"I've never encouraged my kid to go into engineering," says Gail Schooley, a senior design engineer at Abbott Diagnostics. "On the contrary, I told him to go into marketing, sales, the legal profession, or anything else, but not engineering. Kids, they never listen."
No, they don't. Gail's son Aaron is a hardware engineer at Lumanate, a small multimedia company. He's been on the job for about three months, and he's already the lead designer of a new USB TV tuner product. In fact, he just received an award for having his first prototype work right out of the box.
Meanwhile, he's hitting the books as a master's candidate at the University of Santa Clara. His projects there have included work with the Robotic Systems Laboratory (RSL), where he worked on a satellite project for the Air Force Research Laboratory and an autonomous surface vessel in cooperation with the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.
Juggling a career and graduate studies seems to be par for the course today. According to our survey, 15% of you attend college courses in person, while 13.0% are going back to school online. The average base salary for an engineer with a bachelor's degree is $79,200, but that shoots up to $98,200 for engineers with a master's degree. These big figures aren't always a luxury, though, especially for engineers just starting out.
"I always knew that I was going to get a bachelor's, but I never dreamed of a master's. My graduation day from SCU was the happiest day of my life. Never again would I have to cram for exams or buy books, or so I thought," Aaron says. "Skip to three months later, having a looming loan deferment period pending expiration and desperately hitting the want ads."
"My son has a BSEE but he went back to grad school because the job market in Silicon Valley now sucks," Gail says. "It's the three to five years of experience or an MSEE these days, although I believe most of the listings are really looking for an H-1B to fill the slot."
Things certainly have changed since Gail's early days as an engineer. His career began with 10 years as an electronics tech in the U.S. Navy. Upon his discharge, he worked in radiation therapy for three years and disk and tape drives for five years, followed by 14 years at Lockheed Martin, where he worked "on stuff that goes way up in the air." He returned to the medical field in 1998 and has been there since.
"The U.S. Navy chose my career path by making me an electronics technician," Gail says. "Prior to being drafted for Viet Nam, I was going to the University of Illinois Tech. I was planning to become a mechanical engineer with a math minor." While his career has included a variety of experiences, he says most of the neat projects he worked on were at Lockheed.
"But they are still classified," he says.
Like his son, Gail works to stay up to date with current technologies.
"I've gone from large vacuum tube technology to 0201/0402 SMT device designs," Gail says. "I started programming in assembly using IBM punch cards, then on to LISP, ALGOL, Fortran and PL/1, to now programming in C++, Perl, and Visual Basic."
Aaron got to watch this evolution first hand.
"Growing up in a household with a bedroom dedicated to gadgets, widgets, tinkering, and test equipment, I naturally had an interest in engineering," Aaron says. "By the end of high school I found myself applying to engineering schools and was/am torn between EE and ME. Maybe that's why I'm so involved in the RSL and controls classes."
While Aaron benefitted from this early exposure to engineering, and his interest hasn't waned, it's still a challenging career.
"The biggest problem I see in the kid's future is staying interested in engineering with all the paperwork, regulations, requirements, and just plain non-engineering crap one has to put up with in this profession," Gail says.
"Rewards and struggles are at a constant tug of war with my psyche," Aaron says. "The rewards are awesome. I am constantly learning. I am constantly amazed by how powerful math is. It is old hat now since I have been using them for so many years, but derivatives, integrals, laplace transforms, and Fourier transforms are just fascinating to me. I feel like the more I learn, the less I know."
And then there's the downside. "I wake up at 5:30 a.m. for a 7 a.m. class and then continue to work for a typical 10-hour day," he says. "Trying to balance my life with so many commitments usually ends in personal sacrifice."
Despite that, and despite his father's early warnings, he's not ready to give up on engineering yet.
"Now that I have a career as an working engineer, I want to keep learning," Aaron says. "Part of the reason it took me so long to was because I held out for a hardware design position where I could actually work on something. I also wanted to go to a company where they were willing to mentor me. In the future, I would like to learn all that I can end eventually find my own thing."