Is my current position harmful or beneficial to my engineering career?

Discussion in 'Career Advising' started by staticZap, May 28, 2018.

  1. staticZap

    Thread Starter New Member

    May 28, 2018
    BLUF: Is my current position harmful or beneficial to my engineering career?

    I have 8+ years of hobby level electronics engineering experience then after I graduated college with a degree in computer engineering I took my first position within the intelligence community as an electronics engineer. However, my real position is an "intelligence specialist" which has a heavy focus on publication. Essentially, I attend meetings, write reports on reports, and occasionally I am asked to authoritatively speak about trivial technical topics "because you are an engineer". Granted I do look at code and equipment from time to time but I perform little to no actual engineering. On the job training, in terms of technology, is surface level IT in nature.

    Frankly I feel like I was deceived into thinking the career path and job duties where engineering in nature. My assumption was based on the interview questions and other reasonable indicators. After talking to my supervisor and others about my concerns I realized that their concept of engineering is basic and disconnected from the industry. Here is an example: during a recruitment fair the powers to be wanted to display an unclassified advanced electronics device to get potential hires excited that we work with interesting/novel technology. However, this device is locked up in the basement, we examined it only once, wrote a brief report about it and that's it, nothing else. There was no malicious intent with their actions, just an unsettling disconnect that grossly misrepresents the nature of the job.

    Due to several factors, I will be in this position for likely a few more years, through my late 30's. I lose sleep at night because of my concern that when I am ready to find a new position I will be non competitive due to the nature of my current position. I'm still working on my hobby electronics, attending training (Security+ and similar), and perhaps will attain a masters degree.

    What do you all think? Is my current position harmful or beneficial to my engineering career? What can I do better for myself and the department I work for?
  2. dl324

    AAC Fanatic!

    Mar 30, 2015
    Welcome to AAC!

    Had to Google BLUF...
    EDIT: corrected typo

    It depends on whether you want to work with hardware (i.e. design circuits), or software (including working on computer hardware).

    Your current position will be helpful if you pursue another position in the same area. If you want to switch to something like circuit design, the work experience won't count much as it will be unrelated and you need to do things to keep your skills fresh/current.
    Last edited: May 28, 2018
  3. joeyd999

    AAC Fanatic!

    Jun 6, 2011
    Ha! I can relate.

    Out of college I joined up with Anderson Consulting with the promise I'd be working in their "Advanced Technology Center". Instead, I wound up spending a year writing general ledger reporting systems for major power tool manufacturers.

    I quit, got a real job (for much less pay), and became an engineer.
  4. SLK001

    Senior Member

    Nov 29, 2011
    There is no reason why you couldn't start an advanced degree program while you are still working. When I went to school, "Computer Engineering" wasn't a real engineering curriculum, so you may have to take many of the required basic courses.
  5. WBahn


    Mar 31, 2012
    If you leave your current position with a security clearance intact (especially a TS/SCI) that will be worth a huge amount if you want to pursue work in any field that needs that. Other than that, prepare yourself on your own for what you want to do when you leave. Take classes, particularly if there is a relevant piece of paper involved, and delve as deep into it on your own as you can. You might also look to get some real world experience working part time for a company in the field (if that's allowed by your current employer) or working with the senior design teams at a local university as a mentor.
  6. MrChips


    Oct 2, 2009
    Static zap is always harmful in any career in electronics. Make sure you get solid grounding before proceeding.
    staticZap likes this.
  7. Lyonspride


    Jan 6, 2014
    It largely depends on where in the world you are......

    In the UK and maybe even the US, if you don't want to be treated like poo, with long work hours, zero flexibility, and you don't want to work your fingers to the bone for bad pay, then get into a boring office job, get paid £10k more than a hands on engineer, put up with working with idiots, buy a nice house, build a workshop and keep your engineering as a hobby.

    Thinking that you have to follow a career in what your good at or interested in, is simply the romantic nonsense we're all taught from a very young age. Earn more money so that you can put more time and money into what interests you.

    In other countries it's a bit different, or so i'm told.
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2018
  8. MrChips


    Oct 2, 2009
    So what you're saying is be a lawyer, doctor, banker, hedge fund manager, venture capitalist, or politician on your day job and keep your engineering as a hobby?

    I once queried a bright stock market analyst who was anti-capitalist why she did it and her response was, it pays the bills.
    She has a very pragmatic way of viewing life.
  9. WBahn


    Mar 31, 2012
    I remember sitting in my Calc II course my first semester in college and thinking of all my friends at work (a restaurant job that I got the week after I graduated high school) that worked for a paycheck so that they could party on the weekend while I spent the weekend doing homework. They seemed perfectly happy to keep living that kind of life indefinitely (though I'm sure that changed eventually for most of them). I recall envying them and wishing I could be like that, but I also recall that that feeling didn't last for more than a minute or so. I've seldom had a job that was just a means to a paycheck -- or more accurately, I've seldom had a job that I couldn't pretty easily find a way to making into something other than a means to a paycheck. I think the only job I've had that fell into that category was my two weeks working as a telemarketer for Time Life Books.

    For me, personally, I'll take the lower pay and longer hours in exchange for having work that I find challenging and fulfilling (at least more often than not).
    bogosort likes this.
  10. jaredwolff


    Jul 1, 2017
    A friend of mine put's it a good way. Every skill and thing you're doing now is like laying the bricks of your foundation for later. I bet, from the description of your work, you can pick apart and understand relatively complex systems and document them well better than most engineers.

    There is a serious lack of well thought-out and designed content around more advance systems and how to build such systems. You could fill that gap.

    In the meantime, what you're doing is what'd I do in your situation. Build stuff. Design boards. Tinker. Break things. Build things for other people. People in the industry looking for good EE's want to make sure you know the fundamentals but also that you care and are passionate about building things.

    The only thing that I foresee you lacking, at least from the description, is the understanding of manufacturing and some key vendors in your back pocket. Whether it be 10 units or 10000 units. Sometimes this is good because you can get creative and not follow the same methods everyone else has (for instance assemble your products locally yourself, with your team, and still stay price competitive) or get scrappy with the vendors you use overseas. Companies look for this so this may be your biggest barrier..

    Being a design engineer is a slog though, don't let me paint it all awesome. It's extremely detail oriented and if you make just one mistake it could cost your company thousands of dollars. I've made my fair share of mistakes. Less now that I'm methodical and use a checklist for everything. We're human though and well all screw up!

    Best of luck. Let me know if I can help or go into detail more. :)
    staticZap likes this.
  11. dl324

    AAC Fanatic!

    Mar 30, 2015
    I know of an engineer who's coding mistake caused the company over half a billion dollars. It caused the infamous Pentium FDIV bug.
  12. DickCappels


    Aug 21, 2008
    At the last (and largest) company I worked at one of the highest paid engineers in the group was a socially adept engineer who remembered names well, attended meetings and handed out copies of specifications. We were working on a new interface and I sketched out a simple opamp circuit and asked him to complete the circuit and test it. He then admitted to not understanding opamps. He was highly paid and highly prized by the managers on whose projects he worked.

    Your next prospective employer will like to know what you have done before and how it relates to what they need to be done. Not having your hands on hardware might not hurt your career but you would limit your future jobs to similar work.
    staticZap and jaredwolff like this.