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Think Outside the Design Box: Alternative Careers in Engineering
If you're working on your engineering degree, you probably have one thing in mind: design, design, design. And while an engineering degree gives you the tools to do just that, it can also give you the foundation for a variety of other positions.
Here's how three people used their engineering degrees in non-design ways.
Gaspar Cabrera earned his undergraduate degree in engineering for the same reason a lot of engineers do: flexibility. "I figured I couldn't go wrong with an engineering degree," says Cabrera. "I thought it would open doors for me in the future, and it has."
Cabrera is the owner's representative/project manager for Skyline Management in Miami. He started, though, as a design engineer at an architectural and engineering design firm in Philadelphia, where he discovered project management as a career option.
"Upon realizing that all of the project leaders and managers at my first job were all just architects or engineers who showed some initiative, had the required skills to handle a project, and wanted to be leaders in the firm, I saw no reason why I couldn't be the one managing the project," he says.
That, coupled with the realization that he didn't want to be stuck in front of a computer all day, lead him to start looking into project management. As an owner's representative/project manager, he handles the day-to-day operations and coordination to keep a 20-story condo tower and six-level garage development project on schedule.
"The degree helps you get your foot in the door, especially right out of college, but once you have a few years of work experience, it's more about you and what you can bring to the table," he says.
Vicki Speed's path to engineering was paved by her role models, and a passion. Her father, grandfather and uncle all had engineering degrees, and, at 14, she decided she wanted to design planes.
She earned a degree in aerospace engineering and worked for Northrop as a design engineer for six years. She left Northrop when her son was born, but instead of going back after her maternity leave, enrolled in Cal State Long Beach Master?s program for engineering.
"Within six months of my son's birth, I still didn't feel challenged, despite continuing on with my Master's studies. I needed more to do," she says. So when a friend who was a PR consultant for a technology company called and said she needed a case study written, Speed gave it a shot, even though she didn't have any professional writing experience.
"Over the next year, she would pass along engineering and construction projects as they came up, all the time helping me learn the fundamentals of magazine writing," she says.
For the last 18 years, Speed has worked as an independent PR consultant and technical writer, and she writes regularly for top industry magazines like Engineering News-Record.
"I asked my dad once if he was disappointed in my transitioning out of engineering," says Speed. "He told me that getting a degree in engineering is less about becoming an engineer, and more about the doors of opportunity it opens. Turns out he was right."
Sales and Marketing
Al Fazzini's career could have gone in a few different directions. Fazzini, who has undergraduate and graduate degrees in engineering, started his career as a civil engineer. A chance meeting at a beef-and-beer brought him onto the sales engineering side at a company where he wrote technical proposals for a sales team.
"My career path could have led me then into the engineering side of the business, or into the sales side of the business," he says. He picked sales, and after holding positions as VP of operations and national sales manager for a variety of environmental contractors, Fazzini is now Director of Marketing for L.F. Driscoll Co., the largest locally-based construction manager in Philadelphia.
He credits his engineering degree - and his PE license in six states - as giving him that extra edge.
"Having a technical background was always a significant advantage to me. I always understood technically the things I was involved with," he says. "It helped me establish the best things we could offer to help a client."
His engineering degrees also lead him to public office. "I provided testimony at some public hearings, and I think because my testimony was unbiased and technically sound, that I impressed people," he says. "It soon became evident that a lot of decisions you make at that level have to do with land development, construction and the understanding of infrastructure."
As a result, Fazzini ended up serving as a councilman in Plymouth Meeting for 18 years, all while continuing to work in construction sales and marketing.
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