Looking back at the engineering career
Last week marked my 6th year anniversary of leaving the engineering career. In the spring of 2013, finally I said to myself: “25 years in the IT is long enough to call it a career. Let me get out of it.”
Here I am. Six years later, I’m happier and healthier. Today I’d like to do some reflections about the engineering career. It may not be that objective, as it’s just my thought.
How did I end up being an engineer?
When I graduated from the high school, I was way too young to figure out what I wanted to do for my life. Just over the age of 15 then, my whole world was within the 15 miles of radius. I never got a chance to take a train, not mentioning flying. Dad’s Bicycle was the only transportation means.
How did the outside world look like? I had no clue.
My dad was a primary school teacher. His experience showed that, being a teacher was a tough job. My aunt (my dad’s sister) was an anesthesiologist. She told me that, working with patients every day was hard. This excluded two big professions.
At that time, my brother was a sophomore in an engineering college. I didn’t mind following his steps on the day one. My parents and teachers thought that engineering would fit me as well, as I was good at math and physics.
Here we go.
Thanks to my beloved parents and high school teachers for making that big decision for me 38 years ago. My special thanks to my dad, who passed away six months ago.
An insider’s observation about engineering:
When I was an engineer, I didn’t realize the uniqueness of this profession. That’s probably because I didn’t pay attention to it. After leaving the profession, I started thinking how engineers are different from other professionals.
I don’t remember how many times we didn’t like sales people, and made fun of them at the back. As part of the job, I was involved in the meetings and decision makings about selecting the new products or systems. We invited different vendors in, listened to their presentations and sales pitch, and tortured them with endless questions.
Only when I became a personal banker in 2013, a sales job, I started admiring the sales profession. That’s great people skill. It’s very important to know how to present a complicated product in simple and easy-to-understand terms.
The best sales people never give people an impression they are selling stuff. They are connecting with people, with passion, patience, and persistence.
I knew one sales guy. He was just excellent. One time we were doing the product evaluations, and his company was one of the vendors. Every time he called, he wanted to check how he could help, and any questions we had. He was not pushy at all, but wanted to let us know he was always available.
One day, my coworker got a recorded voicemail from this sales guy. That was the coworker’s birthday, and the message was played to our group: this sales guy sang the song “Happy birthday” in the voicemail. The voice may not sound that great as Frank Sinatra, but that was so touching, genuine, and hilarious.
- Talking to machines vs. talking to people
Engineers love talking to machines, and they are very good at it. The codes, commands are all for machines. Let’s try this. Doesn’t work? Let’s try that. Still doesn’t work? Okay, let’s reboot the machine.
Talking to people? They try to minimize it. It’s called “make it short and sweet”.
At my last engineer job, we were using the instant messenger. It was useful sometimes, but could be very distracting. My coworkers sat next to my cubicle, and sometimes sent me work-related messages. I really felt it was weird, and funny.
Many engineers talk bluntly in some ways. They don’t feel the need of diplomacy or compromise. They either like the idea or simply hate the idea. Yeah, binary is their friend: either 0 or 1, with no middle ground.
Bill Gates used to be a typical engineer. You heard about his blunt legacy like “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” He seems softened a lot after leaving Microsoft. Probably aging changes people? I don’t know.
Yesterday I got an email from his Gates Notes blog. The subject of the email is: “I love this book, and its author”. You know which book he is talking about? His wife Melinda Gates’ book. That’s sweet.
I used to like to say: “That person doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” Now I feel that’s too strong, and a little bit arrogant. There are better ways to say I disagree with someone.
I don’t regret being an engineer at all. That has become part of who I am.
To me, some years were more stressful than others, but overall it was a good profession. It helped me to accumulate wealth faster and retire earlier.
I also met a lot of great people at work. A few became my friends, and we kept in touch over the years.
As you know, there are some bloggers in this FIRE community who are engineers. Here I’d like to mention a few:
- Joe of Retire By 40
- Justin of Root of Good
- Jeremy of Go Curry Cracker!
- Michael of Financially Alert
- Ms ZiYou
Do you have any family members or friends who are engineers? Can you tell if they are different from others?