You’ve heard from me (obviously), my mom, and my sister (kinda)…. so it’s my dad’s turn to guest post! Taking a break from our usual llama-filled prose, he’s here to share a bit about plans for the future and the impact our choices in school can make on our lives.
Without further ado, my father!
I remember more and more people asking the question ‘what are you going to do’ as I neared high school graduation then again toward college graduation. This question annoyed me, because I really had no clue. I’d tell people I had no idea, and they would look at me rather strangely like I should have things figured out by now. Now I’m starting to hear that same question again, but this time directed at my daughter. I thought I’d share with you my journey in the hope that it might encourage her, and perhaps some of you, who don’t yet have your life’s plan figured out.
In high school I was pretty good at math, physics and science. I was also fascinated by computers. My dad was a professor of engineering so I was able to observe a mainframe he used that took punch cards as input. We were one of the first families I know to get a personal computer, a Radio Shack TRS-80 complete with cassette player for data storage. I think it had like 4 KB of RAM and a black and white screen that could display an amazing 200×400 pixels. My friend and I used to type in programs from a computer geek magazine called ‘BYTE’; they usually didn’t work too well as we weren’t good at typing and didn’t know the language well enough to debug problems that came up. These abilities and interests led me to consider computer science as a college degree. I shared this with my father and his perspective as an engineer was ‘a computer is just a tool, why would you get a degree in a tool’. So I chose a degree in electrical engineering instead (the college I attended didn’t have a program in computer engineering in those days). I guess my first piece of advice is to look at what your interests and abilities are, both in and outside of school, and try to match this up with your field of study. I wouldn’t worry as much about number of jobs in a field or typical pay. I believe that if you are in a field that matches your interests and abilities you will be happier and more likely to succeed. Also if you have an aptitude for math and science don’t shy away from taking these classes. You will learn a new language that will open many doors for you in the future as technology continues to play a greater role in society.
In college I tried to make room for my other interests as well. I enjoyed playing trombone in high school concert, jazz and marching bands. I continued in concert, jazz and marching bands my first year of college, then dropped concert and jazz but kept marching as the course load grew heavier. I was glad to be a part of the marching band all four years of college. It was a nice break from the engineering classes and let me interact socially with people in different fields of study. My second piece of advice is to diversify a little in college, to pursue a minor or at least some classes in a field unrelated to your primary degree. This will help you too meet other people who will help you to look at things in different ways. I still play my trombone in church occasionally, and being a band geek was something I had in common with my wife when we met. Another way to diversify is to find interesting work in the summer. I had the opportunity to work in Yellowstone during the summer in college and met a lot of cool people from across the country and around the world.
When I got out of college there weren’t a lot of hardware design type jobs for electrical engineers. I ended up being hired as a systems engineer by an aerospace company. I was glad to be working on aerospace projects as I’d always been fascinated by aviation and space exploration, but I had no idea what a systems engineer was or what they did. I never even had a systems engineering course in college. It turns out the systems engineers were responsible for researching and writing requirements, then writing tests to make sure the hardware and software together met the requirements. I really enjoyed working with customers to figure out what they wanted, then translating this in a manner that the engineers could understand and implement. My third piece of advice is: don’t be so set in your plan that you’re not open to other options that might come up. I read somewhere that 70-80% of college graduates end up in a different field that their original course of study. College will give you the tools you need to be able to learn and understand things, but don’t let it lock you in to one path.
Once I started working I found that I wanted to learn more about the details of how software was developed in our systems, so I switched to the software group for awhile then back to systems. I believe that what I learned about software development made me a better systems engineer. So my last piece of advice is even after college be open to trying new things and always continue learning. This will increase your job satisfaction and make you a more valuable employee.
I’m interested to hear from you:
– Do people ask you what you plan to do and expect you to have things figured out already? How does this make you feel?
– What are your interests and abilities, and what are some career paths that might align?
– Do you have other secondary interests and have you thought about how you might be able to continue to stay involved with these?
About the author: Aloha’s dad is an electrical/systems engineer with an affinity for chocolate and all things aerospace. His free time is spent mountain biking and riding his motorcycle.