Interesting article going against the perennial career advice of “doing what you love”. Instead, the author suggests that you “do what you are”.
The pressure we feel to find a perfect career is insane. And, given that people are trying to find it before they are thirty, in order to avoid both a quarterlife crisis and a biological-clock crisis, the pressure is enough to push people over the edge. Which is why one of the highest risk times for depression in life is in one’s early twenties when people realize how totally impossible it is to simply “do what you love.”
This idea is in line with the main thread of this blog: only chasing what you love can have you end up doing that which you hate. I have often heard it said that the secret to a great career is to develop a love for something that other people can’t or won’t do. If you have a passion for picking up trash, then you can make a great living dominating the trash collection industry. Why? Because most people DON’T have a passion for it. Having a passion for something is 9/10 of the battle. The rest comes down to competitive edge. If, instead, your passion is shared with millions of other people (like acting or art) then you have a much harder road ahead of you. So, my advice is NOT to drop your dreams. That would be silly. Instead, find an angle to your dreams that involves looking at what you really ARE. Love singing/songwriting but have found it difficult to break on to the scene? Have skills when it comes to managing people and using production software? Why not go the production side of things to get started. Then, produce videos of you singing your songs. Not in the hopes that you will be the next Bieber. But so that Bieber picks up your songs and records it. You still get in to the industry, have influence, make money, etc. Play up what you are, not what you love.
So how does this apply to engineering? I can state, without question, that most engineers use the profession as a means-to-an-end. We all come to it for different reasons, but I highly doubt anyone truly LOVES engineering. You may love design, product invention, problem solving. But you get paid to manage projects, remove roadblocks, and trouble shoot processes. The result is the same: Great design goes out the door. But by acknowledging what you ARE you actually get the chance to play the game.
At least according to this opinion piece in the NY Times. I’ve talked about it before, but it warrants repeating: learning math is not about memorizing formulas or following the bouncing ball to get to the right answer. It is about understanding abstract thought and learning how to think. Algebra is that first rung of mathematics that has nothing to do with numbers, really. It is about using variables to stand in for relationships, balancing equations to show that input equal outputs, and presenting scenarios that could actually appear in real life and that a calculator can’t help set up. Heck, just the other day I was looking to buy a new computer monitor (adding a new on to my setup). My current monitor had a 16:10 ratio. My new one would need to be 16:9 (the new “standard”). However, the vertical height needed to be the same so that an image would not have to re-size as it went from screen to screen. To make matter worse, most of the websites only release the ratio and the corner-to-corner distance (viewing). So what size monitor would I need to get? My problem was rather unique, a calculator can’t help me, and I had no idea if I could trust some of the random calculators out there. Of course, a simple algebraic equation and a spread sheet and I had my answer. I was able to match my monitor vertical height to within a few mm with a simple equation. Because I know algebra, I new that an abstract relationship existed that I could exploit. Now, of course, there is plenty of opportunity (engineering speak for “lots of problems”) to improve the way we teach math to kids. I absolutely love what the folks over at the Khan Academy are putting together. I love how they are breaking down the material, making it accessible, and doing their best make it fun and approachable. So why not just improve our teaching methods rather than simply ditching the material?
The good news is that when it comes to engineers, creative and highly driven pretty much always come together. In other words, I don’t know many lazy creative engineers. Most tend to be driven to a fault.
Creative and highly driven engineers are out there, but they can be tough to attract and retain. That’s why a lot of the high tech start-ups end up in trendy areas (NY, Seattle, SiliconValley) and offer a real chance to be an owner of something big and exciting, rather than just another cog in the machine. Then you have people like me who work within a large corporations but have found ways to get rewarded for creative work. It hasn’t been easy, by my executives have learned what makes me tick and give me the freedom to do what I need to do.
My advice, then, is too look at what your company is offering that would attract this type of engineer. Strict work rules and large HR departments don’t work. Big impact projects and the chance to interactive with other highly driven people will help. Also, make sure you are at the forefront of the latest work trends (i.e. decentralized offices, work from anywhere, flexible work schedules) and be creative with the compensation.