Empowering Mindset

Engineering isn’t just about the properties of materials or the laws of various formulae. It’s about optimizing one’s thinking towards the world and how we interact with it. Whether the goal is to build a bridge or to decide which job offer to accept, engineers have a problem-solving mindset well-suited to decision-making.

Guru Madhavan’s book Applied Minds: How Engineers Think outlines three specific mental tools that engineers use both on the job and in their daily lives.

  • First among those tools is modular systems thinking: the understanding that processes can be deconstructed, reconstructed, and applied across a number of systems. With this mindset, engineers are able to sense a structure that might not be readily visible to a non-engineer.
  • Secondly, engineers are trained from the outset to work within a system of constraints. The physical universe is guided by laws and principles—and engineers use constraints like these to their advantage rather than seeing them as obstacles along the way.
  • Finally, engineers understand the necessity and power of trade-offs. This allows them to juggle between multiple alternatives and make an informed decision based upon the specifics of a situation.

Taken together, these tools form the engineering mindset. With a focus on finding the underlying problem, prioritizing simplicity, and testing thoroughly, this mindset can be applied to practically any non-engineering subject—which suggests, perhaps, that there is no such thing as a non-engineering subject to begin with.

Career Flexibility

As an engineer, you get to choose where you ply your trade. The fundamentals of engineering are applicable across a wide variety of different fields. Everyone knows that engineers can work for aerospace firms, pharmaceutical companies, and IT ventures. But even within their own subdiscipline, there’s a large amount of flexibility for engineers when choosing where to work.

Engineers work for Disney, NASA, Tesla, and Google. Engineers build skateparks, coordinate pyrotechnics, and consult filmmakers in Hollywood. A software engineer could work for an e-commerce business and an industrial engineer could work for a toy company. And, overall, engineers are listed as one of the most common professions to allow remote work and flexible scheduling.

The utility of an engineering degree is high enough that you don’t necessarily need to take a job strictly related to the subject. While a doctor’s skillset is specialized to a point where it can’t crossover to many other industries, the engineer’s skillset is a boone to practically any employer.

Positive Impact

Engineers have a pronounced impact on the world. From designing our roads, to developing our smartphones, to changing the way we collect and store energy, society relies upon engineers to structure the ways we live. While a lot of the fanfare surrounding engineering has to do with small luxuries and everyday conveniences, many engineers are actively working to make the world a better, safer, more equitable place to live.

If you want to make a difference, becoming an engineer is a good first step. Engineers are finding ways to produce cruelty-free meat. They’re building electric airplanes that cut emissions. They’re literally pulling water from the sky to reduce the burden on local supplies. With engineering principles in mind, city planners and architects are looking towards the advent of smart cities, where waste and pollution be reduced to the benefit of all. Engineers aren’t mere passengers to the future; they’re active pilots towards it.

Personal Creativity

We may think of engineers as sitting on an opposite end of the spectrum from artists, but that’s not necessarily true. Creativity is baked into engineering. Every day, engineers are tasked with new puzzles to solve. The most obvious benefit of this creativity is that an engineer’s job remains fresh and interesting, with opportunities for self-expression. But there are other objective benefits that go with it, too.

A study in the Journal of Positive Psychology asked over 600 volunteers to keep a diary for two weeks and rate both how creative they had been over the course of a day and describe their overall mood. The study found a clear link between creativity and happiness: in the days following an uptick in creativity, respondents reported boosts to enthusiasm and energy.

Another study in the American Journal of Public Health found that creative engagement boosted not just psychological health, but physical health, too. Creative people have better immune systems and the act of creation can help quiet the estimated 60,000 thoughts a day the average person has. Being an engineer means using creativity everyday—and reaping the intrinsic benefits.

High Pay

Engineering is one of the highest paid professions in the US. The average annual wage for an engineer in 2016 was over $91,000. And within engineering there are several lucrative subdisciplines. Petroleum engineers, for example, earn an average of $137,170 per year. Software engineers earn an average of $105,590 per year. Across the profession, even engineers in the bottom 10th percentile make an average of $55,670 per year, which is significantly higher than the median salary of all workers ($37,040). Meanwhile, in the 90th percentile, the average engineer earns $147,670.

When you take into account that an engineer can start working with only a bachelor’s degree, while a lawyer or doctor needs several years of costly extra schooling, the financial incentive to become an engineer grows even further.

Employment Opportunities

The world needs more engineers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be nearly 140,000 new engineering jobs created between 2016 and 2026. The biggest growth is expected in civil, mechanical, industrial, and electrical engineering, but every subdiscipline is projected to add new jobs.

Furthermore, there’s an increasing number of specializations and careers which require engineering skills. Emerging markets like nanoengineering, AI, and data science are hungry for educated engineers that can apply their skillset across different aspects of a business. Employment opportunities shouldn’t be a problem for engineers in the future.

Job Satisfaction

Job satisfaction is one of the most important aspects of choosing a line of work. People who are more satisfied with their jobs have an understandable uptick in motivation, performance, and overall happiness. So perhaps the most convincing reason to become an engineer is that the vast majority of engineers say they enjoy what they do.

An Electronic Design survey of 1,350 engineers found that 90 percent of those surveyed said they would recommend engineering as a career path to young people. A similar survey at Machine Design found that 87 percent of respondents were satisfied to extremely satisfied with their job. The biggest factor contributing to this was reported to be the constantly evolving challenges that the work presents, meaning engineers are actively stimulated on a day-to-day basis. Other main contributors to the high job satisfaction included high compensation and the opportunity to work on products that can benefit society.

Becoming an engineer comes with a high salary, a creative job, and a growing number of employment opportunities. But none of that’s worth it if you don’t love what you do. And, fortunately for engineers, job satisfaction is practically written into the employment contract.

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