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Engineering freshman. Looking for some advice about my education/career direction

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 
Hey SF,

I am feeling a little lost, and hoping you can help my first a direction. As a preface to this long-winded post, please forgive any error in grammar or structure. Although I generally consider myself a fairly solid writer, I haven't slept in 24 hours, hurray for calculus midterms!

I am currently enrolled in first year Computer Engineering.

I sort of fell into engineering. I had always been strong in the maths and sciences, and after watching older friends graduate with arts degrees only to find themselves working at Starbucks, it seemed like a solid choice. I don't really love the program, but I don't mind it.

I am now three quarters of the way through my first year, and am starting to question my chosen path.

I will come straight out and say that although I can keep up with my peers and my work-load, I am certainly not the top of my class academically. However, where most of my anti-social engineering peers totally fall apart, I hit my stride.

I think my social skills are substantially stronger then most other students in my classes. I can speak confidently in front of a group, I can sell an idea or product, and people generally seem to like me. In high school, I would take a stop to talk to my friends parents about politics, or the current state of the Eurozone instead of heading straight to the scheduled video game session.

I have already used these skills to line up an internship with an engineering firm this summer, frankly ahead of students much more qualified than me.

I have often though I would fit in well in something like economics or law.



Anyways, here are my options as I see them:

a) I push through the next 3 (or maybe 4) years, and finish my engineering degree. Realistically, my marks will probably be pretty mediocre. Will my personal soft skills make up for my lack of technical ability? Does the qualification and credibility of an engineering ring mean that much in the real world? Will less then perfect marks have a huge impact on my marketability as an employee?



b) I transfer to something like commerce or economics. My marks would probably be more solid, although I suspect still not stellar. This seems like it would line me up with a more likely career, but I worry the softer degree will stand out less.



c) Any other ideas?




I have been thinking about this for a while, but would love to get some advice from the pros, I know there are a number of fairly senior people on SF from all sorts of fields, hopefully they can help shed some light on where I should aim.


Thanks so much guys,
-Ben



EDIT:

After skimming a few other threads in this forum I figured I should add.

- I have a handful of fairly strong connections in the worlds of Canadian finance, law, and engineering through my family.

- I am in the lucky position where I can spend some time figuring out what I want to do, and I don't have to stress about piling up student debt.
Edited by Bentech - 2/19/12 at 7:47pm
post #2 of 11
If you already find the academics hard in year 1, you should transfer out before it wrecks your GPA. JMO. It gets a lot harder than calculus.

Computer engineering is a very versatile degree that can you get you jobs in many different fields, but I think you need good grades for the flexibility to really come into play.

And of course there are plenty of engineering jobs that are not purely technical. It's not accurate to suggest that all engineers lack social skills, nor is it true that anyone in any field can truly excel without these skills.
post #3 of 11
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by austinite View Post

If you already find the academics hard in year 1, you should transfer out before it wrecks your GPA. JMO. It gets a lot harder than calculus.
Computer engineering is a very versatile degree that can you get you jobs in many different fields, but I think you need good grades for the flexibility to really come into play.
And of course there are plenty of engineering jobs that are not purely technical. It's not accurate to suggest that all engineers lack social skills, nor is it true that anyone in any field can truly excel without these skills.

Thanks for the reply.

I wanted to clarify that I didn't mean to imply that all engineers lacked social skills, simply that I felt mine were stronger then most of my peers. My main question was mostly about weather those skills would compensate for lower grades, and I think I have found my answering.

Thanks again,
post #4 of 11
So you're saying no matter what you choose to major in, you will just receive "mediocre marks".

Why can't you receive stellar grades, if you claim to be very economically and politically savvy for your age? I think that's something you should look into...
post #5 of 11
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by plei89 View Post

So you're saying no matter what you choose to major in, you will just receive "mediocre marks".
Why can't you receive stellar grades, if you claim to be very economically and politically savvy for your age? I think that's something you should look into...

Thanks for the reply.

Just to clarify, if the tone of the first post came off as a little strange, I was in a slight crisis mode at the time of writing it.

In regards to my inability to score top marks. I was diagnosed with ADD ~9 months ago. I have been meeting frequently with a series of doctors in an effort to come up with a working solution to my issues, but have so far been unable to come up with anything solid. My strength seem to come in the form of intuition, or things that I pick up after periods of unsought exposure. I fall apart when it comes to things that require long periods of focused study. I am trying to deal with this situation as aggressively as possible, I wish this had been dealt with yesterday.


But I digress, that is not the point of this thread. The point was more so to ask those in positions of experience how valuable an engineering degree would be for someone who chooses not to peruse a hard engineering career. Likewise, Is a degree in something like poli-sci as useless as everyone seems to joke it is?


Thanks again for the replies,
Edited by Bentech - 2/15/12 at 5:03pm
post #6 of 11
I'm going to begin this response with my story, because I identify with your situation. Feel free to PM me to discuss further.

I graduated from engineering (computer systems) at the end of 2005, and started working as a network engineer for a telecommunications company. I was barely above a pass - my GPA was 4.1 on a 7 scale, but I always thought I was better at seeing the "big picture" compared to some of the brainier guys. I worked as an engineer for almost 2 years, and by the time I left, I was easily the top performer in my team, mainly based on my attitude and ability to solve problems that fell outside the standard process (the biggest issue I find working with some engineers is the "tunnel vision" approach, where they have no consideration for how what they are doing fits into the bigger picture of a project). I moved into a sales support role, planning to become a pre-sales engineer.

Over my 18 months in sales support I decided I'd prefer to move into Account Management instead. (Account Manager is the "sales bozo" who is responsible for closing deals and keeping existing accounts happy. Pre-Sales is the technical guy who looks good in front of clients and backs up the AM with technical expertise on products.) I've been an AM/BDM for 3 years now and it's great. Selling technical solutions means you are often working directly with engineers in your client base, and understanding the technical advantages of your product helps you differentiate and build a sales strategy which convinces the infrastructure managers and engineers to support your company's technology stack. 6-7 years in, I'm probably out-earning 80-90% of my university peers.

Given you are keeping up with the program, have secured some industry experience, and make up for your marks with charisma, you are going to be in demand when you hit the full-time workforce as a technical guy who can get results and solve problems. My advice is to stick with Engineering, get a professional technical foundation for a couple of years once you finish university, and then move into sales (either pre-sales engineer or Sales Exec). You may not be the star when it comes to your grades, but you are the total package. The only thing I wish I'd done during uni was getting some industry certs - a CCNA goes a long way when you're fresh in the workforce, especially if you have the opportunity to apply it.

Does the engineering degree still have value? Yes, the actual knowledge may not be directly applied but you learn how to work in teams, and how to self-teach technical subjects.
post #7 of 11

 

A couple of comments from a engineer with >25 years experience.

If you don't like it, don't do it, you will never be good at it.  The good news, you can learn to like it, for the intellectual challenge, for the value of the education, for the sheer love of knowledge.

 

Having said that an engineering degree will open a lot of doors and give you a lot of analytical skills others won't have.  If you select your minor and electives carefully, eg, finance/business, you will open up some options.  It is a highly technical society and will only be more so down the road. 

 

Management level engineering is more money management of technical subject matter than technical.  You must know the technical side to manage it, but you will be supervising jr. engineers who will crank out the tech stuff.  I would do one of the core disciplines: electrical, mechanical, civil, etc., and be a generalist until you find your niche.  If you are set on computer, do it through the EE program and make it your emphasis.  But get the basics of power, machines (motors, transformers, etc.), EM field theory, circuit architecture, not just programming.  For example, if you are interested in business, take industrial engineering, if in construction or government, civil engineering, and so forth.

 

A QPA in engineering is not as important as you may think, there is a shortage of engineers.  I'm not saying slack off, just don't sweat it and do your best.  Honestly discipline and the school mean as much as QPA.  Engineering is hard, most schools grade on a curve, so only 10% will have an A average, another 10% B, everyone else will have B to C or drop out.  My class started with 32 and 11 graduated.  Just stick it out, but most importantly LEARN, not memorize, the basics, all else can be derived.  A fundemental understanding will never fail you.  One thing about this profession: the hiring decision will be made by a peer (an engineer) as long as you pass the basic stuff (drugs, criminal, credit, etc.) and they will evaluate you on your skills and not QPA, they will know if you can learn the material, because honestly, when you graduate you know 5% of what you need, and will not be productive for 3-5 years.


Edited by Arthur PE - 2/16/12 at 3:41pm
post #8 of 11
OP, it would appear your family if well-off, may I suggest catching a plane to a place where the drugs are plentiful and the women sexy? Why would you bother with having some sort of lame business career if there's already plenty of money to be around, do you really see yourself designing/selling some industrial machinery to other fat nerds? I mean c'mon! No need to thank me, glad I could help.
post #9 of 11
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Laffertron View Post

I'm going to begin this response with my story, because I identify with your situation. Feel free to PM me to discuss further.
I graduated from engineering (computer systems) at the end of 2005, and started working as a network engineer for a telecommunications company. I was barely above a pass - my GPA was 4.1 on a 7 scale, but I always thought I was better at seeing the "big picture" compared to some of the brainier guys. I worked as an engineer for almost 2 years, and by the time I left, I was easily the top performer in my team, mainly based on my attitude and ability to solve problems that fell outside the standard process (the biggest issue I find working with some engineers is the "tunnel vision" approach, where they have no consideration for how what they are doing fits into the bigger picture of a project). I moved into a sales support role, planning to become a pre-sales engineer.
Over my 18 months in sales support I decided I'd prefer to move into Account Management instead. (Account Manager is the "sales bozo" who is responsible for closing deals and keeping existing accounts happy. Pre-Sales is the technical guy who looks good in front of clients and backs up the AM with technical expertise on products.) I've been an AM/BDM for 3 years now and it's great. Selling technical solutions means you are often working directly with engineers in your client base, and understanding the technical advantages of your product helps you differentiate and build a sales strategy which convinces the infrastructure managers and engineers to support your company's technology stack. 6-7 years in, I'm probably out-earning 80-90% of my university peers.
Given you are keeping up with the program, have secured some industry experience, and make up for your marks with charisma, you are going to be in demand when you hit the full-time workforce as a technical guy who can get results and solve problems. My advice is to stick with Engineering, get a professional technical foundation for a couple of years once you finish university, and then move into sales (either pre-sales engineer or Sales Exec). You may not be the star when it comes to your grades, but you are the total package. The only thing I wish I'd done during uni was getting some industry certs - a CCNA goes a long way when you're fresh in the workforce, especially if you have the opportunity to apply it.
Does the engineering degree still have value? Yes, the actual knowledge may not be directly applied but you learn how to work in teams, and how to self-teach technical subjects.

Thanks for the reply and the recommendation on the certifications, I would have never realized the value of those.

This sounds a lot like my current plan. Stick through engineering in order to pick up the credibility and technical foundation.

When you decided to make the jump to the management side of things, was the transition smooth? Would I feel unqualified compared to colleague with business degrees? I am looking at picking up a management minor, but the idea of adding an even more heavy course load would be hard to sell to myself.



Quote:
Originally Posted by Arthur PE View Post


A couple of comments from a engineer with >25 years experience.
If you don't like it, don't do it, you will never be good at it.  The good news, you can learn to like it, for the intellectual challenge, for the value of the education, for the sheer love of knowledge.

Having said that an engineering degree will open a lot of doors and give you a lot of analytical skills others won't have.  If you select your minor and electives carefully, eg, finance/business, you will open up some options.  It is a highly technical society and will only be more so down the road. 

Management level engineering is more money management of technical subject matter than technical.  You must know the technical side to manage it, but you will be supervising jr. engineers who will crank out the tech stuff.  I would do one of the core disciplines: electrical, mechanical, civil, etc., and be a generalist until you find your niche.  If you are set on computer, do it through the EE program and make it your emphasis.  But get the basics of power, machines (motors, transformers, etc.), EM field theory, circuit architecture, not just programming.  For example, if you are interested in business, take industrial engineering, if in construction or government, civil engineering, and so forth.

A QPA in engineering is not as important as you may think, there is a shortage of engineers.  I'm not saying slack off, just don't sweat it and do your best.  Honestly discipline and the school mean as much as QPA.  Engineering is hard, most schools grade on a curve, so only 10% will have an A average, another 10% B, everyone else will have B to C or drop out.  My class started with 32 and 11 graduated.  Just stick it out, but most importantly LEARN, not memorize, the basics, all else can be derived.  A fundemental understanding will never fail you.  One thing about this profession: the hiring decision will be made by a peer (an engineer) as long as you pass the basic stuff (drugs, criminal, credit, etc.) and they will evaluate you on your skills and not QPA, they will know if you can learn the material, because honestly, when you graduate you know 5% of what you need, and will not be productive for 3-5 years.

Thanks for the reply,

As per my post above, I am leaning more and more towards powering through engineering and trying to move to the management side of things after a few years of workplace experience.

I am really seeing the value in a deep fundamental knowledge of the concepts, not just enough short-term memorization to get by the exam. I found myself in the unsettling position of struggling to remember some of the basic from Calc I earlier this week. Clearly a more knowledge-based approach is called for in the future!

As per your recommendation of switching to a more broad field of study, I am planning on transferring to electrical next year, I'm not that much of a software guy anyways.
post #10 of 11
I'm not nearly as experienced in engineering as some of these other posters; I'm in a chemical engineering PhD program after getting my bachelors' in bioengineering (which is truthfully a still-new field with murky definitions).

Several of my friends have had entry-level engineering jobs for a couple years now, with computer engineering, chemical and mechanical degrees. One thing they all have in common that most of my non-engineering friends don't is they all have jobs. Starting salaries (this is in the PacNW) ranged from 40-60k for beginning process engineering jobs to 100k+ for the computer engineering friend.

Personality and social intelligence are huge differentiators in my opinion, more so than in most fields where the average person is more "normal". I did decently in undergrad but wasn't the smartest student in my class by any means. Having a motivating study group with at least one person more anal/dedicated than you are is a great way to keep up in the classes- otherwise, it's really easy to just see an 10-hour homework assignment as completely insurmountable and fail pretty damn fast. Like in many fields, networking is more important than "they" ever tell you; I can trace every single success I've had that seemed slightly out of my reach to a well-timed email or quick chat with someone important.

One of the fulfilling things about engineering in contrast to other potentially more lucrative fields (law, finance, etc) is you reach a point where you feel like you understand how 'things' work so much better than 99% of the population, and that's pretty cool. Also, (depending heavily on what actual job you get into), there's a high potential to materially add to human knowledge and innovation. I'm sure the high-finance people here would disagree, but spending your entire career making money with money seems like it would really burn me out eventually.
post #11 of 11
Stick it through.

Please stick it through.

The world does not need another "business" major.

Even if some people say we don't need more Comp Engineers, you least have better chance at doing other things with probably the last worthwhile Bachelor's degree (Engineering in general).
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