I'm interested in being an engineer, what's a day in the life like and what should I do to prepare?

Thread Starter

Cyrus Mingley

Joined Apr 18, 2020
87
The title is basically everything, I'm currently in 9th grade on an advanced mathematics track. I haven't really researched the possible engineering jobs but electrical and mechanical stand out to me, but I'm also interested in environmental, aerospace, structural, etc. I've been interested in everything design and electrical since I was 6, and I've always built and tinkered. What is a day in the life like, what's the work like, the workplace, the general scene. I know there's a lot of math involved, what else? What traits are desirable, what is not? Is there anything I can do now to prepare? I was going to look into volunteer opportunities once this whole situation blows over, what's the best way to do this? Anything else I should do?
 

SamR

Joined Mar 19, 2019
2,126
Stick with the math. There is one thread running through all Engineering. Solving problems by mathematical analysis. There is a certain amount of creativity required and knowledge of your particular field of endeavor but once you have the idea of a solution it's time to do the math. Good ideas become bad nightmares if the solution to the problems cannot pass mathematical analysis. Become Professionally involved with the Professional Organization of your selected field of Engineering. It will expose you to other engineers in your field who work for other companies and who can be called up to bounce an idea off of or ask questions about how they might solve a particular problem you have. For now learn as much math as you can along with chemistry and physics. Keep your grades up and start joining what clubs you can to associate with as many likeminded classmates as you can. It will give you a good start toward college and are things that college recruiters look for.
 

#12

Joined Nov 30, 2010
18,210
Never stop learning. Never expect to see the day you can comfortably stop learning. Electronics is too big for anybody to know everything. New electronic parts and systems are constantly being designed. In ten years, you will be learning a chip that doesn't exist today. If you don't learn it, somebody else will have your job next year.

Develop good work habits. Decide that being so focused that you forget who is around you is a good thing. Being on time is mandatory. Good records of what you did and what you learned are necessary. Brilliant ideas are worthless if they only exist in your head. Decide what kind of notebooks you will be recording your ideas in, and buy some. Ideas and circuits I recorded in 1975 seem simple now, but now I am designing things that need four pages for the schematic and six pages for the math. You won't remember some of it, ten or twenty years later. Document your projects and your little math explorations.

Develop a library in your head. Read, read, and read. Read datasheets from manufacturers. Watch for new developments on Internet sites. Go to places where electronic devices are displayed, discussed, and sold. You will never know it all, but you can be well informed. The library in your head is your ace in the hole.

Now some other people can tell you their opinions.
 

Papabravo

Joined Feb 24, 2006
13,728
Illigitimi non carborundum. That is "fake" Latin for "don't let illegitimate children grind you down". There will be many along the way. The only sure defense is to be brighter, smarter, and faster than they are. Don't argue with them, just under promise and over deliver.
 

tindel

Joined Sep 16, 2012
716
Lots of good advice already - and at your age I'd also encourage you to join clubs with like-minded people your age. If you have a FIRST robotics league at your school - that is a great way to learn about mechanical, structures, and electrical engineering to see which appeals most to you. Working as a team is also a very important skill to learn at your age. Many colleges these days have a cubesat team so try to get on a cubesat project when you get into college and you will have good exposure to all the fields so you can decide for yourself which is best for you within the first couple years of your college career.

Also, don't think by choosing one of these disciplines that you'll be working in that one discipline forever! I'm a trained EE, but I have worked in all of the following disciplines and have had some exposure to the following:

Mechanical consists of - Structures, mechanisms, thermal, Newtonian physics, stress, strain, assembly, building things
Electrical consists of - digital, analog, power, circuit design, integrated circuits, microcontrollers, FPGA, computers, controls, RF, building things
Aero consists of - Orbital mechanics, a little mechanical, a little electrical, propulsion, controls, comms, building things

As you can see all the disciplines are interwoven. You can be exposed to some of all of the disciplines when you choose any one of them. I would say Aero is more high level though - typically called 'systems' engineers. A good example of how the disciplines are interwoven is when designing a comm system, an ME will design the antenna structure and choose proper materials, EE designs the RF amplifier and antenna shape, and your AE designs the spacecraft to communicate with the ground at the correct time and with the proper protocols. All three disciplines must work closely together to be successful, but each bring their specific expertise to the table.

Start looking at schools too. Try to find schools that have solid engineering schools that are within your budget. Most state colleges qualify, but not all. Certainly go to the best school you can get into that is within your budget too. MIT has long been considered the best EE school on the planet - if you decide you want to be an EE, can get in there, and can afford it (~$200k for 4 years!), then for the love of god an all things holy go there! If you don't get into one of the top tier schools then consider going to community college to save some money on your pre-req's and also so you have a ramp-up period in your study habits from high school to university.
 

OBW0549

Joined Mar 2, 2015
3,406
Develop a library in your head. Read, read, and read. Read datasheets from manufacturers.
Read manufacturers' application notes, too; most of the major semiconductor manufacturers have published large volumes of excellent stuff on how to use their products, and how to design in general. They're worth their weight in gold, most of them.

That said, ALL of the above advice is excellent.

What is a day in the life like, what's the work like, the workplace, the general scene.
There's too much variation from place to place, and from specialty to specialty, to answer that question. Working in the Engineering Department of a large corporation can be drastically different from working for a small shop. And working on aerospace systems is a whole other ball game from designing mass-market consumer products.
 

tindel

Joined Sep 16, 2012
716
Also - realize that Aero is split into three main disciplines - spacecraft, airplanes, and rocketry. If cubesats don't drive you wild, then maybe find a club in college designing drones or unmanned airplanes or designing and testing rockets. You can even do some of this now with drones and estes rockets.
 

dl324

Joined Mar 30, 2015
10,748
I'm currently in 9th grade on an advanced mathematics track.
You should check with your school to see if they have contacts with local firms that employ engineers in the disciplines you're most interested in.

When I was still working, my company would send engineers to local schools every year to try to interest young students in pursuing engineering degrees. Engineers would talk about what they did and answer any questions the students might have.

We also volunteered for Lego robotics teams.

We had a program where engineers would mentor a student and maintain regular contact with some students through email (which their parents and teachers could monitor) for a school year to encourage interest in engineering.

If local companies don't have out reach programs to schools, you can see if any of your math or science teachers would be willing to try to establish a program.

We had a bring your child to work program where once a year they could shadow their parent for a day. I was never able to do that because the building I worked in dealt with a lot of top secret information. But, I volunteered at an annual open house for families and the community to come and see the types of things we worked on; my Wife and kids would volunteer too. We were an R&D facility with multiple fabs (fabrication facilities), and a build-a-wafer activity was always popular with young children. Local organizations (police, fire, etc) would come and give away things (cups, pens, buttons, stickers, etc).
 

SamR

Joined Mar 19, 2019
2,126
Let me also tell you that college will not teach you what to do on the job after you graduate. It will teach you how to learn, basic concepts and how they relate, how to solve problems, and how to not die from boredom. You will apply those to learn what is necessary to do your job when you are hired. You will continue to learn and to apply that knowledge to solve new problems based on the experience gained from solving old problems and newly learned application-specific knowledge. And you will have to document it with many pages of specifications, methods, proofs, cost estimates, safety reviews, and approvals. A single small project can produce many binders of documentation.
 

Brickman

Joined May 24, 2013
1
Never stop learning. Never expect to see the day you can comfortably stop learning. Electronics is too big for anybody to know everything. New electronic parts and systems are constantly being designed. In ten years, you will be learning a chip that doesn't exist today. If you don't learn it, somebody else will have your job next year.

Develop good work habits. Decide that being so focused that you forget who is around you is a good thing. Being on time is mandatory. Good records of what you did and what you learned are necessary. Brilliant ideas are worthless if they only exist in your head. Decide what kind of notebooks you will be recording your ideas in, and buy some. Ideas and circuits I recorded in 1975 seem simple now, but now I am designing things that need four pages for the schematic and six pages for the math. You won't remember some of it, ten or twenty years later. Document your projects and your little math explorations.

Develop a library in your head. Read, read, and read. Read datasheets from manufacturers. Watch for new developments on Internet sites. Go to places where electronic devices are displayed, discussed, and sold. You will never know it all, but you can be well informed. The library in your head is your ace in the hole.

Now some other people can tell you their opinions.
If I may respectfully add to these very good comments from #12, document and remember your mistakes and failures. Sometimes (many times) you learn the most from them.
 

Thread Starter

Cyrus Mingley

Joined Apr 18, 2020
87
Stick with the math. There is one thread running through all Engineering. Solving problems by mathematical analysis. There is a certain amount of creativity required and knowledge of your particular field of endeavor but once you have the idea of a solution it's time to do the math. Good ideas become bad nightmares if the solution to the problems cannot pass mathematical analysis. Become Professionally involved with the Professional Organization of your selected field of Engineering. It will expose you to other engineers in your field who work for other companies and who can be called up to bounce an idea off of or ask questions about how they might solve a particular problem you have. For now learn as much math as you can along with chemistry and physics. Keep your grades up and start joining what clubs you can to associate with as many likeminded classmates as you can. It will give you a good start toward college and are things that college recruiters look for.
Great, thanks for the answer m. I’ll focus on math
 

Thread Starter

Cyrus Mingley

Joined Apr 18, 2020
87
Never stop learning. Never expect to see the day you can comfortably stop learning. Electronics is too big for anybody to know everything. New electronic parts and systems are constantly being designed. In ten years, you will be learning a chip that doesn't exist today. If you don't learn it, somebody else will have your job next year.

Develop good work habits. Decide that being so focused that you forget who is around you is a good thing. Being on time is mandatory. Good records of what you did and what you learned are necessary. Brilliant ideas are worthless if they only exist in your head. Decide what kind of notebooks you will be recording your ideas in, and buy some. Ideas and circuits I recorded in 1975 seem simple now, but now I am designing things that need four pages for the schematic and six pages for the math. You won't remember some of it, ten or twenty years later. Document your projects and your little math explorations.

Develop a library in your head. Read, read, and read. Read datasheets from manufacturers. Watch for new developments on Internet sites. Go to places where electronic devices are displayed, discussed, and sold. You will never know it all, but you can be well informed. The library in your head is your ace in the hole.

Now some other people can tell you their opinions.
Thanks, I got myself a notebook and I’ve been recording ideas and things I’ve learned.
 

Thread Starter

Cyrus Mingley

Joined Apr 18, 2020
87
Illigitimi non carborundum. That is "fake" Latin for "don't let illegitimate children grind you down". There will be many along the way. The only sure defense is to be brighter, smarter, and faster than they are. Don't argue with them, just under promise and over deliver.
Great advice
 

Thread Starter

Cyrus Mingley

Joined Apr 18, 2020
87
Lots of good advice already - and at your age I'd also encourage you to join clubs with like-minded people your age. If you have a FIRST robotics league at your school - that is a great way to learn about mechanical, structures, and electrical engineering to see which appeals most to you. Working as a team is also a very important skill to learn at your age. Many colleges these days have a cubesat team so try to get on a cubesat project when you get into college and you will have good exposure to all the fields so you can decide for yourself which is best for you within the first couple years of your college career.

Also, don't think by choosing one of these disciplines that you'll be working in that one discipline forever! I'm a trained EE, but I have worked in all of the following disciplines and have had some exposure to the following:

Mechanical consists of - Structures, mechanisms, thermal, Newtonian physics, stress, strain, assembly, building things
Electrical consists of - digital, analog, power, circuit design, integrated circuits, microcontrollers, FPGA, computers, controls, RF, building things
Aero consists of - Orbital mechanics, a little mechanical, a little electrical, propulsion, controls, comms, building things

As you can see all the disciplines are interwoven. You can be exposed to some of all of the disciplines when you choose any one of them. I would say Aero is more high level though - typically called 'systems' engineers. A good example of how the disciplines are interwoven is when designing a comm system, an ME will design the antenna structure and choose proper materials, EE designs the RF amplifier and antenna shape, and your AE designs the spacecraft to communicate with the ground at the correct time and with the proper protocols. All three disciplines must work closely together to be successful, but each bring their specific expertise to the table.

Start looking at schools too. Try to find schools that have solid engineering schools that are within your budget. Most state colleges qualify, but not all. Certainly go to the best school you can get into that is within your budget too. MIT has long been considered the best EE school on the planet - if you decide you want to be an EE, can get in there, and can afford it (~$200k for 4 years!), then for the love of god an all things holy go there! If you don't get into one of the top tier schools then consider going to community college to save some money on your pre-req's and also so you have a ramp-up period in your study habits from high school to university.
sounds good, I’ll do my best to get into a good school. That’s cool that you work in different fields, I kind of assumed you pick one and you’re there
 

Thread Starter

Cyrus Mingley

Joined Apr 18, 2020
87
Read manufacturers' application notes, too; most of the major semiconductor manufacturers have published large volumes of excellent stuff on how to use their products, and how to design in general. They're worth their weight in gold, most of them.

That said, ALL of the above advice is excellent.


There's too much variation from place to place, and from specialty to specialty, to answer that question. Working in the Engineering Department of a large corporation can be drastically different from working for a small shop. And working on aerospace systems is a whole other ball game from designing mass-market consumer products.
Okay, I assumed it would be pretty different. I’ll look at schematics and diagrams, I didn’t realize they’d be free online. Thanks!
 

Thread Starter

Cyrus Mingley

Joined Apr 18, 2020
87
Also - realize that Aero is split into three main disciplines - spacecraft, airplanes, and rocketry. If cubesats don't drive you wild, then maybe find a club in college designing drones or unmanned airplanes or designing and testing rockets. You can even do some of this now with drones and estes rockets.
Cool, I’ve done a little with rockets
 

Thread Starter

Cyrus Mingley

Joined Apr 18, 2020
87
You should check with your school to see if they have contacts with local firms that employ engineers in the disciplines you're most interested in.

When I was still working, my company would send engineers to local schools every year to try to interest young students in pursuing engineering degrees. Engineers would talk about what they did and answer any questions the students might have.

We also volunteered for Lego robotics teams.

We had a program where engineers would mentor a student and maintain regular contact with some students through email (which their parents and teachers could monitor) for a school year to encourage interest in engineering.

If local companies don't have out reach programs to schools, you can see if any of your math or science teachers would be willing to try to establish a program.

We had a bring your child to work program where once a year they could shadow their parent for a day. I was never able to do that because the building I worked in dealt with a lot of top secret information. But, I volunteered at an annual open house for families and the community to come and see the types of things we worked on; my Wife and kids would volunteer too. We were an R&D facility with multiple fabs (fabrication facilities), and a build-a-wafer activity was always popular with young children. Local organizations (police, fire, etc) would come and give away things (cups, pens, buttons, stickers, etc).
Right on, I’ll look into it. I go to an online school, so not sure how much they can offer, since they’re based out of state. We have several contacts with engineers personally, and I was going to try something like you’re suggesting.
 

Thread Starter

Cyrus Mingley

Joined Apr 18, 2020
87
Interest
Let me also tell you that college will not teach you what to do on the job after you graduate. It will teach you how to learn, basic concepts and how they relate, how to solve problems, and how to not die from boredom. You will apply those to learn what is necessary to do your job when you are hired. You will continue to learn and to apply that knowledge to solve new problems based on the experience gained from solving old problems and newly learned application-specific knowledge. And you will have to document it with many pages of specifications, methods, proofs, cost estimates, safety reviews, and approvals. A single small project can produce many binders of documentation.
interesting, I haven’t considered this. good to know!
 

dl324

Joined Mar 30, 2015
10,748
We have several contacts with engineers personally, and I was going to try something like you’re suggesting.
My Son did a shadow visit with a local company when he was in middle or high school. He wasn't interested in anything related to my line of work. My company once had some potato chips bagged with the company name on them. For the longest time, my Daughter thought the chips I made were potato chips.
 

dl324

Joined Mar 30, 2015
10,748
interesting, I haven’t considered this. good to know!
You'll find that that's the case for most things you learn. I use very little of what I learned in school. What school is supposed to teach you is how to think and to find information.
 
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