Letter to a (Graduating) Young Engineer

Dear Recently Minted Engineering Graduate,

I use the term “minted” not lightly, but as an indication of value and of stability. Just as the strength of a currency defines the economic stability of a country, the strength of your skills, having successfully completed an engineering program of study, defines the stability of our important profession.


Graduating with a degree in engineering is no easy feat. According to recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, you have joined the only 1.6 million total working Americans who hold engineering degrees. In a country whose population is just over 300 million people, in the face of a national unemployment rate of almost 10%, you fall into a significant, sought-after minority.

In the past four or more years, you have lost ridiculous amounts of sleep. You have learned how to live off of overpriced food from the university snack bar. You are one of the few who actually do (have to) use all of the buttons on their scientific calculator. You’ve made midnight runs for Red Bull and cheese pizza. You and your classmates have worked in shifts in order to complete team projects on time. You have added words to your vocabulary that will become thelingua francaof your discipline: words like “tensor analysis,” or “thermodynamics,” or “programmable logic controller.”

You are faced with new life choices. You may be in the midst of searching for a job in which to engage your newly earned skills. You may already be hired and are wondering what your working relationship with your new manager will be like. You may be pursuing graduate studies to further enhance your skills and contribute to the knowledge of the engineering field. You may be looking to add specific kinds of skills to your work experience so that you can one day add professional engineering licensure to your list of credentials. Or, you may be exploring a field not directly linked to your academic background at all.

This is a fairly intimidating roadmap to be sure, but not one you cannot conquer. You’ve just recently survived senior design capstone classes so you’ve already been through much, much worse.

There is light at the end of the tunnel, and this time you are the train.

Academically, you are better if not more prepared than most to take on the economic challenges of today. You have come to see that engineering is not exclusively just knowledge of how to solve certain problems or how to be technologically creative. Engineering is a way of thinking. A way of analyzing. A way of doing. These capabilities will not only help you become a citizen of the sciences, but a citizen of the world.

So as you take your first steps, keep a few more thoughts in mind—some of which have not explicitly appeared in textbooks or internships. I charge you with four tasks:

1) Do the Right Thing:Think and act ethically always. Engineers work to serve the public well-being, and when it comes to the common good, you must always make the right choices, even when such decisions become the most difficult ones to make.

2) Think Globally:Next to music and mathematics, engineering & science may just be the third universal language. Our discipline is rooted in the application of physical laws to fresh innovative realities. Use these skills to broaden your homeland and then share and interact with the world. Leave borders to politics. Engineering knowledge does not and cannot discriminate. Serve the world’s technological needs and you will become wealthy in character, culture, and in spirit.

3) Help Others:You will make great friends on your journey. They will help you along and you must also help them in return. Improve lives. Inspire purpose in yourself and in others. Your skills make your knowledge valuable to the assistance of others who would otherwise be helpless. You are a technological facilitator and innovator. Build bridges both literal and metaphorical.

4) Promote the Profession:Become a fisher of engineers. Encourage youth interest in the math and sciences. Teach. Tutor. Mentor. Know that you will be the key in the growth and continuation of the engineering profession. We await the inclusion of your capable hands and visionary minds.

This is just the beginning. And you’re off to a great start: yours.

I leave you with an excerpt of Act III, Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s Henry V, reinterpreted with some poetic (engineering) license:

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more…
In peace there's nothing so becomes [an Engineer]
as modest stillness and humility…

Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
to his full height. On, on, you noblest [Engineers]…

I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
straining upon the start. The game's afoot…

Published May 19, 2010 by Austin Lin

Filed under: career development,

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