Career Change to Engineering?
August 22, 2014 6:24 AM   Subscribe

I have a bachelor's degree in a non engineering field but I want to get into engineering and have work experience in a engineering related field, any suggestions on how to best do this? Snowflakes inside.

So I got into engineering (more specifically, physical computing) second semester of my last year of college (studying a pure liberal-artsy field), and have been trying to enter the field ever since. Right now I have just completed my first year in electronics manufacturing, and have been doing some work with PCB design (specifically with Eagle CAD).

I feel like I am going to eventually hit a wall in my career without an engineering degree (electrical engineering to be more specific, though mechanical engineering also seems interesting) or more formal training, and I'm fortunate enough to have the resources to go back to school. I sent out some emails to various EE Departments in hopes that there might be a postgrad option for people without engineering backgrounds (something like UPenn's MCIT program for post-grad computer science but they all seem to suggest repeating undergrad, which I'd rather not do - a full four-year commitment for an entire second bachelor's degree seems excessive. Are there any other options? Has anyone out there managed to make a transition like this, and if so how did you pull it off?

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
posted by KernalM to Work & Money (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Look into post-bacclaureate programs --basically a 2nd undergrad degree in under 2 years full-time (longer part-time). Still expensive, but not 4 years' worth.
posted by sninctown at 6:46 AM on August 22, 2014

I feel like I am going to eventually hit a wall in my career without an engineering degree

Electrical engineer here. ^^ This is absolutely my experience. Without that piece of paper, you will be treated like a technician unless you have some outstanding skill or capability. I've seen very few technicians make the leap into engineer and even then they can never legally call themselves an engineer, so their title reflects that. Investing in the degree pays off, no question.

I would look into leveraging the credits you do have so that the 4 year degree turns into 2 years instead. Some universities allow for this, some do not, so shop around. I know someone with a technician's diploma who went to Lakehead University (warning: it is out in butf*ck nowhere) and got their engineering degree in 2 years.

I feel your pain (I switched from linguistics, so my undergrad was quite long) but the payoff is worth it. You can make quite a bit of money as an engineer and if you have to take out any loans to do so, they will get paid off quickly.

At least up in Canada, the undergrad program is horribly rigorous (4 pure math courses, 2 semiconductor device physics courses, 3 general physics classes, 4 programming classes, 4 analog and digital design classes.....), so I really couldn't see a university accepting you as postgrad unless you had some exceptional skill. Also if you jumped into post-grad (ie research) with only a liberal arts background, you may find yourself quickly drowning, so it really wouldn't be in your best interest to go that route I think.

If you want to skip schooling entirely, then you just need to dive into proving your knowledge by joining a smaller company (who is willing to take the risk on you) and just start building stuff. And read everything you can get your hands on. Or start your own company. Back in the day, engineer = tinkerer; these days engineer = likes physics, good at math, never held a hammer. (I exaggerate, but not a lot of people tinker these days.) Once you have some demonstrated capability under your belt it will be easier to get a job without the degree.

That being said, even if you have to do 4 years, I would say do it. If you have the interest and the aptitude, it is a good career path. It seems like forever at the time but once it is finished you get to reap the rewards for the rest of your life.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:18 AM on August 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

EE here, too.

I think St. Peepsburg has it. One on the hand, it is a bit aggravating that you need a degree to demonstrate your technical acumen, on the other, engineering is hard and they want to be certain you have demonstrated aptitude.

There are other ways to establish that credibility, but I think the most straightforward would be just getting another degree.

On the plus side, your previous degree should get your gen-eds and breadth requirements taken care of. On the down side, those are met with like 12 credits out of 130+, so it doesn't save you much.

And - although electrical engineering is a broad field, you will be amazed at how much knowledge of say, AC power systems or fields and waves will help with circuit design. I doubt you will feel that your time getting the degree is wasted. Plus networking with profs/classmates is a huge bonus.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:49 AM on August 22, 2014

Here are some free online courses you check out to see if you really want to study this stuff. There are MSEE programs out there that do not absolutely require a BSEE. Here is one at New Mexico State.

I've seen others like this out there, one of my sons is also interested in doing this, he works in solar and is hitting that wall. I don't have time to look now.
posted by mareli at 9:29 AM on August 22, 2014

If you want an EE degree in under 4 years, you'll probably be taking 3 semesters of work every year instead of the 'normal' 2, which is assumed for a 4 year degree. What I'd suggest is finding a program that offers most of the required classes year round so you don't get stuck waiting for a required class. Based on my own university, if you were to start in Fall of '15 and took 16 credit hours over the summer (8 credits per 'summer session' since the work load is done in half the time of a normal semester). You could probably get all of the 'pre-engineering' courses done over summer '16 to get formally accepted into the engineering program for Fall '16. My university requires two semesters of 'senior design' classes which are each apparently offered twice a year each so based on my university scheduling, you could theoretically finish by Fall '17, or 2 1/3rd years from start to finish.

It wouldn't be easy though, that's for sure.
posted by Green With You at 9:41 AM on August 24, 2014

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