If you’ve graduated with a Mechanical Engineering degree you will know the feeling. You’ve just finished the hardest technical curriculum you’ll ever undertake and you’re feeling like you can take on any job at any company out there! However there is a dark cloud looming, the fear of engineering burnout.
Joining the industry
A week after graduation, an unexpected email arrives. It’s from a company you spoke with at the career fair before you graduated; it’s an offer for your first engineering position. It isn’t the company you were hoping for, but you couldn’t be more excited at the prospect of building something new. The fear of burnout is the last thing on your mind as you start going to work, presenting your own original ideas, and performing 3-D modeling and analysis.
Moving forward, it’s your first day and you’re ready to do some engineering! “Just give me a computer with CAD or analysis software and let me go!” Is what you’re thinking as you arrive at your first position. But, a month into this great position after four long hard years to attain, and you still haven’t been let loose on any important projects. In fact, you’re still trying to finish up the on-boarding procedures and obtain computer system access to perform your daily duties. And then there’s the training… safety training, IT security training, company policy training, and welcome aboard meetings that consume your days for the entire first month.
Now a month has passed and you’ve begun to understand that training is required of engineers in every position. “That’s fine”, you think. With your creative drive still close to high gear, ready to draw out some designs and contribute you think, “Now do I get to perform some engineering?” Your new manager directs you to a team of engineers who are responsible for a big thing you know nothing about (and likely something you were never really interested in). But, it’s your first position, and you’re getting paid an entry level salary around $60k, and you’ll do whatever they want just to pay off your debts from four years of college.
Fear of Engineering Burnout
You now realize that being an engineer isn’t necessarily about what you want, it’s about what they want. “They”: the company, the manager, the team, everyone but you. The team leader then gives you the first important assignment of your professional career that will demonstrate how you earned that 3.5 GPA. “Design a PowerPoint presentation explaining the results from testing we’ve just completed and how it affects the thing we are developing”. You sit back and think to yourself, “When am I going to engineer something?!” You start to realize that being a new hire means performing low-level work for the next two years.
It happens too often, but there are reasons not to be discouraged. Our first engineering position gives us insight into what is expected of us at a company. Whether you work for Boeing, Coca-Cola, NASA, or a small privately owned company, safety and networking are the keys to successful engineering. Every engineering endeavor requires a team effort, whether it’s designing the thing, or developing the PowerPoint to present your team’s efforts to management. You cannot forget that we are engineers and our creed demands, “To give the utmost of performance in any endeavor”.
Teaming up for success
Performing a hundred seemingly meaningless tasks at a company is the key to qualifying for the position you’ve been longing for: the creator. While you may not see the added value in these tasks, team leaders and management use them as a means of training.
Finally, over time, it starts making sense. You’re being trained to contribute and oversee your part in developing this big thing. And you couldn’t be more excited about what your first engineering position has taught you: that teamwork, dedication, and hundreds of little meaningful tasks drive engineering success. The key to avoiding engineering burnout is to understand why you may need to perform these different tasks and what they mean to the company. Engineering is more than just designing a product, but to contribute towards the company as a whole.