What engineering really taught me
As someone with an engineering degree and a job in a field 180 degrees different from my major, I often get asked why I decided to stick with the more difficult and less sexy major. As much as I loved pulling all-nighters to finish 30 page lab reports and spending countless hours perfecting an FEA, I definitely took the path of most resistance when it came to my ultimate career aspirations. Of course, I am fortunate and thankful that I was able to perform well in such a rewarding field, but eventually, I realized engineering wasn’t my true passion.
While it is true that I could have reached the same destination with a little less blood, sweat, and tears, I would never change a single thing about the decision I made. Despite the fact that I am not necessarily in love with technical engineering roles, there are so many important concepts that can be learned from engineering that reach so much further than machine problems and Nusselt numbers.
It can be argued the items below could be taught in different courses of study and every person has a different testimonial and perspective, but I stand by the fact that the demands, challenges, and processes taught in an engineering curriculum reinforce these concepts better than any other program I have seen. Without further adieu, the following lessons are just a handful of the ones I will never forget, as taught by the engineering curriculum:
Be humble. You are smart, but not that smart
I will never forget moving into my dorm freshman year, meeting my roommate that already had junior academic standing prior setting foot on campus. I quickly learned that though I succeeded in my small town and was relatively smart, there is an extensive population of people that know so much more than you. Everyone knows at least one thing that you don’t…or in my case, at least a hundred things.
You likely won’t be right the first time. Don’t give up
If you had to boil down how I got through Chemistry (barely) to one finite point, it would have to be the fact that the professor allowed 99 attempts on all of the homework…which I often used all of. In life, it is very rare that you solve a very difficult problem completely, let alone on the first attempt. Put your best foot forward on each effort and be ready to learn from your mistakes before you take another stab.
Succeeding alone is not any more rewarding, but it is at least 4x the amount of work
Ask any engineer, you could make it through school on your own, without collaborating…if you don’t value sleep or a social life. Complex problems are meant to be approached from many different perspectives and certain strengths will be highlighted for different types. Embrace diversity and teamwork, using it to your advantage in order to efficiently accomplish tasks.
You can learn anything…with time
At the end of each semester, I couldn’t help but be awestruck at the amount I learned. With some hard work, time, and energy I was able to effectively learn concepts that were entirely foreign to me just a few months prior. The correct balance of motivation, resources, and time can grant you the ability to learn or even master any skill or subject.
Work hard, play hard
Frankly, Engineering is a heavy workload. It’s not a game. There’s a reason our computer labs and library are open 24/7…and are constantly filled. With that being said, too much hard work can burn you out and lead to a host of other issues. Moderation is key; finding a way to restore balance is integral to long-term mental and physical stability.
Your dreams can become a reality
I remember sitting at an engineering conference last spring when the speaker asked “Who here knows exactly what they want to do when they grow up?” It was obviously a rhetorical question, but against my better judgement, I raised my hand. “I want to be the general manager of the Indianapolis Colts,” I said with gumption. Engineering taught me if I could get through four years of this ridiculousness, I could accomplish anything. Life is short, but any goal can be attained. You owe it to yourself to pursue your childhood dreams (see The Last Lecture).
I would be lying if I said I didn’t repeatedly bang my head against a brick wall here and there trying to plug in some MatLab code, but when it is all said and done, I am thankful for my engineering education. Both the technical lessons and the soft skills alike have transformed me into the person I am today and for that, I am eternally grateful.
To any young student interested in pursuing a degree in engineering, my advice will always be the following: if you have the tools to succeed (strong math and science skills), there is no program of study that will open more doors for you than engineering. Sure, it will be tough and uncomfortable at times, but remember: nothing grows in your comfort zone. Step outside, work hard, and reap the benefits.