Ask an Engineer - FAQ

Sep 14, 2019

What does an engineer do all day?

This really depends on the kind of engineer someone is. A role can be more lab oriented (testing, analysis), more design oriented (creating designs and working with suppliers), more sales oriented (talking to people and other engineers), more field oriented (doing inspections and maintaining equipment)... or much more! 

I'm a design engineer. I spend some of my time answering technical emails, some of my time in meetings where we decide on designs, timelines, budgets and plans, and the rest of my time solving technical problems.

I create CAD (computer aided designs) of things I want to build, and spend a lot of time looking at components that are available online and assessing whether they will meet the need I'm trying to fill. I work with suppliers to manufacture my design, and then I assemble and test them. I also do analysis with spreadsheets and python, and I present my work to all sorts of people.

See: "What kinds of environments can you work in as an engineer?"

Do you like being an engineer? Was the degree "worth it"?

Yes, I like being an engineer. I think my work matters, I like the people that I work with, and I like the work itself! It was very worth it to pursue this degree. Of course any job is a job... sometimes it's challenging, or lonely, or stressful. All of the bad aspects can be adjusted by changing roles, or changing companies. See: "How fulfilling is a career in Engineering?"

How much of your education ended up being useful?

Lots. Primarily, the education taught me how to learn quickly, and how to stay very organized in the face of a lot of work to do. This is relevant to me every day. See: "How much of what we learn in engineering is actually useful?"

Why did you choose Mechanical? Any advice about which major I should choose? 

I really like mechanisms and machines, I like working in CAD and visualizing things in 3D, I like working with my hands. Try to spend some time looking at the jobs you ultimately want, and what kind of degrees are required for those jobs. There isn't a "bad" major. 

I chose a different major/I'm coming from a different career path. Is it too late for me?

I was lucky -- I come from a family of engineers so I had a clear idea of what it was, and I went into this major directly. Many of the people that I went to school with switched majors from the sciences. A few of the people that I went to school with were retraining - either getting a degree after working in the trades, or coming from another field entirely! This group of people had the best work ethic -- they were very clear on why they were taking this degree and could stay very focused. They brought a lot of good experience to the table. It's never too late to take a degree in engineering! 

What's the best club to join in University?

Anything where you're building something real. I devoted most of my free time to student government, which I don't regret, but if I could do it over again I would have joined Supermileage or SAE (clubs that build high performance vehicles). At the time I think I was intimidated -- especially because my studies were so difficult and those clubs were a lot of extra work. But going back again, that's how I would choose to allocate my time, knowing what I know now. 

If there wasn't a club with a good hands-on component, I would tell my past self to try and learn hobby electronics. 

Do you have any tips for getting through University?

Be organized. I had to learn to be much more organized through the course of University - making sure that nothing important was missed and staying on top of all of the work.

Studying - There are a lot of good study youtube series out there now. It's more important to try to build a "map" of the information -- how all of the topics in a course relate to each other, and how the courses relate to each other -- than the rote memorization. Try to get practice exams and do them a lot. Get a group together and try to teach each other. If you aren't understanding your textbook, get another one. Sometimes the wording can make a big difference to whether or not you're understanding it. 

The difference between a B and an A is about 15 hours of effort applied per week.

And lastly... enjoy it. It's a unique time and doing weird stuff with your friends isn't a waste. Go nuts and make some good memories. 

Should I do co-op/interships?

Yes. Hands down. Work experience is the only thing that differentiates you from other candidates when you graduate. It teaches you the essential skills of just being an adult worker. It gives you some insight into what kind of job you may or may not want to pursue when you graduate. It gives you context for your studies. 

Show up, be polite and learn to be professional, respect and pay attention to the people who are mentoring you, and do your best. 

How do I land an engineering job?

Build proof that you can do what you want to do. You want to be a designer? Prove it. Design something on your own. See: The Real World Survival Guide , What tools do you use as an engineer?, How do I start networking as an engineer?


Do you have any advice for someone starting their career?

Show up on time. Honour your commitments. Learn to present your ideas clearly - both in written form and spoken. 

Write down the names of everyone you work with, save their emails and add them to your LinkedIn. (Yes... have a LinkedIn.) People move around in interesting ways, and you never know when you'll have the opportunity to work with someone again. 

As early as possible - pay off your debt and start investing. Learn to cook and meditate. Get therapy if you need it (most people do.)