Author Topic: Advice for a 30 Year Old Dissatisfied Engineer?  (Read 1329 times)

cysewr

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Advice for a 30 Year Old Dissatisfied Engineer?
« on: February 27, 2020, 01:00:16 PM »
Hello All,

Iíve posted a few times before, and have always received very helpful advice from you all, for which I am very grateful. I'm hoping you can help me out once again, this time with career guidance. I am a 30 year-old electrical engineer, and have been working in the power/utility industry since I graduated ~3.5 years ago. Lately, Iíve started to seriously consider making a change (reasons given below), but I am unsure what the scope of that change should be (e.g. changing employer vs. changing industry vs. changing career completelyÖ or just sticking it out for a while and pursuing a side hustle...), and where I should be looking.

Here are the reasons that I am looking at making a change:

ē I don't see a career path at my company that appeals to me. I do a decent job from a technical perspective on design projects, but I don't have the interest or aptitude to become a technical expert in the field. I also am learning that I don't have the stomach for the project management side of things. My yearly reviews have been very good, but there isn't a lot of incentive to go above and beyond.

ē The pay (currently ~$75k) is mediocre, especially relative to the housing market here. Additionally, it seems to have a fairly low ceiling, even for those who are highly knowledgeable technical experts with a ton of experience. I would like to find a career with more potential for salary growth.

ē The work for my department in our office has almost completely dried up in recent months, due to the loss of our main client. I have been made the point of contact with the client as we finish up existing contracts, and the interactions have become increasingly nasty and emotionally draining. I think I am a bit more secure in my position than some of the other junior employees, as I have another project that can't be transferred to anyone else at the firm (client wouldn't allow it). This means that I am at least partially billable. I donít foresee layoffs as imminent, but I think they could come at some point, and I would like to at least have a plan if that happens.

I am mainly looking for thoughts on possible careers for someone with my background. I am not a gregarious or sales-y person, but I do enjoy leadership (I ran my church's young adult program for two years, and learned a lot about leadership during that time. I loved mentoring the young adults in the group, and the challenge of conflict resolution with some of the members was awesome). Additionally, my writing skills are excellent for an engineer, and I am a fairly good public speaker.

Being able to stay in my current geographic location is important to me, which I understand will limit my choices. Additionally, I am taking the PE exam in April, in the hope of having more career stability should I stick with engineering.

Below are a few details about my current financial situation, in case any of it is relevant. The main financial motivation for me at the moment is being able to comfortably afford a house within 3-4 years, while maintaining a high savings rate. I am currently renting an apartment with a roommate, which has been a great decision. However, it looks likely that I will be married within a year, and it is important to me to be able to afford a house a few years after that (at the latest). Also, I understand that it is only going to become more difficult to make a career transition as I get older, and I don't want to get stuck in a career that I dislike.

I would greatly appreciate any advice or guidance you are willing to provide as I try to sort through all of this. Thank you!

Location: Spokane Valley, WA
Salary: $75k
Between 4-7% 401k contributions by employer each year, depending on how the company did
Other benefits are decent, but not amazing. There are definitely some really good aspects to the job: flexibility in work hours, nice offices, supportive senior staff.

Here4theGB

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Re: Advice for a 30 Year Old Dissatisfied Engineer?
« Reply #1 on: February 27, 2020, 01:10:49 PM »
Is there an aerospace industry (besides Boeing) in your area?  In my area, Bell, Lockheed, L3, Raytheon, Sikorsky, and many many others would be falling all over themselves to pick up another good EE.

ETA:  I would definitely make a move to another (non public utility) company to try out before completely switching gears.  I've always gotten the vibe that working for a utility was more like a govt job versus private industry from friends that have worked for them.
« Last Edit: February 27, 2020, 01:24:22 PM by Here4theGB »

Watchmaker

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Re: Advice for a 30 Year Old Dissatisfied Engineer?
« Reply #2 on: February 27, 2020, 01:15:27 PM »
Is there an aerospace industry (besides Boeing) in your area?  In my area, Bell, Lockheed, L3, Raytheon, Sikorsky, and many many others would be falling all over themselves to pick up another good EE.

Or even just general manufacturing? My company (not in your area) is struggling to hiring ME's and EE's right now.

bacchi

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Re: Advice for a 30 Year Old Dissatisfied Engineer?
« Reply #3 on: February 27, 2020, 01:22:27 PM »
Did you take any coding classes in school? I did a short stint as a power engineer and then went into software.

cysewr

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Re: Advice for a 30 Year Old Dissatisfied Engineer?
« Reply #4 on: February 27, 2020, 02:04:32 PM »
Did you take any coding classes in school? I did a short stint as a power engineer and then went into software.

I did. There were two courses required for EE at UW (both Java), and I ended up taking a third course, since I found the material really interesting. Those classes were actually some of my favorite at university, even though they were graded absolutely brutally (many of the students taking them are trying to get into the CS program).

What was the transition from power to software like for you? What steps would you recommend for someone in my shoes who is looking to make a similar jump? I am really intrigued by this possibility, the more I think about it.

Fuzz

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Re: Advice for a 30 Year Old Dissatisfied Engineer?
« Reply #5 on: February 27, 2020, 06:10:02 PM »
I would find some 35 to 40 year old professional engineers and electrical engineers in Spokane and talk to them. Look at LinkedIn or similar. Getting coffee with people a few years ahead of you in life stage and talking shop is always interesting.

ChpBstrd

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Re: Advice for a 30 Year Old Dissatisfied Engineer?
« Reply #6 on: February 28, 2020, 09:07:16 AM »
1) $75k isnít bad money for someone 3.5y out of college. I made half that much at the same point in life in the early 2000ís (bad choice of degree). However, I also bought my first house, a 3BR/2BA 1600sf SFH in a nice neighborhood at about 3.5y out. How did I achieve your goal with half the money? By not living in a HCOL location. This insight reframes the question. The issue is related to the existence of a housing bubble where you live. We can confirm the existence of a housing bubble because - holy shit - an engineerís salary is not enough to afford a home there. Either drop the home ownership goal or drop the HCOL requirement. Together, they are incompatible with not being house poor and exposed to a bubble.

2) If you like leadership and have interpersonal communication/relationships skills, then why donít you like project management? What you did for the youth group is basically the job. Does your company perhaps have an unusual culture around how projects are managed? If so, a PM role in another organization might work out just fine. Also, if your perceptions are anchored on experience with mentors at your company, bear in mind that there is no one correct personality that makes a great PM. Iíve seen great leadership from loudmouths and from quiet types, from the detail oriented types to the executive thinker types... and so on. However, different companies have different mindsets regarding how a PM should behave.

3) If you donít see yourself in your current job 3-5y out, itís not a good time to be considering home ownership because you would ideally live close, as in 1-2 mile radius, to where you are going to be working in the future. Your next great opportunity might be an hour commute from the house you just bought, and now youíve signed yourself up for high transportation costs and a massive loss of time each day. If you get married, your spouse becomes your new roommate.

mm1970

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Re: Advice for a 30 Year Old Dissatisfied Engineer?
« Reply #7 on: February 28, 2020, 10:37:38 AM »
1) $75k isnít bad money for someone 3.5y out of college. I made half that much at the same point in life in the early 2000ís (bad choice of degree). However, I also bought my first house, a 3BR/2BA 1600sf SFH in a nice neighborhood at about 3.5y out. How did I achieve your goal with half the money? By not living in a HCOL location. This insight reframes the question. The issue is related to the existence of a housing bubble where you live. We can confirm the existence of a housing bubble because - holy shit - an engineerís salary is not enough to afford a home there. Either drop the home ownership goal or drop the HCOL requirement. Together, they are incompatible with not being house poor and exposed to a bubble.

2) If you like leadership and have interpersonal communication/relationships skills, then why donít you like project management? What you did for the youth group is basically the job. Does your company perhaps have an unusual culture around how projects are managed? If so, a PM role in another organization might work out just fine. Also, if your perceptions are anchored on experience with mentors at your company, bear in mind that there is no one correct personality that makes a great PM. Iíve seen great leadership from loudmouths and from quiet types, from the detail oriented types to the executive thinker types... and so on. However, different companies have different mindsets regarding how a PM should behave.

3) If you donít see yourself in your current job 3-5y out, itís not a good time to be considering home ownership because you would ideally live close, as in 1-2 mile radius, to where you are going to be working in the future. Your next great opportunity might be an hour commute from the house you just bought, and now youíve signed yourself up for high transportation costs and a massive loss of time each day. If you get married, your spouse becomes your new roommate.

I would try to find other engineers in your area that are older and ask them what their jobs are like.

As far as technical vs project management vs leadership, I can understand.  I can do (and have done) all 3.  In my preferred order:
1. technical
2. leadership
3. project mgt (guess which one I'm doing??)

Project management, in my experience, is different from people management because you don't really have a whole lot of control over the people.   Nobody works for you.

People management I mostly enjoyed, because I was training and mentoring junior engineers.

Taran Wanderer

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Re: Advice for a 30 Year Old Dissatisfied Engineer?
« Reply #8 on: February 28, 2020, 06:22:36 PM »
The food industry is big in central and eastern Washington. If you like coding, what about looking into a plant controls technician position in food?  These can come in the form of hourly maintenance positions or salaried ďengineerĒ roles.  you would want the latter given your degree and PE status. Entry level wage with your degree should be similar to where you are now. Your electrical background will be useful. Food plants are interesting with a lot of different systems all having automation/controls needs. There is room to grow your salary, and you can work either directly for a food manufacturer or for a supporting controls firm. Plus, everybody has to eat, so food is generally pretty steady and even grew during the Great Recession.

If controls arenít your thing, then maybe straight plant electrical design with a firm focused in food. Youíll be dealing mostly with 480V and lower systems, but there are lots of angles to it. Process and utility power distribution (480V / 3 phase), building power (240V / 120V), back-up generators, control networks, plant I/O, arc flash analysis, etc.  Bottom line: lots of variety in a steady industry that seems boring but actually gives you a chance to make your mark. They love drawing in new blood with some enthusiasm and curiosity.

cysewr

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Re: Advice for a 30 Year Old Dissatisfied Engineer?
« Reply #9 on: February 29, 2020, 08:52:45 AM »
@ChpBstrd - That is some really helpful perspective, thank you. My concern over my salary is mostly tied to the price of homes in the area (though I would like to find a way to increase income regardless). Realistically, I have probably 3 years before I would need to be at least seriously looking for a house. Maybe that's enough time for the local market to calm down. Each of the last few years has seen ~10% increase in prices - it's impressive how fast things can seem out of reach on that trajectory.

@Fuzz - Great suggestion, thank you. I have lunch scheduled with one of my mentors next week.

@Here4theGB @Watchmaker - I think general manufacturing is definitely a possibility (don't think we have much in the way of aerospace in this area), I will start to do some research in that area.

@mm1970 - You hit the nail on the head. I think I probably enjoy people management, vs project management. That's a helpful distinction, thank you.

@Taran Wanderer - That is a really interesting idea, and it sounds pretty feasible. Another area for me to look into - thank you!

I really appreciate all the helpful responses so far, thank you all!

trollwithamustache

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Re: Advice for a 30 Year Old Dissatisfied Engineer?
« Reply #10 on: February 29, 2020, 10:53:38 AM »
West coast EE doing real power work? there are not a lot of you guys... you've got a lot of room for higher pay by jumping ship to another company and the further you are willing to relocate.

Engineering firms seem to have this obsession with holding on to their margin on younger engineers... they probably mark you up a lot. a lot more than sr people. But they just won't give you the raise, you have to leave.

You may find licensure brings both pay and respect that can make the field more enjoyable.