Welcome to The Engineer Interview Series – A roundup where I interview people that went to college to pursue a degree in engineering. The questionnaire itself digs into how people chose engineering as a major, what career path they followed, short-term and long-term career goals, and advice you would provide to a youngster looking at going into engineering.
Tell us about yourself:
I’m a Millennial who is almost 30. I work as a consultant in the utility industry.
What were your hobbies as a kid?
Played basketball, soccer, baseball, and golf. A lot of car trips with the family to friends around the midwest. I was also really interested in things like Legos and Kenex.
I had huge bins full those kinds of toys and remember building all sorts of stuff. My family teases me to this day because of how often I played within my imaginary lego-built worlds.
When you got into high school what were your favorite classes?
Physics & math come to mind. Gym was a highlight as well. To be honest, I wasn’t really that interested in school in the beginning.
I started to take it more seriously around my Junior year of high school. I remember taking an AP biology class my freshman year and thought it was really boring.
That was my first “real” science class but it didn’t really get me interested in STEM at all. It wasn’t until I took the AP physics course a couple years later that I found something I was interested in.
Fortunately, my parents pushed me to put in some effort in school. They didn’t really care what I did as long as I gave 100% doing it. I was lucky to have that kind of support network, and it ultimately allowed me to focus on physics/math early in my academic career.
When did you know that you wanted to become an engineer?
I didn’t really know I wanted to be an electrical engineer until my Sophomore year of college. My dad was an engineer so I was steered in that direction but not forced to pursue it. I think I really knew after I started taking the college courses and realized I was interested in that kind of stuff.
Looking back, it was a bit of a gamble and I was very lucky to find something I liked doing on my first try. I’m not saying I didn’t put a lot of thought into it before I started down the path.
I knew there were a lot of things I didn’t want to do, just didn’t quite figure out what I wanted to focus on until my Sophomore year. My freshman year I was still debating between some other kind of engineering, patent law, or becoming a physicist.
What college did you attend and how did you decide to go there?
The University of Minnesota – Twin Cities for both my BS in Electrical Engineering and MS in Electrical Engineering. Originally I wanted to go to University of Wisconsin – Madison. Madison, however, waitlisted me and I got kind of offended so I picked Minnesota.
I had a couple of good friends going there so I knew I wouldn’t be alone. It also had a good science/engineering program so I knew I would be okay in that respect. It ended up being a great school for me and I was lucky to have been able to attend.
Since this is a personal finance blog, did you graduate with debt? If so, how much?
No long-term debt, but I did take an extra semester to finish my bachelors. I was extremely fortunate and my family paid for half of my undergrad tuition.
I was responsible for the other half, which I paid using savings from high school jobs in the beginning and an internship turned part-time job starting the summer after my Sophomore year.
During the school year, I worked 20 hrs/week and full time in the summers/holidays to do it. Working part-time during the school year meant I couldn’t take a heavy class load – resulting in the extra semester.
I tracked every dollar and only had ~$12 in my bank account when I first started my internship. I often carried a balance on my student account and sometimes wasn’t able to fully pay it off when it was due.
Fortunately, again, the University of Minnesota was reasonable with late fees. If I remember correctly that was a factor for the extra semester as well, I knew I could work more and come out debt free by playing my financial cards right.
My graduate school was paid for using a combination of employer reimbursement and out of pocket (about a 50-50 split).
If you have student loans, how are you tackling paying them off?
No loans 🙂
What do you do for your job?
Currently, I work as a consultant for the power utility industry.
What are short-term goals (next 1-5 years) – career and financial?
- Continue maxing retirement accounts (401k & Roth & HSA)
- Have enough money to go on one international trip per year without sacrificing on savings
- Grow my yearly charity donations
- Setup myself up to financially support a family in my 30’s
- 200k/year salary
Beyond that, my focus is currently on lifestyle creep. I’ve recently focused less on budgeting and tracking my finances.
I’ve shifted to figuring out how to excel at work and, more importantly, how to repair, maintain, or continue to build my personal relationships. Aggressively climbing the corporate ladder takes a huge toll on your personal life.
You make a great point about building relationships. How important has networking been to advance your career? Any tips you can recommend?
Extremely important. Every job offer and position I’ve had has been because I was recommended or vetted by someone I had met in my past.
You never know who you will run into later in your career and the best advice I can give is to always be patient and work to help others, even if they frustrate you.
There’s a famous quote, something like “People don’t always remember what you did but they always remember how you made them feel” and it definitely is true from my experiences.
What are your long-term goals (>5 years) – career and financial?
- Buy a small and very tech savy/modern house
- 300k+ salary and then consider starting my own company or taking over another one
- Take over the family charity, grow it, and make some kind of meaningful difference in the world
- Retire at ~55 and teach math & physics at a local school
What advice would you give to a high school student interested in pursuing a career in engineering/technology?
The world is only going to get more competitive. Based on what I’ve seen the STEM fields give you a competitive advantage and open the door to a lot of opportunities.
That being said, it isn’t the only path and it definitely doesn’t guarantee success. If you’re interested in a career in engineering/technology 100% do it but don’t ever think it ensures a happy life. That’s up to you and a big piece of that is making sure you set yourself up to succeed in every area.
Focus on your physical, mental, and emotional health as well and don’t ever think you can’t learn about other areas of business and how the world works beyond engineering.
Also, do everything you can not to acquire a crippling amount of debt as you earn your degree(s).
Also, find a mentor within whatever field you end up in. It will feel strange at first but having a 3rd party perspective on your career will pay dividends in the long run. If anyone is in the utility industry, I’m more than happy to connect, just reach out to Taylor!
What is your current net worth (assets-liabilities)?
I currently have just under 450k of assets and no liabilities.