Having a hard time choosing your engineering major?
Think first about the career you would like to have, then learn which majors can lead you there.
In the traditional model of success for engineers, we’re compelled to find an engineering discipline that we have a blend of aptitude and passion for and one that we can see ourselves becoming specialists in. However, instead of specialists that have devoted their entire lives to one craft, the engineers that thrive in our current world are generalists who seek something very different: a diverse set of skills and expertise; something called range.
An Engineer That Does X
Most engineers call themselves an “X Engineer” because it describes what they do. However, as aspiring engineers, I believe we should strive not to be an “X Engineer,” but instead, an “Engineer That Does X.” Though both titles share the same meaning, the mindsets are fundamentally different. By focusing first on becoming an engineer and then picking a discipline, we’re allowed to pursue skills that specialists would often overlook: things like core engineering and professional soft skills.
A popular mantra states, “You get hired for your hard skills but keep your job and get promoted for your soft skills.” Most discipline-specific hard skills can be learned relatively quickly, but fundamental engineering skills and, even more so, vocational soft skills take years to master but can be applied in innumerably more settings. This is why it is crucial to start working toward mastering these early on.
For a list of important general skills for engineers, reference the links section at the end of this post.
College Should Be a Time To Explore
There are many things you should not rush into, and your career is most certainly one of them. As college students, we’re presented with many opportunities, but I believe the greatest of them is the opportunity to explore. Just like how you get way too many samples before choosing a flavor at the ice cream parlor, I think this is how we should approach choosing an engineering discipline. Do not just compare the facts and figures, but actually “taste” (or experience) each one. I understand that this can seem incredibly cumbersome and daunting, so I’ve got a dual-faceted approach.
First is a question: Would you rather spend another four years pursuing an exciting new career, or 40 years engaging in a lackluster one?
The second is an anecdote. In the world of men’s tennis, most revere Roger Federer as the “Greatest of All Time.” However, he was a generalist: Federer played a handful of sports from a young age, and only started focusing solely on tennis many years later. This pattern has also occurred in many other great athletes, such as Steph Curry and Usain Bolt.
By actively exploring, we are more likely to choose a well-fitting career and succeed in that area . Some mediums for exploring engineering disciplines include sitting in on classes, speaking with those who practice it, club participation, personal projects, co-ops and internships, and academic minors. The balance is in diving deep enough to get a personal experience without considerably hindering your ability to resurface and try something else.
I believe that to become an effective engineer, you should create a very strong foundation of core engineering and soft skills, go knee-deep into a variety of different engineering disciplines that interest you before committing yourself to just one, and suppress the fear associated with taking a career risk and “having to start over,” because every step of the way, you’re developing your most quintessential asset: range.
The Most In-Demand Engineering Soft Skills by Glassdoor
The book that inspired this post: Range by David Epstein
If you found this blog post interesting, you may consider reading “Pick Your Path: A Note to Future Engineering Students” and “The Misconception of College Detours.”