So You Want To Be An Electrical Engineer …

April 2, 2016 opinion Electrical Engineering work

In my spare time, when I’m not working on this site, I work as an Electrical Engineer at a somewhat major semiconductor manufacturer. I’ve been at the company for 11 years - - - ever since I graduated from college. For those heading to or in college contemplating Electrical Engineering as a career, I suggest looking for an alternate career path. If you have the aptitude to succeed in engineering then you most certainly will make as a doctor. If you get a bachelors degree in engineering then Finance or Law are good options.

Some things to consider:

The hours are long and unrelenting. I’m usually at work at 7:30AM, leave at 6:30PM, and can count on working through lunch once or twice a week. Weekend work is frequent and often we work over major holidays because the Fab gets their product out before the holiday so they can take time off and we end up debugging over the holiday in order to meet customer commits. The company promotes “work-life balance” but mention this because you don’t want to work over a holiday or weekend or go home early and you’ll be marked down as a complainer.

Job security is non-existent. Despite our loyalty to the company, we’re on the chopping line every time there is a downturn or even a hint of a downturn. They say the employment is “at-will” meaning they can fire us at anytime but we can also quit at any time. However the balance of power is asymmetric - we rely on the company for health insurance and literally the food we eat while to the company we are replaceable commodities.

You’re always competing against your peers. Companies use stack ranking to grade employees on a bell curve and then lay off the bottom performers. At my company they state that 1-2% or so of all employees are ranked at the bottom of the curve and fired. Everyone is ranked into a category so you can be rated “good” but not that “good”. This forces you to compete against your co-workers. Why share knowledge or help someone when you can do the work yourself and claim the credit? Or wait until there is a crisis and then swoop in to save the day? Despite their claim that only bottom performers are fired, recently we had a mass layoff where all “good” employees that had been on the lower end of good for the last two years were laid off. The reasoning was that even though the employees were rated “good”, they were on the lower end of “good” for two years and thus the employees saw no reason to improve themselves. Of course the corporation did not take personal circumstances into account - one had been ranked low because he was taking care of a sick wife, another had been put on a low priority project by his manager, and another was dealing with kidney failure which leads me to my next point ..

If you get sick then you’ll be forced out. In the United States, the Family Medical Leave Act or FMLA allows a person to take up to a year of unpaid leave if they get sick or have to take care of a sick relative. If you are away from work then of course you’ll be ranked low vs your co-workers because obviously they are working and you are not. Guess what now? You are now a target to be laid off for low performance!

There is rampant age discrimination. You may be young now but someday you’ll be old. The tech industry does not want older people since they actually expect to work reasonable hours. Why pay an older worker when you can pay a new graduate a little less and have them work longer hours? Doctors and lawyers on the other hand, gain more respect as they age and are revered for their experience.

It may sound like I’m complaining. I’m not. I feel like I’m paid well for my work but it is a tough industry without good prospects as you get older. The best thing to do is to work hard, save your money, and work on a side business you can grow into a full time job when you age out of engineering.