Engineers should get out of their comfort zone and take up liberal arts electives in order to become well-rounded individuals. This comes from Steve Dalton, a careers consultant at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, who studied chemical engineering at undergrad.
“I wish there were fewer core requirements for engineers,” he adds. “Because it would make them more rounded and engaged as a person, and more accustomed to dealing with grey and not black and white.”
While engineering may seem like a good degree in terms of securing a good career, the core skills you gain may not always be in demand. When Steve graduated, he suddenly found himself in a world where all the formulas he’d been taught were being solved by computers. Nowadays, technology moves even faster therefore, engineers can no longer rest on their core skills. Part of that responsibility falls on the universities as well.
“Hard work was the message of my day, but that left me unprepared for a world of rapidly-changing technology," he said. "Universities should ensure their students – technically-focused students in particular – are given the best possible chance to discover as many aptitudes and sources of excellence as possible. These are found through electives, not an ever-increasing number of core courses.”
Encouraging people to do what they’re excellent at it is the most important thing. Instead of churning out lots of passable candidates and universities should try to produce those who will be among the very best in the field. This may mean fewer engineers and more art historians, for example, but if they are going to be innovators in their field this will be worth it.
“I’d rather work with an excellent films studies student rather than the same student who does engineering but has no passion,” Steve said. “The era of gaming the system is gone. If you’re floating through any major that’s a recipe for failure.”
Steve wishes he’d known this himself while an undergrad and admits that if he could do it again, he probably wouldn’t choose engineering.
“I’m not sure I wanted to be an engineer,” he revealed. “I think everyone told me to be an engineer.”
The most important advice he would give to a fellow engineer is to question everything. Ask yourself if you’ll be in the top one percent of whatever you’re doing. If not, can you identify something in which you’re confident you will be? Admittedly, it’s a stressful question, but it’s something you should consider before devoting the majority of your working life to a certain career path.
“Ask yourself which skills you would bet your life on. Which career best rewards those aptitudes? What's the least amount of fluff you’ll have to add to it to make a living? At the very least, make sure your fate is in your hands.”