (24-4) with little cat-naps on your desk, and then look for a professional woman to enjoy the weekends with. After the weekend, she will go back to her place and you go back to work. If she brings up kids or serious relationships, start looking for another one.

11-13-2004, 01:38 PM
I was a software engineer (20 years) with a
large telecommunication company.

I got hired out of university and stayed
there until they decided they didn't need
me anymore. They sent my job to India so
the CEO and executives could get a larger
bonus. We got the bone, they got the bonus.

I'm 47 years old now. Too young to retire
but too old to get hired.

My advice to you is simple: Save as much
money as you can. Don't fall into the big
house, fancy car trap.

Second thing: Never assume a company gives
a flying crap about you, because they don't.
When they're done with you, they'll toss
you like yesterday's newspaper.

Third thing: Keep your eyes open to new
and better opportunities. Make some moves
and don't look back. (see to Second thing:

[This message has been edited by maddog (edited 11-13-2004).]

[This message has been edited by maddog (edited 11-13-2004).]

[This message has been edited by maddog (edited 11-13-2004).]

11-13-2004, 02:17 PM
What kind of company you want to work for will determine if you should get a masters or not. The masters will not help you in most small companies, they only care what you can do, not what degrees you have. It also will not increase your pay all that much. You will have to decide if the time spent getting the degree is worth the small increase in pay or the delay in starting to work if you do that full time.

You should also sit for the EIT while all the college theory is still fresh in your head, and you are used to taking tests. If you decide to go for a PE (Professional Engineer certification) later on, you will have the first part done. The PE is not needed for most industries, but more and more companies are requiring the PE for management positions if you choose that route.

I graduated BSME and worked for a machinery manufacturer as a field engineer and got alot of controls experience. Being able to solve any problem and work well at the customer site was the best assurance of job security. Many desk jobs get outsourced, whether to a local company or overseas doesn't matter, your job is gone. Be the provider of the solution and you will have a job for a long time.

You probably will not like your first job or outgrow it quickly, don't worry about it, take the experience and find something that fits your likes and style better. Most new engineers will be doing grunt work for several years before getting to the more interesting work. A small company would be best to get the most experience quickly, but they will not have the best pay or benefits.

11-13-2004, 04:04 PM
Masters degree may help you stand out among other engineers at first. Also, curriculum is a rehash of undergraduate curriculum for the most part, except for the thesis. The writing of a thesis will give you good experience in technical writing and communications. Both skills are needed if you consider management.

PhD is a degree for a research position only. Problem with a company research project is that, even in the largest companies, it eventually comes to a conclusion! Then you either move to another project within the company (more than likely at another location) or find another job! Some of my friends with PhD's in chemical engineering had more than 10 jobs with 8 or 9 different companies within 15 years of graduation!!

The PE is a great idea. To do engineering work, or hold yourself out to the general public as an engineer, you need a PE. Also needed to work on any public works projects. It makes you much more marketable - ie, easier to get another job, should the need arise.

All of the advice given above is great. I am in a slightly different branch of engineering - chemical engr. - so I hesitate to comment about small vs large companies. We almost all work for the big oil or chemical or food processing companies. However, I now practice law, and my engineering has been a great benefit in understanding many of my cases. I still keep my P.E. current. Good luck!! A.T.

11-13-2004, 04:04 PM
Maddog brings up some a serious truth. If you keep in the same position, you get seriously skilled. When the wind shifts, you may get caught in the change. Happened to me, happened to lots of people. When I started out, the story from someone else was "I am a 47 year old seat designer for GM. Got laid off - now what?"

The "Now what" question best be asked early. Getting a PE prepares you for one set of adversities. Getting an advanced degree - hopefully paid for by an employer - is another. Plan on keeping your skills up from get-go. Times are worse now than at any time since the Great Depression for measures of company loyalty. I do not believe in "ongoing training" - unless it actually is useful to you. Courses that have no measurable degree are suspect, in many cases.

I think a lot of the M$, Novell, and such certfication stuff fell in this category. Very expensive for what you get - especially if you have to pay. There are ways of getting certs like this very cheaply. Comm College, Job paid, etc.
How much are these certs worth to you 5 years after you take them - in your field?

By all means become skilled in several disciplines. The EE guy who understands software. The ME guy who understands embedded systems and controls. Etc.

Beyond that, life is a serious ride. Enjoy.


Al Flipo
11-13-2004, 04:54 PM
Hmm. To a lawyer a P.E. is a handy thing to have, to a business owner in the machinery fabricating business a P.E. is a liability and best not to keep currant on account of lawyers and lawsuits.

[This message has been edited by Al Flipo (edited 11-13-2004).]

J Tiers
11-13-2004, 09:53 PM
A PE makes you look more expensive. Not a problem to have it, sort-of, but many positions just don't require it. You are overqualified if you have one.

You need to be targeted at 'agency compliance" positions, or the like to need it, and have it make a real difference.

A masters degree, same deal.

Only the larger companies really would regard it as a plus, IMO.

11-13-2004, 10:53 PM

You have a great experience to talk about. Could you spell out how you went about getting a PE and taking the time to cross discipline to law?

Like it or not, dealing with the gov't is aobout 1/4 of the economy & a PE will always help there..... More likely to generate stability than a PHd, as has been observed here...

Few graduates hear of the cross discipline tracks - only years later. It helps them to know now, so that they can plan some career decisions.


11-13-2004, 10:54 PM
There has been a lot of very good advice and ideas given here. In todays market place there is one thing that you have to look out for. That something is you. Learn as much as you can about as much as you can in the shortest amount of time. Do anything that will benifit yourself. With your background and interest I think that you will be in business for yourself before all is said and done.

One area that has not been discussed a lot here is maintenance. Maintenance is basically looked at by upper management as a necessary evil. Having said that all companies have a maintenance department. Maintenance can be a very self gratifying career. You will get a chance to work with all of the groups in the facility and learn a lot about a lot of things. I spent most of my career in maintenance in all positions from maintenance engineer to maintenance manager. Money is good and the experience and learning possibilities are great. This position is best with a large company. Learn everything you can and then move on to bigger and better things either through a transfer within the company or to a new company. Remember if you don't take care of yourself today nobody else will.

As others have said, don't expect a company to take care of you during retirement. That is up to you to do. The company I worked for went into bankrupcy and they canceled all of the benefit and the government took over the retirement. It didn't kill me because I had taken care of my retirement on my own. Go for what you like and enjoy doing. Take some chance while you are young and plan to retire early.

Sorry for the long response, hope this helps a little.


11-15-2004, 10:54 AM
I just want to thank everyone for all the advice before this topic slides down into obscurity. You've all given me a lot to think about in the next six months. Don't think there was a single piece of advice given that isn't useful to me. I'll let you know when I find a job/grad school, and will post pics of a few projects when I get time.

Jeff Foote

Paul Alciatore
11-15-2004, 11:27 AM
I'm a TV Engineer which means a self taught engineer. No one offers a degree in this field. Also a "hands on" engineer as I frequently must do it all from design through fabrication and installation to maintenence to modifications and finally to tearing it out to make room for the next generation of equipment.

I have always worked for small companies as most TV stations and other TV related businesses are small. It has been a very educational career.

Best engineering principal I ever learned is, it can be made cheap, fast, and well: choose any TWO. What it means is that engineering is the art of compromise. Compromise, compromise, compromise. The art is in finding the best combination of everything for the task at hand.

And a good engineer needs to be mindful of the others in the process and their needs. Not only the machinists and craftspeople and other workers but of management, the finance people, the investors, etc., etc., etc. And most important of all, the customer.

Whatever field you wind up in, by all means, get as much hands on experience as possible. Go to the factory floor or job site or wherever your designs are carried out and do some of the work if possible or at the very least, observe and talk to people. Ask why things are done this way and that. And observe. Don't teach or lecture, OBSERVE and learn. You will be surprised at how much you will learn.

Welcome to a great career and the best of luck,

Paul A.

11-15-2004, 11:42 AM
Learn to be a salesman!!!! Success is all about selling yourself and your ideas.

The assumption of many out of engineering school is that in the "logical" world of engineering ideas will sell themselves. Once your idea is put on paper and thrown onto the table it'll be so obviously brilliant that management will pick it up and run with it, giving you the fame and glory you deserve. Not likely.

Ideas have to be sold.

When I was in bigger companies it was fun watching some of the better "salesman" (usually the worst engineers) pitch nonsense to management. Managers want solutions and workers who present solutions. Surprising how many times a good presentation equated to a good solution in management's eyes.

11-15-2004, 10:20 PM
I work for a retired engineer,he maintains his PE license and consults from time to time.He however is a REAL engineer,meaning he started machining and building things at age 5.He took the time to learn his profession and knows firsthand how things work in the real world,not many engineers I meet in todays world are like that.Hands on experience is very valuable in any trade or profession,mainly because there is no substitute.Learn your chosen field from the bottom up and you will have a definate edge.

My advice would be to take it one step at a time and not be affraid to make changes.And whatever you do don't limit yourself to working for someone else forever either,in any career happiness is key to success.Good luck!

C. Tate
11-15-2004, 11:14 PM

I see you are at TN Tech. Good school. We moved our shop from C'ville. Where did you work?

As for graduate school you will not get practical experience. You will be required to do research and it most likely be related to the research your major prof. is doing. I am finishing my last 6 hours of a masters program at MS State at the Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems (Nissan). The only person in the place that can make stuff is me. I was a machininst/tool maker then Grad student so I have tons of practical experience. The Ph,Ds have trouble understanding when I explain why something can't be made. We have CNC mill with all the bells and whistles so they think we should be able to do anything and that any engineer should be able to program, setup and run the machine because the machine has a computer attached. Not to say Grad school is bad. You will have good employment opportunities. However, you will get very little practical experience.


11-15-2004, 11:30 PM
I also worked for a small company, was the best job I ever had. I had a friend who quit his job to work at this small buisness. He used to work at TUV rhineland, and traveled all over the country. He got sick of traveling so he went to this small company. At the time, the company was booming, and we were growing.
Well, theres only so many HAMS that want your product, and a lack of new products, and competition that copies your products and undercuts your prices, your sales plummet.
So now he has a job that he cannot move up in, and he is still traveling all over the country going to trade shows. I no longer work there, was laid off.
I have no real hard feelings about it, I learned quite a lot about how to run a small buisness in the operations end and that alone was a priceless expirience. It has motivated me more than anything else to start my own company one day.
IT taught me a few things, A) If you build it, some one will buy it, B) If your gonna bust your ass off, better to bust your ass off to make yourself rich than some one else, C) When the boss asks you if your interested in going to trade shows, and you say "No" dont expect any more raises, D) If you dont show up 10 minutes early, and leave 10 minutes late, EVEN when your being payed per hour, ANd THINK your making your boss happy because its less time he has to pay you on, YOur not! THe people who are there 10 minutes early, and leave 10 minutes late will keep their job while you wont when cuts need to be made. E)Read B again.

11-15-2004, 11:48 PM

For a bit of insight what it can be like to work for a large corp have a look at this site.


11-16-2004, 07:31 PM
C. Tate: Where'd you go from Cookeville? Still around?

I'm seeing what you mean about grad school being very hands off. I've seen one big exception. We had one proffessor here who was doing research in nano-machining. He had a grad student build a 3 axis manual milling machine that used a small air turbine spinning half a million rpm. Not sure about repeatability or anything, but he claimed a resolution of something like a half nanometer. It had threaded lead screws...you couldn't see the threads with your bare eye. Had planned on working under him, but he moved on to Purdue, and my chances of getting in there are slim at best. Gonna try though.

Meanwhile I'll be shipping my resume out all over the southeast. Anybody hiring? http://bbs.homeshopmachinist.net//smile.gif

11-16-2004, 09:51 PM
hey jeff, if you can get away from school/work come see your shade tree machinist brother out here in the country.

11-16-2004, 10:55 PM
Steve, I haven't seen you on here since you told me about the site. What have you been up to? Sold the jeep?

I'll be home at least Thanksgiving day, and possibly the following Saturday if I finish up the header I'm working on before hand.