But What If I Don’t Want to Be An Engineer?

By Mike Murphy ‘12
 

Becoming an engineer at Olin is an amazing experience. From solving complex problems, to working with other students, to using high tech equipment from the start of freshman year to pulling it all together for senior year projects, my time at Olin was an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything.

However, what happens if you spend your four (+) years at Olin only to realize that you may just well… not want to be an engineer?

Step one, don’t panic.

Failing step one, focus on what you can do and where you might go from here. It’s never too late to switch gears, or work toward things you enjoy. It may take a while to get there, but that makes the final destination all the more worth it!

How can I deliver such cheesy platitudes with confidence? Well, that’s exactly where I was in the spring of 2012. My classmates were all getting job offers at prestigious tech enterprises, accepting admission to grad schools across the world, or deciding to start their own engineering ventures, and I had no plan at all. While my degree would read “BS in Electrical and Computer Engineering,” I knew in the deepest recesses of my heart that I didn’t want to do engineering. 

In retrospect, I’m sure this came through in my interviews with the companies that visited Olin. I could code, but didn’t really enjoy it, so those jobs were out.  In my PM interviews, I would flounder when describing my skills, and would inevitably receive a nicely worded ‘No Thank You’ email.  All this had me wondering - what had I been doing for the last 4 years?  Did I come to the wrong school?  Had I let down my family, my professors and advisors and most importantly…myself? 

What had happened to the younger me who would spend all day playing with Legos, discovering new ways to create? Where was the kid who had learned the intricacies of the family PC before my parents had? The young Mike Murphy who was going to change the world with his creations, where was he now? I had no idea where he’d gone – and it didn’t feel good.

So now what?

Well…I started from scratch. I have distinct memories of the day I got a call back from the most recent company I had applied to, telling me that I hadn’t made the cut, and I wasn’t even surprised anymore. Instead I lay down on my bed and just thought. In my head I started making a list. A very simple list of things I liked and things I didn’t like.

After a few hours it ended up looking like this:

  • Things I like and could see myself working in:
    • Math
    • Video Games

 

  • Things I don’t like and can’t see myself working in:
    • Coding
    • Circuit Design
    • Engineering

 

Now We’re Getting Somewhere!

Not what many would call an amazing list for a few hours of thinking, but I strongly believe it was the act of finally doing some serious reflection about this that freed me. I had been trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, which was completely ridiculous!

Over and over at Olin we learned that when you’re stumped, do some research. So with that list in mind I came up with a second list. One that came about with the help of Google, that defined all the jobs I could find relating to “Math” and “Video Games,” while removing all those that contained the 3 things I disliked.

I started looking for specifics - what did each job entail? Could I see myself doing that? Did I have all the skills required? What would I have to learn to get my foot in the door? At the end of this exercise, I had a much broader list of jobs which I didn’t necessarily have all the skills for, but that I was much more excited to pursue.   

And so I began. I found companies relating to each job and sent them my resume, as mismatched as it may have felt. While many never did get back to me, I found this process far less depressing. I was already reaching out on a limb for many of these, so instead of being disappointed by the failures, I was excited and happy for the successes. The difference in mindset was astounding!  I could tell I was already doing better in my interviews - simply because I was now genuinely interested in knowing everything about each job, rather than just repeating the questions I knew I should be asking. Even though many of them still said no, I wasn’t disheartened anymore because I could understand why I hadn’t made the cut. If my skills didn’t match, I knew what to start educating myself about next. If the way they described the job wasn’t for me, I felt more confident and less apologetic in telling them that that I didn’t see a match, either.  Progress!

My Post-Olin Journey

I’m not going to say that once all was said and done, a rainbow awaited me. After graduation, instead of finding a full time position, I settled for internship as a Financial Analyst. On the other hand, I had an internship as a Financial Analyst! It was only for 3 months, but it gave me time to learn first-hand what I enjoyed and what I didn’t in this unfamiliar environment. I really liked the analysis part, reminding me of my time in ModSim, but I found the company a bit old-school and established, and had an air of “it’s always been done this way.” As an Oliner, I wasn’t too excited about that mindset. The list I had come up with a few months ago continued to grow and evolve. I added ‘large established companies’ to my list of things I wasn’t looking for, and began to look more at start-ups.

During my next few jobs, I continued to hone my list of likes and dislikes. I found out I liked small companies, but disliked a lack of direction. I enjoyed dealing with problems that spring up, but not dealing directly with clients or customers. It took me 4 years and 6 positions before I realized that with this process, I was doing what Olin had taught me. I felt I had been presented with a fire hydrant of knowledge of all these new jobs and markets, and bit by bit, I was learning more about myself.  I could feel myself growing not only as a person, but I was also closing in on what I really wanted to do.

What Makes an Engineer?

At the end of the day, many of us describe ourselves as engineers. While we don’t all become engineers, we do take from Olin certain traits. As engineers, we like to have our problems completely figured out, but that can’t always be the case. Toward the end of my time at Olin, I felt that determining my next step in life was a problem I was just beginning to understand. 

Today I work as a Lead Analyst for CrossInstall, a mobile gaming advertising start-up based in San Francisco. When I first interviewed for this job, they informed me that they were looking for someone with an analytical background, passionate about gaming, strong math and statistical skills, the ability to understand and work closely with everyone from the most technical engineer to the least technical salesman, and a strong desire to learn every day. Needless to say, they were having trouble finding someone to fit all those requirements, but thankfully I seemed to be the jigsaw piece they were looking for. Now, every day I face interesting and challenging problems, and can see the impact I have on the company.  I enjoy my coworkers and recognize when my work grows our revenue.

If you’ve been feeling as frustrated as I was along your journey, think back to when you first came to Olin.  We all experienced those moments when we were struggling to grasp the problems we were working on.   But then, we would feel sudden bursts of joy each time we figured out another piece of the puzzle. Sound familiar?

Here’s what I’m trying to say.  It’s ok if you don’t want to be an engineer. You don’t have to write code if you don’t want to. You don’t have to become a PM and work on technical products. Regardless of what it says on your degree - General, ECE, MechE, Bio/MatSci, it’s ok if you take a different path.   You’ve learned how to think like an engineer, and how to solve problems like an engineer.  So take those skills and go do something that makes you happy.

Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t limit my career choices. My journey may have taken a bit longer, but taking the scenic route was definitely worth it!

Posted in: Alumni Speak