Saturday, December 19, 2009

Overview of Engineering Jobs

A lot of people don't really know what engineers do, so I like to post little things here and there to explain things.

In order to become an engineer, you have to first get a degree in engineering (Bachelor's) and then you choose who to go to work for. There's basically 3 broad areas: Corporations, Consultants, and Government.

By corporations, I mean working for someone who directly makes something, like Dow, Shell, Exxon, etc. The corporations tend to be the highest paying. Depending on the discipline, starting salaries might be as high as $75K/year. If you want to play politics, there's plenty of room for advancement. The downside: it's serious Dilbert-land. Everything posted by Scott Adams actually does happen. Don't think it's just satire.

I work for an engineering consultant. There are several broad areas: service companies (like, say, Schlumberger), Architecture & Engineering {A&E} firms (like Fluor), and smaller, individual or family owned operations (where I work). The variation is large, but consultants tend to pay about 10% less for doing the same work as the corporations, all things considered. The bright side is that you tend to get shifted around to different projects and gain good experience. One thing to note: your options with consultants are limited without a P.E. Jacobs has just announced that they won't do any new hires unless they have a P.E. Another bright side of a consultant is you don't have to play politics. You do your job and if they don't like it, they can find someone else; there's less pressure to give the answer that's "desired" versus what the numbers say it should be. Consultants also tend to get very few holidays (because if the client is open, you have to be).

The government could be the Corps, MMS, etc. The government tend to pay about 25% less than a corporation. Recently, MMS has hemorrhaged petroleum engineers who took private jobs paying double their government salaries. On the bright side, you get lots of holidays, very secure employment, and probably the best retirement package of any of the groups. Being the government, Dilbert-land comes into play again, big time.

Also to note: there are quite a few one-man-band operations out there. A good P.E. with ample contacts can make quite a living for themselves. I know of a few major projects that were put together with phone calls. One person will get a contract, then call up a friend, who calls up a friend, and before you know it, you have a roomful of engineers in each specialty needed and they're all working together successfully.

This is a mixture of my experience and impressions, so if anyone has any experiences, please feel free to chime in.

NOTE: Some edits for spelling.

5 comments:

lettyrburrage said...
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Pistolette said...

My hubby is an EE w/EI but he hates the oil jobs (I hated when he was in oil too because he was always offshore). He hasn't really pursued the PE since he started the Urban Challenge project, but he's thinking about getting his MS in EE now that he's been laid off.

The news keeps saying there are hundreds of open jobs in engineering in LA, but when you look at the job sites there are very few (and most are horrendously specialized). How do they get these stupid numbers? Anyway, I really don't want to leave Nola, but he hasn't found anything here in 3 months (though he regularly gets calls for jobs from other cities). Fuckity fuck.

Clay said...

The specialization thing is a little over-blown. If they like you and you're in that broad range (i.e.- mechanical engineer applying for a job as a petroleum engineer), they'll generally take you.

There are a lot of jobs also out in the boonies (Houma, Morgan City, jobsites in the middle of nowhere) that are always hiring, but the commute sucks and the pay tends to be crappy.

Tim said...

I currently work for the federal government after having worked as a consulting engineer for almost 10 years. Yes, I took a cut in pay when I made the change, but the government pays for overtime and the private firm where I used to work did not so I think it's a wash.

I also think a P.E. is invaluable. I would like to see more engineering graduates complete the process to become registered. It doesn't guarnatee that someone is a good engineer, but it shows at least a basic level of competence and commitment to the profession. The first thing I look for on any resume is the P.E.

Peace,

Tim

Clay said...

I should have added a note about overtime. Corporations rarely pay overtime, except for special circumstances (like offshore). You're a salaried employee and expected to do your job.

I work for one of the rare consultants that gives you straight time for all overtime. That's a fair deal. One time, I raked in almost 40 hours of overtime working offshore for a while and used it to pay for the computer I'm typing on now.