Author Topic: Engineering vs. Education  (Read 1129 times)

mwatrous

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Engineering vs. Education
« on: May 08, 2019, 02:32:15 PM »
Engineers and Teachers, would you recommend your job or field? Why or why not?

Hi everyone, my name is Max and I've been a passive reader of MMM for a while, but I wanted turn a question over to the forums for some advice.

I'm graduating next May from CU Boulder with a degree in both mechanical engineering and secondary physics education, and I'm having trouble deciding where to start my career. While I am a technically proficient engineering student, my passion is working with people, and I have always loved learning.

Teaching:
I taught many classes in middle school, highschool and college, and despite the grading, I have always enjoyed being an educator. However, while the summers seem really nice, my Mom is a 5th grade teacher and talks about how teachers tend to be payed very little, overworked and pushed around by students, parents and the administration. With the starting salary being 39k in CO, I figure both my SO and I could reach FIRE in approximately 10-12 years.

Engineering:
Engineering would have a much higher starting salary, with an average of 60k in the CO area. Keeping my expenses the same it means I could be FI in 7-8 years! This number is very important to me because I would like to reach FI before having kids (both my SO and I are 23). In addition, some engineers I have spoken with say that the work/life balance is better in engineering, the job is less stressful than college, and that they enjoy the people they work with. However, I really enjoy helping people, and engineering industry often seems the opposite of service oriented.

So I wanted to turn it over to the teachers and the engineers in the forums:


Do you feel like your job provides meaning?
What are the best and worst parts of your job?
Work/life balance?
What would your ideal career be?


Thanks in advance for any advice!! I'm looking forward to hearing from this great community. :)

Max Watrous

PS. Feel free to PM me!

Watchmaker

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Re: Engineering vs. Education
« Reply #1 on: May 08, 2019, 02:54:13 PM »
There are plenty of engineers and teachers on this forum, so either looks to be a reasonable choice.

I have an engineering degree, and for part of my career I did a kind of engineering. I wouldn't necessarily worry about not dealing with people if you go into engineering. A lot of engineering work involves interacting with people. If you have particularly good "soft skills" as an engineer, you'll probably get even more opportunities to interact with people since many engineers are not interested in that part of the job.

There's a huge variety in engineering jobs, so I think you'd need to look in more detail at the kinds of engineering jobs that might appeal to you. However, since you don't seem to be particularly drawn towards engineering and you've enjoyed your teaching experience so far, I'd say it sounds like teaching might be the right route for you.

To answer your actual questions:
My job involves designing and producing energy efficiency and green energy products--it has felt like a very meaningful career.
Best part is traveling to meet with researchers all over the world and talk about their work (and sometimes help it get to market). Worse part is meetings and bosses.
Work/life balance has been fair at times, poor at other. Never excellent. This feeds in to my desire for FIRE.
I'm not sure I have an ideal career. I like variety.

FIRE 20/20

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Re: Engineering vs. Education
« Reply #2 on: May 08, 2019, 03:08:55 PM »
Engineer here.

There is an enormous amount of variety in engineering jobs, so take that into consideration.  I would recommend engineering over teaching.  The difference in pay is larger than you indicate because it's very typical for new engineers' salaries to rise quickly in the first 5-10 years.  And based on what I see from my friends who are teachers the work life balance is much better with engineering.

Do you feel like your job provides meaning?  The actual work I produce doesn't provide much meaning in my life.  However, I was moved into technical leadership (not management) very early in my career and I believe I did provide a lot of valuable mentoring and guidance to the people who worked for me.  I also got a lot of personal satisfaction from doing a great job by delivering a product that made my customers happy while also creating an environment where my team didn't need to work overtime or perform miracles at the end.  It's very satisfying having a team that's happy with their work life balance and a customer who thinks you're delivering a great product.  But the actual product itself?  meh. 

What are the best and worst parts of your job? Providing career guidance and mentoring to junior engineers and getting paid very well for an easy, low stress 40-hour work week, and solving technical problems are the best parts.  The worst part has been the rare occasion when I've had a terrible boss.  But I've been able to remove myself from those situations pretty quickly. 

Work/life balance?   Where I work, this is up to each person.  Right now engineers are in very high demand, so it isn't a problem when they set boundaries.  However, very few have whatever it takes to actually create a reasonable work/life balance.  Before I FIREd, I know that any one of my team members who asked to work from home, transition to part time, get a raise, or pretty much anything else would have gotten it.  I had one person who was a very low performer for their grade level, and when he decided to retire to move closer to be with his grandchildren we bent over backwards to try to get him to work remotely.  It's better to have a low performer working remotely than an empty seat, which given the current environment is what we would have had.  He was incredibly appreciative and stayed a few months longer, but eventually retired.  Most people, for whatever reason, still seem to feel like they need to keep pushing hard at work and short-changing their real life.  With the job market as it is right now, I suspect in most engineering workplaces if you're doing good work you should be able to ask for the world and get it. 

What would your ideal career be?  Being FIREd!  Seriously, I had just about the perfect job for me - great management, near total independence, a great team, high pay, low stress, flexible hours, and I only worked an average of 35 hours a week as I burned down a high PTO balance for the past year+ as I eased into FIRE.  But that's nowhere near as good as not working. 

One last thing - at my company, there are a lot of opportunities to do other things that might scratch the "meaning" itch you have.  My company supports the local science fair each year with organizing and judges, there are a variety of company sponsored volunteer groups, and your local library or school is probably looking for math tutors. 

Cranky

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Re: Engineering vs. Education
« Reply #3 on: May 08, 2019, 03:25:53 PM »
I know some very happy engineers - really, my extended family is pretty evenly divided between teachers and engineers. I've been on the teaching side, and really - I loved it. I do think this is a tough time for public school teaching, but science is definitely an in demand field.

I taught in a small private school. The pay was crummy, but it worked out great for us.

Goldielocks

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Re: Engineering vs. Education
« Reply #4 on: May 08, 2019, 03:35:44 PM »
I started engineering, and now I am part time teaching.

Engineering:
Great starting salary.
It is a creative job, centered around problem solving.   If you like variety and problem solving this is great.
Many career paths / choices, so hard to comment.
I was able to FIRE after 20 years, 2 kids, spouse, as a single income, in a very HCOL area that also have low engineering salaries (and modest benefits with public companies)
If you are a woman, starting in Engineering is a great way to become a C-Suite executive (other than PR / HR token director).   
Excellent opportunity to travel with work as an Engineer, if you want.
Options for government work, steady work, if that is more your thing.
Limited vacation (I usually had 3 weeks vacation a year, 6-10 days sick leave and 9 days federal holiday.. for most of my career after 5 years experience)
I chose the higher income path, it was very stressful... and I FIRED because of it (both the money and stress).

Teaching
Kids / students are amazing.   They motivate me.  They can do so many things I never thought possible.
I triple hate the red tape and stupid rules, and politics, etc.
Very little variety in comparison to engineering
Pension is good.
Lower Salary for first 7 years, then ramps up to a decent rate (espeically if you look at benefits) by year 9/10.
Less opportunity to make REALLY BIG MONEY.
Options for semi-retired life with substitute teaching at a high rate of pay.
Stuck to one teaching jurisdiction or you have to get your license updated.
Stuck to one school system or you lose seniority (you better like the district you start in!)
Not a whole lot of support to help plan / develop your lessons, other than purchasing materials en masse.  (Lots of options if you do, but most plans don't fit your specific teaching approach..)
Students come with parents.  Some parents are a bigger PIA than engineering clients because people really CARE about their kids.
Marking. and more marking. and yet more marking.
Summers offs.

« Last Edit: May 08, 2019, 03:38:28 PM by Goldielocks »

RetiredAt63

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Re: Engineering vs. Education
« Reply #5 on: May 08, 2019, 04:08:15 PM »
My Ex and I were both College teachers.  Does it help to know that DD swore up, down and sideways that she would never be a teacher?  And she isn't.

NV Teacher

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Re: Engineering vs. Education
« Reply #6 on: May 09, 2019, 04:44:24 PM »
Teacher - just finishing up my 29th year.

Do you feel like your job provides meaning?     
Absolutely.  There is nothing better than working with students and getting them excited about learning. 


What are the best and worst parts of your job? 
Best - the kids and working with people that share the same passion for education that I do.
Worst - the paperwork, the people that control the education system that have no clue what our job entails or what we really do on a day to day basis, and the parents that have checked out of parenting their children.  (Luckily they are rare but you will have to deal with a few of them every year.) 


Work/life balance?
That's a challenge at times.  There will be times in teaching that 24/7 isn't enough time to do everything that you need or want to get done.  But that comes in fits and spurts.  You have to keep things together and keep things balanced to stay healthy.

What would your ideal career be?
Teaching.  I love it more now than I did when I started.  Having said that I'm certainly glad that I'm on this end instead of just starting out.  I will say that I don't get the sense that my experience is typical from what I see and hear around me everyday.  Most teachers at my school would quit tomorrow if they could.



pvnotp

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Re: Engineering vs. Education
« Reply #7 on: May 09, 2019, 06:18:07 PM »
I taught high school math for six years at a private school.

Do you feel like your job provides meaning?
I did at first, but that feeling wore off after a few years.  There are a few students who I turned onto mathematics and that feels good.  But I spent a huge majority of my time getting kids to learn skills that they purged from their brains as soon as they could.  I taught 9th and 10th graders and got to see first hand each year just how much they forgot over the summer.  I felt a bit like Sisyphus.  Eventually I started feeling that most of high school math education was a huge waste of time for a majority of students.  It was pretty hard to keep positive about my job after that.

What are the best and worst parts of your job?
I just loved talking about math.  It's a pleasure to share your passion with others.  I also loved the autonomy I had to develop lessons as I see fit.  I was at a private school though, so ymmv.
The worst part was definitely the parents.  It's been five years since I quit teaching, and I still find myself rehearsing the things I wish I could have said to some of them.

Work/life balance?
My work/life balance as a teacher was awful.  Just completely unmanageable.  The first year I just didn't know how to handle it and dropped the ball constantly and cried all the time.  Then I manned up and started putting in 14 hour days and working through the summers to get a leg-up on my materials.  After two years of that pace, I was finally in a place where I could just pull out a lesson plan or a quiz from last year instead of making everything from scratch all the time.  But I still had at least 6-8 hours of grading per week, which I just hated.  I would procrastinate and then wake up at 3am to get it done.  I didn't make time to eat breakfast or pack a lunch, so I only ate one meal a day.  I would say this is all 90% my fault, though.  I structured my workflow to be good for my students but very bad for me.  But I think having a very rough time in the first year or two is pretty typical.

What would your ideal career be?
Retired, but I might volunteer at a high school and run a math circle or just tutor.


After I quit teaching, I got a degree in computer science.  I decided to leave teaching because it didn't feel meaningful anymore, and I wanted a better work/life balance and more pay.  I am starting a job as a software engineer in a few weeks, so  we'll see if the switch was a good idea.

js82

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Re: Engineering vs. Education
« Reply #8 on: May 11, 2019, 08:20:56 AM »
Do you feel like your job provides meaning?

Sometimes, but not as much as I'd like currently.  My background is in chemical engineering and materials science, so I *could* do everything from working in an oil refinery(which I'd hate) to working in the semiconductor industry to helping solar panel companies improve their processes to make their products cheaper and more efficient(which I'd probably feel much better about).

Quote
What are the best and worst parts of your job?

Favorite things to do at work are: A) Designing new processes, and B) solving problems via extensive usage of data.

Least favorite parts of job: way too many meetings and dealing with bureaucracy(this is less engineering-specific and more a matter of organizational culture).

I'm going to add another thing here that doesn't neatly fit into other categories, because I think it's important in the discussion as well:

Many engineering professions can be high-floor, low-ceiling professions.  That is to say, while the starting pay is good, and it scales a bit, peak pay potential is seldom all that high even if you're really, really good as an engineer(some exceptions in the software industry, but I've found this to be true in "classical" engineering).  It's a lot easier to advance in organizations in terms of both influence and pay as an average manager than as an excellent engineer.  Maybe you're okay with it, maybe you're not - but it's part of the reality for many engineering careers.

Quote
Work/life balance?

Has ranged from decent to absolutely awful over the years. Again, depends on the job you take and the organization culture.  I've gone through stretches where I've done a ton of travel and/or worked long hours which has led to a lack of non-work life - but in the case of the travel it was mostly by choice.

Quote

What would your ideal career be?[/b]

Honestly, if I could take my favorite parts of my current job, and get them in an organization that had an effective, empowering culture, in an industry more oriented toward improving the world than my current one, it'd be a pretty damn good job.

kenner

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Re: Engineering vs. Education
« Reply #9 on: May 11, 2019, 09:35:28 AM »
Engineer here.

Do you feel like your job provides meaning?
Depends what you mean by meaning.  We're definitely not changing the world, although the industry as a whole very much has, but for me personally I get to spend time on problems I find interesting and engaging, working with a team of people I like and who keep me sharp.  The company I work for pays reasonable salaries and has good environmental and social policies.  For me, that's enough.

What are the best and worst parts of your job?
Best: problem solving and getting to see things I've help build go live in the real world.  Worst: politics, although at my level it's more that they're visible and wasting my time.  Not looking forward to the point where I have to start playing the game.

Work/life balance?
Very much depends on where in a project life cycle we are; there have definitely been some long days as projects hit critical points.  On the other hand, in my case some of the balance part involves running outreach programs through the local schools and makerspaces, and my workplace supports that with both funding and flexibility.

What would your ideal career be?
Career-wise I'm fairly happy with where I am.  I'd like to be able to spend more time on the outreach programs so doing something like going part time would be nice, but that's not the easiest thing to arrange (and the few people I know who've tried it aren't really working part time anyway).  Generally it's not important enough for me to push for right now.

Goldielocks

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Re: Engineering vs. Education
« Reply #10 on: May 11, 2019, 04:29:18 PM »

Many engineering professions can be high-floor, low-ceiling professions.  That is to say, while the starting pay is good, and it scales a bit, peak pay potential is seldom all that high even if you're really, really good as an engineer(some exceptions in the software industry, but I've found this to be true in "classical" engineering).  It's a lot easier to advance in organizations in terms of both influence and pay as an average manager than as an excellent engineer.  Maybe you're okay with it, maybe you're not - but it's part of the reality for many engineering careers.

Interesting.   In my experience, it is the opposite for a woman in engineering (or perhaps for anyone who would "stand out" if they were an exceptionally good engineer, such as a visible disability).   It is much harder advance in general management, against so many candidates that look like you would expect, yet so easy to do in engineering (advance to the top director and COO type positions).   I also note that the cities I worked in are in fairly resource - driven economies or utilities, where engineering generally is valued, even for the retail and logistics companies I worked in.   

civil4life

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Re: Engineering vs. Education
« Reply #11 on: May 13, 2019, 10:47:49 AM »

I work in the public sector as a civil engineer.  I do get a bit more people interaction then some engineers.

Do you feel like your job provides meaning?
Absolutely, I work in Public Works.  The projects I work on provide numerous benefits to the entire community.

What are the best and worst parts of your job?
I do very little design.  I wish I had more technical work to my job.  I mostly do project management.

Work/life balance?
Working for the public sector I get plenty of vacation and sick time.  The only thing that annoys me is their antiquated views on AWS and teleworking.  I spend a lot of time twiddling my thumbs.  "Butt in Seat" time is more important than work product.

What would your ideal career be?
Actually, this is one of things I was going to suggest for you is possibly some adjunct professor work. 

If I were in your shoes, I would definitely make engineering my day job.  However look for a position that puts people in the forefront.  Maybe more of the project management side than research and development.  Then, use spare/hobby time for the education.  Like I said adjunct professor, tutoring, volunteer for STEM activities.  Many schools love having engineers come in and doing activities with the kids.  Judge your local science fair.  I am a member of SWE which does a ton of k-12 outreach.  Although the numbers are very very low it does not discriminate against men.  Check out the local professional section and see what type of outreach they do.

Bartleby_the_Scrivener

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Re: Engineering vs. Education
« Reply #12 on: May 16, 2019, 07:46:30 PM »
I spent seven years teaching high school. I enjoyed many of my students and inspired a few of them. That being said, I would choose engineering in a heartbeat if I were in your position. If you decide to teach, you can always do that in ten years. It will be harder going the opposite way.
« Last Edit: May 16, 2019, 08:42:07 PM by Bartleby_the_Scrivener »

zarfus

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Re: Engineering vs. Education
« Reply #13 on: May 17, 2019, 10:57:00 AM »
I was a software engineer for 8+ years, jumped ship to be an engineering/comp sci high school teacher and am just finishing up my first year.

Do you feel like your job provides meaning?
Engineering: At first I did because I was learning a lot of new things and felt like I was getting more and more opportunities.  Eventually the opportunities became more managerial, tons of meetings and overall disagreement with product managers. God, I hate the number of managers I used to have to report every detail to.

Teaching: Absolutely.  There are some days where the kids just dont want to learn, so it is tough.  But more often than not, I find the kids fun and they find me motivating.

What are the best and worst parts of your job?
Engineering: The meetings and mid/upper management tiers were awful.  I did think about going to a start up, but didn't like the idea of having so much of my work life dependent on such a few number of people.  I love the technology and finishing products.  However, sometimes product deadlines were very stressful.

Teaching: Kids that don't care kill the mood for a whole class.  Parents that don't care make me very sad. There's a lot more invested in these kids than I gave to anything in engineering.  I love that each day feels totally different, each hour feels very different.  I can have a terrible class, then turn around and have the best experience in my next class.  The money + benefits + time off is actually pretty damn comparable to my engineering salary, I have no complaints with that.

Work/life balance?
Engineering: I loved getting in early and leaving early.  I hated meetings that were scheduled late, or required OT for project deadlines.  Overall, pretty good.  I tried going part time to spend more time at home and they rejected it, so it was almost perfect.

Teaching: This is a huge reason why I changed careers.  I want summers off with my kids, and I want my holidays to line up with theirs.  I get in at 7, leave at 330, almost every day.  I find that I'm much less stressed as a teacher, even as a brand new teacher.

What would your ideal career be?
Right now, my kids are too little that I'm more of a daddy daycare during the summers.  But I can see teaching and programming colliding in the future, where I can start doing more freelance stuff on the side as I get more used to my curricula, or just work in the summer.  I feel that I stashed away enough as an engineer that I truly feel like I'm working my retirement job.

Also, being an electives teacher is the best.  Kids want to be there, parents don't pressure you as much as grad required classes, etc. 10/10 would jump ship again!

ericrugiero

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Re: Engineering vs. Education
« Reply #14 on: May 17, 2019, 10:57:20 AM »
I'm an engineer and it's a great field.  There is so much variety in what you can do.  Some jobs are in a cubicle all day with very little interaction.  You can avoid that if you want to work with people more.  If you have good people skills that can be a huge advantage because that's an area many engineers struggle in. 

Do you feel like your job provides meaning?  Most of the time.

What are the best and worst parts of your job?  Best- working with lots of great people and working on lots of cool equipment.  Worst- the culture here is very poor.  That is extremely frustrating.

Work/life balance? Has been good most of my career.  Currently it's not so good but I expect it to improve. 

What would your ideal career be? I'd like to work for a company with a better culture and have more freedom. 

Teaching can also be a good career and would have some great benefits (teaching engaged students would be rewarding, summers off would be nice, retirement plans are typically good, etc).  But, I know several teachers who are very frustrated with the current system being geared towards test results and having to deal with parents who blame the teachers for everything rather than dealing with their kids. 

In your shoes I would probably pick engineering.  MAKE SURE you find a company with a good culture of teamwork, accountability, engagement and good leadership.  That will make all the difference in the world. 

Boofinator

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Re: Engineering vs. Education
« Reply #15 on: May 17, 2019, 11:53:58 AM »
Engineering, hands down (as someone who has done both). You can always go back to teaching, after you're well on your way to FI.

ericbonabike

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Re: Engineering vs. Education
« Reply #16 on: May 17, 2019, 12:08:30 PM »
I'm an engineer.
My overall job satisfaction is good.  Am I doing anything that will solve the worlds ills, save a persons life, etc?  Nope. 
But I wrote some badass code the other day which cut simulation run time from 72 hours down to about 24 hours.  I was stoked.


I guess I would ask you the following question:

If you become an "engineer", can you eventually switch and go back to teaching?
Yes.  I've met many such people and you can get a teaching certificate, etc.   At least in my state.

But, if you become a teacher, can you then make a midcareer shift back to engineering?
ummm, that my friend, might be quite a bit harder.  I've been doing this for 20 years, and I know of one person in my circle who did that. 

So, that's a one way operation.  Were it me, I'd try my hand at engineering, establish a modicum of FI.  Then reassess, and if your passions lead you back to teaching, follow it.  Secure in the knowledge that your FU money can let you work any job you want.

sisto

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Re: Engineering vs. Education
« Reply #17 on: May 17, 2019, 12:35:55 PM »
Engineering then after FI you can teach. There are plenty of different types of engineering jobs that allow you to interact with people. Having that ability will take you far as an engineer.

Alternatepriorities

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Re: Engineering vs. Education
« Reply #18 on: May 17, 2019, 12:57:18 PM »
I'm a mechanical engineer and my wife is a math and science teacher...

I'd vote for pursuing engineering first followed by a teaching career if you don't enjoy engineering or part time teaching once you FIRE. Why? First, making the engineering salary first gives the extra investments longer to grow. Second I suspect it will be easier to make the career change to teacher with a degree that is a few years old than the getting a job as an engineer five years after graduating... You'll need to pass the praxis and get a teaching licence, but if it's like my wife's program you need to do that anyway.

On the specifics:

Do you feel like your job provides meaning?
My wife definitely won this one. I did have a few projects I was really proud of but a lot of my office career felt like Scott Adams was watching us and then writing Dilbert. Since I've been working for myself it's been much better.

What are the best and worst parts of your job?
Since going self employed the best part has been the schedule. When I was full time the best part was working with the hardware I designed and traveling for field work. Both are lacking with remote work. My wife really likes her work most of the time. The MMM blog and this forum are filled with pages of reasons people want to leave engineering. I could relate to much of it when I was in the office full time... The worst part of self employed engineering is the variability of earnings which I am comfortable with thanks to a short full time career and mustacian life choices. The worst part of my wife's time as a classroom teacher was the hours. (see below)

Work/life balance?
Engineering - Decent in the office and excellent if you account for the much shorter career.
Teaching - This is up to you. Do you want to be a great teacher? Expect to compress a full year's work work into 8 months. Do you want to do the bare minimum not to get fired? You can probably work 40 hours a week have a summer vacation, a Christmas break and a spring break!

What would your ideal career be?
It's not on your options list, but if I could make the same hourly wage cutting and splitting firewood as engineering I'd just do that a few hours every day. Fortunately we have nearly enough little green employees working for us now that cutting firewood doesn't need to earn money.

Bartleby_the_Scrivener

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Re: Engineering vs. Education
« Reply #19 on: May 20, 2019, 07:02:28 PM »
Engineering, hands down (as someone who has done both). You can always go back to teaching, after you're well on your way to FI.

Sage advice here.