Career Advice for Engineering Undergrads
Earlier this fall, I gave a guest lecture to the Electrical and Computer Engineering students at the North Carolina State University. Mostly my presentation focused on how to present their Senior Design Project effectively. But I also gave some career advice that I’d like to share here today.
So, if you’re an undergraduate student in engineering, consider this.
You can’t even imagine right now where it is you’re headed. I thought I was going to be a bench engineer for a long time. But I ended up moving into management quickly and even started my own business. So whenever you have a guest presenter, ask them what their career path was. It’ll show you the possibilities and give you ideas for yourself.
When I graduated from college, the thought of getting an MBA was hideous. (Engineers can be snobs about non-technical types,) I started grad school to get a PhD, and even went through qualifiers and did the research. But my advisor said I should stop and get an MBA — “You’re not going to go into academia and you won’t be a bench engineer for long.” I was mortified, but he was right. He saw something in me that I didn’t realize.
Get real-world experience while you’re still in school.
Co-ops are great experience. Your future employers will thank you because it gives you a head start in understanding how to operate in a work environment. Things as simple as learning to get to work or meetings on time, following through on commitments, and working collaboratively are not skills you necessarily learn in school but are essential in the work environment. Most importantly, you will learn that problem solving is not as easy as opening a textbook and that there are rarely perfect, complete solutions.
A startup can be a good place to work, but honestly my advice is: Don’t work at — or launch — a startup right away. You still have a lot to learn about the business world, and it’s best to learn on someone else’s dime. One advantage of being at a larger company early in your career is that the mistakes you make while you’re still learning don’t have as big an impact. At a startup, the same mistake can cost the startup its future.
Look for every opportunity to have others pay for your education.
Another advantage of working at a large company is that many have training benefits. If your employer offers professional development courses or help with tuition, take advantage of that. Early in my career I took every management course I could. GE Aerospace had a great management training program, and it has served me well over my career.
Remember what’s really important.
Think in terms of what you want to do and what lifestyle you want. You’re only working 8 hours a day — you’re living the rest. That’s how my husband and I decided to move to North Carolina (where it’s significantly warmer than Syracuse!).
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