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What do you do when starting out as an engineer?

As an entry-level engineer, what would I do? How would I advance in the industry? I am particularly interested in aerospace engineer.
I like the idea of picking and choosing problems to solve and designing it, but I'm not so interested in doing "grunt work".

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Saud’s Answer

My answer is based on my background as a Stress Engineer that worked on Gas Turbine Engines for 4 years, with peers who worked on Airframe.

What you would do as an entry-level aerospace engineer really depends on:

1) What you study at University and if you specialize. For example, besides fundamental classes in Mechanical Eng, you may choose to study or work in a project related to advanced Aerodynamics or Structures in your final years or at the graduate level (I chose Structures). Although Electrical Eng and Computer Science are not my forte, those majors do work in Aerospace too, likely in avionics and control systems. Additionally, with the large emphasis on data gathered real-time in every industry now, even data analytics may get you work in an aerospace company.

2) What kind of company AND team you join. For example, the work you would do working in the 787 Commercial Aircraft Program for Boeing vs. Wisk, essentially a start-up funded by Boeing, developing eVTOL aircraft could be entirely different. The former could be more "cookie-cutter" or grunt-work based on established Processes for design and analysis, whereas the latter could be working on novel problems with novel solutions.

The "established process" work might sound boring, but it is for good reason: a lot of engineering is based on MEASURED data from testing, development, and lessons learned, so when a company has been designing aircraft or engines for decades, they gather incredible amounts of data on how certain designs performed and if they met customer or research targets, and aligned with analytical predictions. Based on this info, they establish processes based on "tribal knowledge" that you would only get by working at the company. That said, fundamental engineering principles are always used to analyze how designs may function, but actual tests will give insight and other factors specific to that design.

So, if you interpret grunt-work as paper-pushing, I agree, it is not so interesting. But if you mean grunt-work like solving 2+2=4 a hundred times based on an established Process, then I have a different response. Solving repetitive or well-understood problems INITIALLY is a great opportunity to learn the ropes, strengthen fundamentals, and tap into experience at that company. The key is to know when you've grasped fundamental solutions well enough to apply it to other unsolved / complex / new problems, and then migrating to a team / position / project to work on those problems you find interesting. That way, you might find yourself either becoming an expert indispensable Structural Engineer, or you might find that a solution to a problem is not necessarily how things are designed but by how they are Manufactured, and you may switch from a Design role to a Manufacturing role.

Your growth will really depend on what interests you, and work-life balance. A common path I've witnessed is to start as an entry-level analyst, and as you work and interface with other analytical teams and a project engineer for 4-5 years, you might find yourself knowledgeable about the overall process to design aircraft / engine parts, and then choose to manage that project i.e. become the project engineer. Alternately, if you get bored of designing parts on a computer screen everyday, you may choose to get more hands-on and work in testing / development teams that are 50% in office, 50% on the shop floor getting their hands on actual hardware and installing equipment etc. I was more of a "sitting at a computer" kind of aerospace engineer, but I admit that seeing actual parts and observing how things are made provide incredible insight, so my advice is to expose yourself to the physical world of engineering as much as you can during your studies, consider Student Formula SAE or aerospace clubs that participate in rocket building competitions.

Lastly, I've heard Airframe jobs (Boeing, Airbus, etc) may be more cookie-cutter than Engines. Landing Gear I've heard is the most "cookie-cutter" there can be, but I do not have that experience, and ultimately all fields are critical to successful aircraft design. You could look into how much companies invest in research and development to indicate which company sounds more appealing.
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Pinal’s Answer

As an entry level engineer don't be shy to share ideas with team and manager. Be outspoken. Learn by asking questions and trying to solve problems. Don't be afraid of outcomes or results. You can only grow from mistakes and by learning from them. Stay in touch with all your stakeholders. Besides work discuss other things with colleague to built strong communication and trust among the team. Your solution may not be always the right but don't take that as negative but rather strong criticis to reshape your strategies.

Always strive to learn new things every day as technology and education keeps on changing.

Best of luck to you !

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Mike’s Answer

I will add that the more you show you can do and know, the sooner you are given the independence to work on your own projects. I've seen new engineers and older engineers doing grunt work because that is where they best contribute. I've also seen new engineers be given important responsibilities right from the start because they are very talented and hard working. Having good internships helps.
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Nicole’s Answer

Hi Kevin. Thanks for your thoughtful question.

Pretty hard to beat Saud's awesome advice :).

I think the nature of your question "...starting out as an engineer..." is very important to call out. In essence, when individuals graduate with their engineering degree, they have proven that they understand theory and maybe some hard skills like programming, design. Generally, though, understanding those important pieces of information in college is nothing like understanding how those pieces fit into the actual job that your new employer needs you to do.

In other words, what may be considered "grunt-work" , could actually be an opportunity to learn how your employer/company does what it does with people who have skill sets like yours. That "grunt-work" can be a great way to learn about what matters, when it matters and why.

I encourage you to keep an open-mind about the tasks you are given when you start a new job, especially as you start a new job fresh out of college. There is much to learn in these new parts of your journey and much of it can be valuable not only in your new role but into other roles and for other projects as well.

Best of luck to you!
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