Q&A – Which Engineering Discipline Pays the Best?

I know that I might be going sideways with this answer, but it’s my answer nonetheless: One cannot gauge income on $$$ alone, so even though statistics might point toward what you’d receive in your paycheck every 2 weeks, income should consider a much broader approach.

Starting salaries for most branches of engineering fluctuate. Historically, civil engineers are traditionally one of the lower-salaried engineering sectors. But, that to me means very little: Anyone who works simply for $$$ or perks is being short-sighted – You need to follow a work path that you will enjoy. Earning an income is important, but that is a by-product of what you do on that career path day-to-day. Don’t pick, say, mechanical engineering as a career path simply because you might make $7500 more/year than a civil – Pick a sect of engineering that will get you out of bed in the morning and be excited about the type of work you’re doing. The money will be there, job security will be there, don’t worry about that – If you are good at what you do, employers will reward you.

There is a stigma with young engineers, and moreso, young aspiring college students who are embanking down the path of becoming an engineer – The whole discussion/debate about starting salaries is short-sighted. Younger people are getting caught-up in the “Look At Me” movement, and it’s sad. Big house, nice car, make a boat-load of money in the first 15 years and then become a venture capitalist and travel the world, just like that Tai Fletcher guy, right….?

I’ll break it to you nicely: Life doesn’t work like that.

Here’s the Real Deal: The world is a tough place. Work is part of life. There isn’t any easy path, it takes hard work. Food on the table, roof over your head, clothes for you and your family, and all the while, maintaining your happiness and a good quality of life – THAT’S WHAT YOUR CAREER CHOICE IS ABOUT!!

Pick a career path that interests you. That will get you out of bed in the morning looking forward to getting to the office or the jobsite. Spend your days learning about a sector of engineering that you think you’ll like.

I embarked on my college career pursuing electrical engineering – After 2 circuits classes, I Hated It!! I’m a guy who likes to work with my hands. Who likes to get dirty. I went to college with the stigma of wanting a EE degree because their starting salary was about $4K/year higher than civil’s. How shortsighted I was: I switched to civil and have NEVER LOOKED BACK!

I’ve been a gainfully-employed civil engineer for 30+ years. I’ve never been out of work as the job market is always in demand – CIVIL ENGINEERS ARE ALWAYS IN DEMAND! I’ve put food on the table for my wife and family, and we’ve managed to get both of our kids into college. Do you think the $4K/year means a hill of beans difference to me – You can answer that based on what you’ve already read of this answer….

Action Item: Pick a path for your engineering life that sounds like fun – Then, get up & go after it. Put your heart into it. Be the hardest working student in your classes. Endeavor to soak in as much knowledge as you can. If you wake up everyday and enjoy the prospect of going to work, then believe me, the $4K/year less that you are making than “some other engineer” is won’t even cross your mind…count on it!

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