Engineering is a very exciting career because there are numerous ways to be a success. You can work as an expert, a manager, a business owner, a consultant, a freelancer, and on and on. What you do and how you work is so varied that, with the right approach and motivation, you are almost sure to find the right fit for you.
Engineering covers a lot of different fields and plenty of various roles, but overall, the career structure and opportunities available to engineers remains relatively consistent. You start with an undergraduate degree at minimum and then take on internships or apprenticeships until you can work your way up to your first job. For many other careers it can feel like you have an option to either specialize further or go into administration, but not with engineering.
Engineering Managers and Leaders
Engineering managers and leaders have a very hands-on role. They are the project leads, after all, and need to do so much more than simply delegate tasks and ensure that everyone is doing the pre-assigned job role. Engineering managers are there to get the most out of a team and ensure that the project is going well —and safely.
Their work is critical, and all too often many new engineer managers find that the role is thrust upon them before they are ready.
In order to help you properly take your engineering career to the next level, you need to know a bit more about your own leadership style, how to manage a team and business, and also how to emotionally regulate so that you don’t burn yourself out.
Continue to Develop the Fundamentals in Your Field
In order to seamlessly transition and advance your career, you need to have a firm grasp of the fundamentals. A good example of the benefits of being a master in the basics is Android. When Android phones were first being developed, there weren’t experts in that tech. They had to instead turn to those that had a firm grasp of Java and other programming languages who then adapted their workflows to suit Android tech.
There will always be new fields and new technology, but before there are specialist degrees or streamlined approaches, those who are experts in the existing programming languages and in the basics in their field will be essential in setting the groundwork in these new areas.
Continually investing and learning is an essential approach in order to both pivot your career as necessary and to also stay up to date. What was considered foundation basics ten years ago are not the same as they are today. You need to continue to invest in your skills in a variety of ways.
You can use formal tools like workshops, short courses, and certifications to continue to learn and bring home proof of your skillset. Moreover, you can also work on personal projects and figure out how to adapt new technologies and standards into your own work without pressure.
Continuing to develop your skills is something that everyone should do for the sake of their career, but as an engineer it is an essential practice you will need in order to continue to work at the forefront of your field. Engineers are developers, and if you don’t have the tools to push the envelope, you’ll fall behind and not be able to take your engineering career to the next level.
How to Get the Most Out of Your Current Role
While looking outside of your employment for ways to learn and develop your skillset is a critical part of every professional’s training, don’t ever forget that learning on the job is a critical factor to your success. There is something of art when it comes to getting the most out of your career before moving on. You will absolutely want to move on if you aren’t seeing the progression that you want, and even if you are, changing employers and tackling different projects can help you build a better reputation that allows you more freedom in the future.
Being complacent and finding that you have already found the most efficient way to do your job, and everything feels like it is old hat, is a sign that it is time to move on and forward. This could be done within your current place of employment, or it could be with a new employer entirely.
In order to reach that state where you find yourself growing complacent you will need to first move past the adjustment phase and then work on actively improving the role and the output that you put forward.
One thing you need to keep in mind when you learn on the job is that you want to be valued and valuable to your employer, but you never want a project’s success to be on your shoulders alone. If you are the only person who can do that job or fix a certain problem then you will always be on the hook. You cannot have a sick day or deal with a personal issue or trauma, without running the risk of everything falling apart.
It may seem daunting to ensure that others on your team can manage your role if you are not there, but this is how you continue to ensure success and see better results overall.
In short, you want to be the best at what you do, not the only one that can do it.
When to Start Training for a Management Role
Many new engineering managers are completely unprepared for their roles. They go from being a technical lead and are thrust in front of a team or on a project without any professional training or consideration. This is daunting for many professionals, even if you eventually intend to go into management as part of your own goals.
A good way to avoid this issue is to train for management yourself. Not only will you better prepare yourself, you will also be able to stand out in comparison to other new managers.
The good news is that you don’t have to force management or a business degree to work for you. There are new and innovative degrees in management and engineering that are set to completely change how engineers train to become managers and business owners themselves.
Not only is there a new Master’s degree in Engineering Management available to current engineers looking to advance their position and better prepare for management roles, but it is also offered online.
Taking a break from your career to pursue further training and education isn’t a bad move, but it can also set your goals back a bit on your timeline. By working while you study you can put what you learn to use right off the bat, allowing you to really start seeing the benefits of your degree for your career.
You can get started with this degree right after being promoted if you weren’t expecting it, or you can start beforehand when you personally want to make that leap into management. Either way, the ability to learn online and around your career will absolutely help you with your goals.
As a masters is a large investment you will want to have an in-depth talk with the admissions advisor to ensure that the degree in question aligns well with your personal and professional goals. After all, you may benefit from a different degree instead, depending on what you want out of your education.
The real reason, of course, is that staying motivated is one of the biggest challenges when it comes to tackling a degree and a career. It takes a lot of additional effort, but seeing the benefits in real-time and using a few routine tips to make it easier to manage your health and energy can make it all possible.
How to Make the Right Decisions for Your Future
Engineers have plenty of different career opportunities, so the question isn’t what you can do with it but what you want to do with your career. Do note that you can and will likely change your mind. If you start a family you will likely want to change career tracks so that you can spend more time at home and have more flexibility, for example. If you suffer from an illness or new disability your priorities will also change.
Knowing that you will change and need to adapt both your career and your expectations can help you continually make the right decisions for your future. Knowing what you need and knowing what you can do, of course, are two different things.
There will be opportunities that come the way that you just cannot prepare for and still want to take. On the flip side, you may never get the most out of your career until you take charge and finally create a role for yourself that ticks all your boxes. Knowing your options is a great place to start, and part of knowing your options includes knowing how you would start your own business.
Don’t Be Scared About Retraining
Many engineering fields are multidisciplinary, meaning that you will need a background in multiple STEM and social fields in order to get the job done. It also means that there is a lot of benefit in furthering your career by branching outward. Just as pursuing a managing degree in engineering can help you expand your skillset and open a whole new range of career options, so too can retraining in other sciences or skills.
With every career, one of the biggest tips that will help you take your career to the next level is to improve your network. Your network is how you open new doors and get introduced to important new ideas.
· Expand Your Network
While the team you manage and those you work with presently or in the past are a great foundation for your network, they aren’t the only place you can meet professionals. Go to events, conferences, talks, workshops and more that are relevant to your industry and put yourself out there. This is how you meet exciting new people that you wouldn’t otherwise, and also how you can open new doors.
· How to Stay in Touch
One of the biggest difficulties when it comes to networking is staying in touch. People forget each other, they stop talking, and with that loss of communication, you lose opportunities. While you cannot stay in touch with every professional contact you ever make, there are some tips to make it easier.
The first is to connect with those you meet online. This can be done on your personal social media profiles but should ideally be done through professional job sites. From there it is a matter of staying active online. Post-industry-relevant content, start discussions and try to engage with those who are also active online. This is one of the best ways to naturally build professional relationships with those you don’t see at work or have worked within the past.
Ask for Help and Remember to Grow
We all face difficult times. We all face moments where we are unsure, or the project in question will just become too much. Perhaps the people that you are working with are making it more difficult for you, or you are facing an interrelationship challenge you haven’t yet had to deal with.
Managers need to lead, but that does not mean that they are on their own. Ask for help and advice from other, more experienced managers and always remember to check in on your mental health and wellbeing when times get tough.
The importance and the pressure put on managers, especially for big projects, can take their toll. By reaching out for both advice and help, you can help avoid catastrophic burnout and pressure and allow yourself to instead learn and grow.
It is only by continuing to learn, adapt and grow that you can really take your engineering career to new heights, again and again.