Starting late to be an Engineer...

Let me explain how I want to become an engineer and see how you ‘vet’ engineers see how it can pan out and give my your .02…

Currently I am a mechanic making a good amount of money (especially for my age) and I don’t wish to change profession right now. I love working with my hands, having people look up to me because I can do things with their vehicles they can only dream of. But looking at my father, fellow older co-workers, and the weather here in MI - I don’t know if i want to be 40 years old and be doing the same thing. It’s very hard on people’s body. The older ones say they have CO poisoning and at the end of the day they have a very-very bad headache due to the exhaust gases. Their joints, feet, etc. hurt due to the occupational hazards that come with the job. Constant cuts, burns, etc. Well - I have decided that I’d like to do this until I’m 25-30 and from there I’d like to become an engineer.

I’d like to know if you agree with my choice for becoming an engineer? I’d like to be a Mechanical Engineer and will be attending night/weekend College classes. I know this is a much longer way (especially for me working full time) but I would like to hear from you out there. I realize how hard this will be. I would like to know will being a Mechanic help my ‘worth’ when I’m done with college? Is it worth staying a mechanic instead of going full time to school? The engineers that I have talked to say “The one that makes the best engineer is the one that has had to deal with the product post-production” and other quotes of the such. Is this true? Upper-management people that higher/fire people - do you agree? What are the MAIN thing that you look for?

I’d just like to know what you think would be the best route for me. I already know what schooling is required and as stated before - your schooling is never done when you are an engineer - but if you think about it - is your schooling ever done with any profession?

Thanks for your time and effort! :slight_smile:


Good attitude and plan!

I was 31 when I finally got my BSEE/CS. I had no problem getting a job at that age. However, the fact that I was an electronics technician for 12 years did not translate into “engineering experience” (hence $$$) as much as I would have hoped.

Good luck…

Wow that sounds exactly like what I want to do. Though my path is slightly different, I have the same reason for leaving the mechanic position. Currently I am in college to get a B.S. in Automotive Technology Management; I will probably work as a technician for a few years upon graduating (not to mention the during the summer as well)…how long I stay a tech will be determined by how much I enjoy it and how much pain and stress it puts me through. From there I will probably work as a service manager/writer or possibly open a custom shop with a friend of mine. If I do not open a shop, I will try to move onto automotive engineering and design, but am unsure if I will return to college to get more training or not. I don’t know if I will be able to do everything that I want to do, but I definately wish you the best of luck with your career.

That does sound like a great plan! If you do indeed finish up a Mechanical Engineering degree (it’s hard work but be persistent, it’s worth it in the end) there may be a lot of automotive companies looking to hire you (Ford, GM, Delphi, etc…).

Also, I was unaware that auto mechanics are susceptible to such health concerns and injuries. Are there any more safety precautions mechanics can take? Does OSHA have regulations for auto shops? If so, they are probably expensive which is why shops might not take the initiative; but being healthy is important.

While MikeBetts is the voice of experience for this case on my team I just wanted to mention something about my college experiences. I went to school with several students who were older from having worked for a few years or served in the military out of high school. These people overall had a much stronger work ethic because they knew what type of difference getting a degree would make for themselves. It may not be the easiest thing to work full time and get a degree, but I think you will hold a higher value on it than some who go straight to college and aren’t really ready for it, taking it for granted. It’s worth the effort and some of the intangebles you will gain from work experience on the way will make a big difference.


My vote is get thyself to college now! Yes someone with drive can make it happen, but you have the energy and freedom now to get it done in a minimum amount of time. From the employment standpoint, work experience is valuable but so is your FIRST experience and anything you might do in school. Your chances for success are highest now.
On the other hand there is nothing wrong with being a mechanic, my dad and two brothers are/were mechanics, and I would be except for a few private reasons, because it is fun and I was good at it. If you like it and want to stay with it, you will have a fulfilling life. (A man who enjoys what he does for a living never has to work a day in his life.) The injuries are a downside, particularly if you own your own shop. I have scars on my hands and fingers from long ago and just last week (hands on really means hands on). You can protect yourself from the other environmental stuff.
I took the step to attend an engineering school (Bradley U) and I never regretted it. A college education will open doors that you may want to enter, without a degree you will have to walk on by those doors.


When I graduated from high school I got a job as a mechanic in a motorcycle shop. At the time I lived and breathed motorcycles so I was in heaven. I also had been accepted to RPI and had an ROTC scholarship. At the time it was a tough decision but one week before school started I chose to go to school. I have never regretted the choice. As a degreed engineer the pay is good and my assignments and choices of position have allowed me to do ‘hands on’ work. You will not lose anything if you go to school, the world just gets bigger.

One caution, I am a very practical person. At the time I went to school the emphasis was on theory and I struggled in some classes. Do not let this discourage you, it will be worth it when you graduate!

I have a few good friends that I graduated from High School with in Milwaukee and the took a non-college career path while I went on to school. I can tell you that every year I came back to visit, they seemed like the big man on campus to me, they all had new cars, new gadgets, meanwhile I had my beater and not much else. However after graduation and getting a job in the industry I can say without a doubt your earning potential is higher. While they started out pretty nice there is somewhat limited upward growth at most shops unless you want to get completely out of being a mechanic and go to something more like management of the shop (and even that might not be possible if the owner takes on that role as in most smaller shops). This is especially true with the standards that have been set for most repairs on time and cost. On the engineering side, many companies have different career paths that can take you onward and upward. You may find that you can make enough money in your engineering job that it can bankroll quite a nice hobby also of something like restoring or modifing cars at your leisure. I guess my whole point was that I always felt my friends had it made after highschool but at that point in my life I was pretty unaware of what is possible out in corporate world. If you do stay in the mechanic field, I have been hearing that the top path is usually to become the lead elecrical technician of the shop, all new cars are getting more complex electrically and the shops my friends work at are very limited in expertise in the electrical arena.


Thank you all for your input!

As stated above - I make very good money for my age - but as also stated above - it bottlenecks, and this is what I want to avoid. Very good mechanics here make about 60,000/year for a busy shop. I love what I do right now - so it doesn’t seem like work - but I’m worried about the long road ahead. What am I going to do after I hit that top of pay scale? How will my body be in 10-15 years from now? Just too many uncertainties in this current time/profession. I will continue to keep wrenching even after I become an engineer (if/when I decide my finial decision) but for fun - but right now I love it because I’m learning sssooo much. Also - I have left the Dealership due to it was too, um, ‘professional’. People being very stingy with their ways, people actually swearing at you for taking ‘their jobs’ - it is pretty much dog-eat-dog at the dealership so now I work for an independent shop and I am being given chances that I have never had at the dealership.

Also - Erin - about OSHA. My work is very strict about this. We get checked out about once every 2-3 months by OSHA/Fire Department/EPA (or something like them.) Just hot engines/sheet metal/ even exhaust gases (start a car for 30 seconds - but imagine how many cars we have to start here indoors due to winter - even with exhaust hoses) it gets to be a hassle. Even some of the light we use are incandescent lighting - so it’s VERY easy to burn yourself accidentally from it rolling on to your hand. It just goes hand-in-hand with the job.

Again - thank you for all your input and I will keep you updated with my decision!


I just turned 51 and I’m still not sure what I want to be when I grow up!

A mid-stream career change can be a difficult, yet fun thing to do. I have some experience in this area that not many people know about. If it’s what you want to do - go for it. If it doesn’t work out, you can always go back to being a mechanic.

I would agree with those that say you should get into school soon. I would also suggest trying to do school full time, and work maybe 15-20 hours on the side. Going to school full time will not only make you graduate sooner, but it will also make it easier for you. I can see you getting to a 400 level class and say “boy I kind of remember learning this in DiffEQ, but that was 7 years ago”. It’s nice to have things a little fresher in your mind than that.

Whatever you decide, good luck with it.

Being a full time college student and full time worker, and knowing the difficulties I face in attending school and taking on so many things at one time, I suggest when you do go to school you go to school full time, and if possible ONLY go to school, but if nothing else work as little as possible. The college experience is much different as you get older, however, the importance of the education available will never go away. I personally saw myself asking that same question recently. I come from a low income family, however, because my parents are divorced I have to count both of their incomes towards my financial aid, putting me over the limit for aid. Thus I have to work full time to be able to afford college. I too am doing very well as I have recieved 4 promotions this year and am now enjoying upper level management in a small business at the age of 21. But it is far from what I want to do with my life. However, responsibilities of work now interfere so much with my goals in school that I am unsure when I will be able to graduate. I am in my 4th year, and probably have 4 more to go simply because I am taking the minimum allowed hours to be considered full time as this is all I can handle. As a personal thing, I am unwilling to take on student loans to pay for my education.

I recommend you do what you enjoy. If you love what you are doing now, and continue to do so, then there is nothing wrong with that. However, a college eduaction is becoming invaluable in the modern job market. Good luck with whatever you choose to do. But be sure your primary focus is school if and when you do go. It is true that if you draw things out too much you will get to the point where you are like you have to compute how many surface and line integrals? (personally I find those MUCH more difficult than DiffEQ)


If you can get subsidized loans, you should use them to the fullest. Here’s why: Let’s say you’re making $15 per hour now. When you graduate as an engineer you can expect to make around $25 per hour. Therefore, by taking student loans you only have to work 60% as much to pay for college.

On top of that, you’ll finish college sooner which means you’ll have more income to start investing or saving with. Once you add in compounding interest on investments and savings plans, you’ll make thousands more over your lifetime if you take the loans. The interest on the loans is going to be much less than the amount you should make in a 401(k). If it was allowed, you should take loans just to dump more money into a 401(k) - you would come out ahead. By taking the student loans, it’s like taking a portion of the loan money and putting toward your 401(k) plan that you’ll have as an engineer.

I urge you to sit down and figure it out. You’ll most likely find that you should be taking the loans - it isn’t even close.

I have experience in this - I came from a low-income family with divorced parents. When I graduated from U-M I had $38,000 worth of loans to pay. It was worth every penny. BTW - I paid them all off in under 5 years with money left over to do many nice things.

One thing to think about with a mid carrer job change is retirement. I do not know what, if any, retirement plan you have now, but you do need to think about that. I really don’t have advice on this, but just something else you should be considering that I hadn’t seen mentioned.


Um yeah, I would love to stop working and finish my education in 2 years by going full time. Smaal problem though. Last I checked, student loans do not cover my car payment or my car insurance (although they do cover my apartment and maybe food?). That and I do have a little bit of loyalty to the company I work for, especially with all of the disasters the previous management left. And my IRA is filling up rather well. Unfortunately though I am on salary so ironically on the weeks I am really busy with school I have to work like 50-60 hours, other times I only have like 20-30 hours. Grumble.

I understand that the base income of an introductory engineer is slightly higher than what I am making now and would allow me to pay off my loans quickly, but simply dropping all of my obligations (and finding the extra money not covered by loans) seems impossible.

Wetzel - that was another reasion why I chose this. For mechanics in my area - there is NO retirement plan (atleast for my age. They greatly discourage that here.) That’s another push for my plan to go to college. They want to pay me 13-14/hour while they charge 75-80/hour. They are looking to GREATLY increase the gross profit margin for themselves. I realise they have a business to run also (it’s by no means cheap to run a shop) but when you are geting someone young (and they are counting on my ‘stupidness’)and low-balling them (VERY LOW) it’s not quite fair. I make more per week at my current shop b/c I now know the average ‘correct’ pay for my age/experience compared to the low-ball number the dealer gave me.(this is even after asking them for a raise once proving how much I have made the dealership.)

Also - would you call this a “mid-stream career change?” I’m only 19 :wink: and still have the spunk of a 13 year old? :slight_smile:

Well - I have decided that I’d like to do this until I’m 25-30 and from there I’d like to become an engineer.

That was what I was looking at. Waiting 10 years to start your savings has a major impact on the compound interest. You should start saving on your own now anyway. Compound interest is the best thing ever.