More science, less drama: IT pros defend engineering careers

High-tech readers sound off about why they chose engineering careers and how it has paid off -- or not.

Network World readers give their take on why engineering is a viable career option and how the industry could be made more appealing to students.

IT professionals have strong opinions about choosing a career in engineering over other fields, and many think parents could be doing children a disservice by not encouraging advanced studies in math and science and instead suggesting acting.

"It's chilling to think that more parents would rather see their daughters be actresses than engineers. Lindsey Lohan? Really? That's the better option than being a software engineer or a scientist? Have we really lost that much perspective on what's important in life?" one reader commented online

A recent survey by the American Society for Quality revealed that more than 85% of students aren't considering careers in engineering and that parents didn't promote engineering as a viable career option to their children. The results also showed that some parents suggested to their daughters careers in acting over exploring math, sciences and other high-tech paths. That left many Network World readers scratching their heads and commenting online about the value of working in IT.

"How could parents know what the industry involves? We went from Novell and mainframes to AS400s and Microsoft to Microsoft and monster ERP systems in less than two decades. Now they want us to be 'business analysts' who understand business processes and use them as a basis for our development," one reader wrote online. "If I started college now, the industry would be completely different by the time I got done, right?"

The ever-changing nature of the industry drew many to follow the road less traveled and build a career in high-tech, according to other readers. The benefits may not be immediately obvious to a bystander, but those working in IT today say the career provides fulfillment for those who enjoy problem solving, challenging situations and a bit of change in their day-to-day lives.

"I know the hours are terrible and the technologies are always changing, but aren't we all here because when we unravel a really sticky problem we are king of the world for that five minutes until the next problem comes up?" one reader said. "Maybe if kids knew there can be joy in being good at something hard they might be interested."

The survey showed that 44% of those not choosing a career in engineering cited a lack of knowledge about the specific field and the overall industry as the reason they wouldn't select a job in IT.

"Clearly, there needs to be much more focus on math and science in schools. Children need to understand how math and science link directly to things that are important to their lives: like cell phones, the Internet, Facebook and healthcare. Then we need to figure out more creative ways to showcase math and science. We need more math majors and fewer drama majors if the U.S. is going to remain competitive in the 21st century," one reader said.

Another reader also pointed to shortcoming in the U.S. public school system as a cause for the waning interest in high-tech fields.

"Education is lacking. Getting through high school with good grades was much easier than slogging through [calculus 3] and [differential equations]," one said online. "The added distractions and complexity of 21st-century living certainly isn't helping focus time and concentration on core mathematics."

Others argue a successful career in engineering depends on the skills an individual acquires. Some with less specialized skills could fair worse during a downturn than others.

"I think there is a big difference between being in 'IT' and being an engineer working for a tech firm. While HP might slash IT left and right and outsource jobs to overseas, R&D is usually the last to get the ax," one reader said. "I graduated with a computer science [degree] last year and had numerous job offers with great pay, so I don't agree that the job market 'sucks.'"

Some working in high-tech today, despite the tough job market and the challenging curriculum engineering demands, continue to encourage their children to explore careers in math and science.

"I am an engineer and currently going for the MS in Mechanical Engineering. I have had a long and fruitful career and I have already paid for one college student and two more going right now. Two of them are pursuing scientific careers -- one is pursuing Math and Economics and my two little ones are on their way to the sciences and engineering fields," one reader wrote. "To be an engineer is to tackle challenges no one else can and to prove that either it can be done or not. It is a world for the brave and visionaries."

Yet others working in IT supported the survey findings, citing the current economic downturn and the trend for American companies to send engineering jobs overseas.

"Maybe if 45% of electrical engineering and computer science jobs hadn't disappeared overseas in eight years, leaving engineers holding large student loans and being overqualified for most positions, people might think differently," a comment reads.

Another commenter points to IBM's recent plans to offer laid-off employees the opportunity to work overseas at regional rates rather than lose their jobs in the United States..

"IBM is now offering workers the chance to move to Nigeria (and be paid Nigerian industry wages) instead of being laid off. That means that IBM is now officially admitting that there is not 'shortage' of skilled workers in the U.S., just workers they don't pay much," the reader said. "Why go into IT when you will have to follow your job to a third world country?"

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