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Sunday, June 15, 2014

How Valuable is a Degree in Engineering & Design? 06-16

How Valuable is a Degree in Engineering & Design?


In a word, VERY. There was a time, not too long ago, when there were multiple ways of becoming an engineer. Since the law changed a few decades ago, a person without a degree or a PE can't offer engineering services as an engineer to the public. However, when I started my career, the engineers I thought were the most helpful and knowledgeable didn't have an engineering degree. 

They were schooled by themselves, supplemented with courses and on the job learning. That's when I decided to take the quick route to becoming an engineer. I took many courses, all of them pertaining to engineering or mathematics, whatever I needed to learn or thought I needed. Driven by a thirst for knowledge I absorbed everything like a sponge. Having had an aptitude for electronics, I knew I needed physics courses so I could understand the theory behind why a circuit behaves in a particular way. In the end, I learned several important things. 1- you never stop learning, if you want to stay successful in a technical field. 2- The drive and enjoyment from successfully completing a project is a source of personal pride that drives me to continue learning 3- I spent more time and energy learning everything than if I had just stayed in college and received my degrees.

This brings up an interesting question. Does a degreed engineer make for a better engineer? In most cases no. I've met some degreed engineers who can't design and don't understand basics. I am always amazed how some of them graduated. Yet some are also PEs. By the same measurement, I know that most self taught designers don't understand the theory behind solving for a specific measurement or component value. Things that are important to calculate when using anything in the real world. And yet, when I find creative individuals, even in business today, I find that the vast majority of them are self taught. Self study is as important as that degree.
 Without it one only has the work that was assigned without any real application or out of the box thinking. In essence, formalized schooling, in my opinion, hinders creativity. It's all very personalized, different with everyone. I suppose this comes down to drive, motivation and the enjoyment one has at his or her craft. If you enjoy what you do, you are more prone to read up and further your knowledge on your own. The complete opposite of those who rely solely on their diploma to entitle them to employment, the elitists. The academia lot who judge someone based solely on the number of diplomas on a wall. These people are usually baffled when a person like myself lands a job over them.
The answer is, for everyone, it isn't what you learned or where you learned it. It's what you can do with that knowledge and what you've done to prove it. When I hire someone, I look for self learning and achievements outside of school. I need people who can be creative and think outside of the box. More and more employers are looking for that same thing. Several years ago I was hired by a well known large corporation with many government contracts. I was design lead for a significant portion of a security project. 
There I assisted and taught many subordinate engineers, many of whom had either a masters or doctorate in an engineering discipline. I rarely shared my schooling level with peers. When I did, every person was amazed, thinking I had at least a master's level diploma. Maybe I do have the same knowledge as a masters, but without that diploma I have to prove myself with each and every new project or position I've had throughout my career. It's a sure bet that staying in school would have made my life much easier.
If I had it to do over again, I would have stayed in school to get my engineering degree. It is much more difficult to prove one's knowledge without that diploma. Even today when I have patents under my belt, and a track record of high profile completed design projects for well known clients, I still face challenges. I thought I took the easy way. It may have been shorter to the first job as an engineer, but it was certainly not the easy way.
 If I did not take all of the courses I did, and had not experienced college for as long as I did, things would have proven much more difficult than it was. School taught me where to look for answers, how to find information. But the application of the knowledge I gained was radically formed through my own drive for knowledge. This isn't reserved for non-graduates. It's reserved for those with a passion for what they do or want to do. Get your degree. And have fun at your profession. If you don't you are in the wrong field.