Matt Fitzgerald is a licensed Professional Engineer and the co-founder of Fitz-Thors Engineering, located in Bessemer, Alabama.
Students that end up pursuing a career in engineering often have strength in identifying problems and developing solutions. Typically there is an interest in the way systems are designed (mechanical, electrical, biological, chemical, etc.). These types of thinkers want to tinker with things to figure out how they work, to see how they can be improved, and to identify the potential to be optimized. As a result, some things are built up, while others are torn apart. Sometimes an idea might work well, but even when it doesn’t, lessons are learned, problem solving skills improve, and future designs benefit from this process.
I doubt that most students would analyze their future with the same problem/solution mindset. However, maybe they should. In looking back at my career path and the opportunities that were available to me, there was a path that evolved. Was it by design? Possibly. And perhaps without me even being aware of it. If you are considering a future in engineering, I will tell you from my experience that you can use your problem solving strengths to design your path to take full advantage of all opportunities to learn and be a leader in your field.
How will opportunities become available to you that will define your future?
Most of the time opportunities are based on previous experiences and current skills and how those compare to others being considered for the same opportunity. Keeping this in mind, consider how you would address the following problems.
- How will I develop skills that I can use in the future?
- How will I set myself apart from other classmates
The good thing is that you can design a unique solution to address these questions. The biggest piece of advice I can offer is to start! And then I will add, as early as possible.
I had very little “engineering” experience when I entered college. I liked to take things apart and build things, but I had little that would be considered noteworthy to put on a résumé. I was very fortunate to gain an engineering internship with Southern Company after my freshman year. In hindsight, this lead to a snowball effect that truly allowed me to build my experiences and résumé to position myself for diverse opportunities. One job with Southern Company lead to a different, better job with Southern Company, that lead to working at NASA, that lead to an amazing research opportunity with a university, that combined to build a portfolio where I was recognized my senior year by USA Today as an Academic All-American. Receiving this recognition was not a goal of mine when I started school; however, it became an opportunity because of the diverse path I had taken and skills that I had developed. These opportunities continued to build even after college, and I later had the chance to co-found an engineering firm. Today, our company, Fitz-Thors Engineering, specializes in designing custom automated equipment and robotics.
As our business has grown, I have reviewed many engineering résumés for consideration to join our team. Your parents might not want to hear this, but while GPA and class ranking might matter to university admissions and scholarships – it is not a major consideration to us. Our company has had great engineers that had a 2.0 GPA; we have had 4.0 engineers that were difficult to work with on a team. That is not to say you shouldn’t do your best in class. I simply want to point out that grades are not everything. They are important, but only one of many contributing factors to what opportunities might one day be available to you. At our company, the résumés that stand out the most to us are those where a student has strengths and experiences inside and outside the classroom. If I were to recommend a “designed” foundation for a future engineer, I would note the following items:
- Education curriculum – be sure to focus on math and science
- Hands-on projects – build something, program something, repair things, use common hand tools, seek experiences where you can apply the things that you have learned
- Pursuing an interest – be part of a science club, join a Maker Space, attend technology tradeshows, conferences, webinars, read magazines like Make and Popular Mechanics
- Develop skills – learn SolidWorks, be proficient at Excel, learn a computer programming language, like MATLAB
- Learn to learn – teach yourself things, increase your knowledge base, keep notes that you can later reference
- Work as a team – work with others, play sports, learn to contribute to achieve a combined purpose
- Have social experiences – public speaking, leadership in a club, write a blog, let’s be honest…as much as engineers might prefer to be introverted, you cannot avoid dealing with other people
- Attention to detail – this is important in design, frequently noticed by others, and says a lot about your quality of work
It is difficult for most students to determine what they want their ultimate career to be – there is nothing wrong with this and is quite normal. Engineering offers a diverse world of choices. However, if you are considering engineering and have the problem/solution mindset, you should consider your future as a path that can be designed. Start now to identify how you will build your foundation. Addressing the problem statements above will determine if the doors of opportunity are wide with possibility or narrow with few options.
Learn, build, design – it is your future!