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Engineering Academic/Career advice for and old dude going back to school

  1. Aug 30, 2016 #1
    Hi. I'm 45 with a BSEE and BS in computer science, which I haven't really used. Actually I've worked mostly as a communications technician for most of my adult life. I've done IP/networking work, but most my experience is with wireless communications; two way, trunked radio, microwave, and satellite for example. I've recently began grad school, distance, for a Masters EE or Masters CompEng, but I'm having difficulty deciding on what area of focus should be, and determining what area of focus would lead me to better or stable career prospects.

    My main choices are these. Do the MSCompEng with a focus on networks, and getting a networking grad certificate along the way. Take the EE route with a focus on RF wireless communications with some networking. Or even focus on power engineering.

    My though process is that Comp Eng with a network focus is the most stable choice, and I can build on my experience and resume. But I might be considered just another "IT guy", and in competition with folks with little education, but with youth and some certifications. From what I've read, the IT industry has a predisposition against guys my age.

    I feel that I might have an advantage with a career in wireless communications and networking, as it seems there are very few people with the "hard skills" that RF wireless involves. So I think I could build of my previous experience, with out starting from scratch, and my sense is that there aren't a lot of people involved wireless, so I wouldn't be competing against a bunch of high school grads with lots of certs. Actually most the folks I meet with radio experience are much older that I am. So the fields workforce is aging out. On the other hand I'm afraid the field is dying out? I'm worried that today wireless systems are too plug and play, and that the software does your engineering for you.

    Lastly I've thought of focusing on power systems and distribution. Everyone's talking about the smart grid, and I wonder if my past experience and education coupled with courses in power would make me a viable candidate to get something other than an entry level position in the power industry. I understand the industry is expected to grow over the next several years. I'm pretty sure that my previous experience and education would put me somewhere mid level in the other two field I talked about, but I don't know if my past would be meaningless in the power industry, and I'd be starting at the bottom. Or even worse, left with a worthless degree because nobody wants to hire an older dude for and entry level position.
    Anyways I was just throwing this out here, because I think people here might have a better perspective about the industry in general and what chance I have of actually succeeding in it. Once I pull the trigger on this there's no going back, as I'm sure that at my age I'm not going to go back for another degree. By the way, what prompted this is I just found out I have 1 1/2 years to use GI education benefits before they expire. So a whole masters will only cost me about $5000. So i'm not taking out a mortgage on this or anything, but I am in a time crunch, so to speak. It seems like a golden opportunity, so I want it to count.

    Anyways, I appreciate everybody's input.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 1, 2016
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 1, 2016 #2
    I will tag power system guru @anorlunda

    Either way I commend you for going back to school. Whatever you choose, go with your heart and not the money.
  4. Sep 2, 2016 #3


    Staff: Mentor

    Yes the power industry is a good place to job search. But not so much the utilities, as the companies that supply them. GE, Westinghouse, ABB, Siemens, Allen Bradley, Johnson Controls, and many more whose names I don't know.

    For communications work, I would think that defense contractors would be the best places to look.

    But I don't envy you. Middle aged people looking to change job descriptions are discriminated against.

    Perhaps your strongest asset would be to lead a team of younger software developers. That uses your people skills to manage the team, and your technical skills to understand (but not necessarily develop) the technology. Emphasize project management skills.

    I remember when I was much younger and at the top of my field, I thought that industry should recruit 9th graders to drop out, use them for software development until age 25, then pay to have them finish high school and college after they got fired. That is so harsh that no one dares do it, but it is not crazy. It reflects actual human characteristics.

    Edit: Good luck
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