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As an Engineer, will you just sit on your butt?

  1. Mar 14, 2012 #1
    I want to become a Mechanical Engineer. I'm going to the University of Akron next fall to study Mechanical Engineering. So I'm still in High School.

    But I've always wondered how things work like (Gears,Engines, Turbines, Robots, etc.) I knew I always wanted to become an Engineer. But now since college is approaching quickly, I'm starting to worry.

    I've been told that Mechanical Engineers today, just sit in an office chair and design on Solidworks.
    I want to design "stuff" but I would want to have the opportunity to do hands on with Planes, Cars, and Turbines etc.

    Is this true that Mechanical Engineers sit on their but?

    Thanks Guys
    God bless
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 14, 2012 #2
    my dad is an electrical engineer and he is always traveling around the country fixing other peoples machines. i think all engineers have to network around their workplace to some extent so i really doubt you will be sitting on your butt all day
  4. Mar 14, 2012 #3


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    The question is,

    What do you mean by

    I want to design "stuff" but I would want to have the opportunity to do hands on with Planes, Cars, and Turbines etc.

    Be a Mechanic?
  5. Mar 14, 2012 #4
    What I mean is, I want to apply Math and Science principles to develop and design a product. Along with that I would love to have hands on projects like engineering parts to make a jet thruster more efficient. I will find the problem of the Engine, analyze it, make models, test it, and etc.

    That's what I mean.
    And not to offend anyone, but my family will greatly look down on me if I was to pursue a job as an Mechanic.
    Not that my family will ultimately choose my career, because I want to become an Engineer no matter the circumstances.
  6. Mar 14, 2012 #5


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    You likely to spend times programming in a scientific programming language, using software packages, build models perhaps test them, etc...

    Engineering jobs do require a lot of sitting, and using a computer. In addition, you won't get to do everything as projects are big, and you will likely be assigned specific tasks.

    Consulting may require you to travel.
  7. Mar 15, 2012 #6
    It depends upon what kind of engineering you choose to pursue. In broad terms there are three types of engineers: Research, Production, and Field engineers. The research engineers build stuff that nobody has ever done before. The product probably will have some rough edges. They'll be very close to the project and it's use. However, those jobs are few. Examples of such jobs include the design of the Apollo lunar missions.

    If you want steady work, look at production engineering. This is where you design a specific widget for a specific application that may include some important tweaks, but that is not particularly unique. Design guidelines exist for these sorts of projects. The work can be boring much of the time, but it is a well paid, steady paycheck. Examples include designing a small two cycle engine.

    Finally, there are the field engineers. Sometimes things break and there doesn't seem to be any good reason why. It is up to the field engineers to figure out what eluded the previous two generations of engineers. Examples of such work include accident investigations.

    None of these jobs involve sitting on your butt making paper fly all day long. If you believe that's what engineering is, you're doing it wrong. Yes, there is an element of design that is unavoidably like this, but there are other times when you have to oversee and convey the thing that you designed to the customers and manufacturers.

    Yes, there is a lot truth in Dilbert. Yes, there will be cubicles and fools to deal with. However, there are also some very real challenges and very real start-ups for large projects. Those are very hands-on situations.

    Don't worry, you'll have plenty of opportunity to get your hands dirty. And if you don't, well, there is always your private life. By day I'm a controls engineer. At night, when I'm not working on standard committee stuff, I get to use my skills as a ham radio enthusiast.

    Good Luck!
  8. Mar 15, 2012 #7
    Wow man thanks for the informative post! I understand now that Engineers don't sit on their butt. I want to become an Engineer for Lockheed Martin or General Motors so I was pretty sure those weren't desk jobs.

    Thanks !
  9. Mar 16, 2012 #8
    You can cover the full range from butt warmer to run your butt off. When I worked for Bechtel there were EEs, CEs, MEs that sat in the corporate office all day working out designs for nuclear plant systems pouring over design specs, tolerances, etc. (boring, IMO), but I worked in the field doing refueling outage work. The MEs in the field were a lot more "on the fly" guys/gals, and very hands on. They could be designing a workaround, supervising a installation or QC activity. 10-14 hr days were the norm, 6-7 days per week. And, that's not just nucs. It could be trying to get a oil platform back online or any number of other activities where time is money... big money. But, yes, the 9-5 office engineering is there, if you want it.

    IMO, it's never too soon to work on getting hooked up with a company for future internships, etc., so start now. Good luck.
  10. Mar 16, 2012 #9


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    When you get older, sitting on your butt may not be viewed as a negative.
  11. Mar 16, 2012 #10
    If you don't like sitting at a computer, doing Test Engineering or Manufacturing/Process Engineering would be good for you. They're up and around fidgeting with products trying to figure out what's wrong with them and how to get them to work. Design Engineers do seem to spend a lot of time in CAD software, especially if you're part of a big company. I have a co-worker who knew a guy that worked for 20+ years at a company and never witnessed any product he had ever designed being tested or built. I doubt this is true for everyone who becomes a Design Engineer.
  12. Mar 16, 2012 #11


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    As a young engineer, you may have (depending on your work environment) a good bit of chair-time. As you gain experience, you might be called upon to develop project plans and justify them. If you are very good at what you do, you'll be expected to sit around long tables in meeting-rooms trying to justify your projected projects and budget. Most of my relevant experience was acquired back in the 70s and things could have changed, but IME business models change at a glacial pace. Good luck.
  13. Mar 17, 2012 #12
    As many have pointed out, there are a few gnomes who remain glued to a desk, throwing designs at the wall. I take a very dim view of such engineers. My primary objection to such behavior is that the only way they'll learn from their mistakes or the mistakes of others is if someone were to tell them or to give them a magazine article. I have known too many engineers who keep perpetrating the same idiotic designs over and over.

    If you aren't looking at your creations in the real world, you'll never know for certain how well it works.
  14. Mar 17, 2012 #13


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    OP: "Is this true that Mechanical Engineers sit on their but?"

    If you do, and if you don't work for the Federal Government, you will not do it very long. I don't know of any employer that would tolerate such a performance. Granted, the US Government does not allow for much more than that, but that is because they are the government. Everyone else has to live within a budget, and try to make a profit.
  15. Mar 17, 2012 #14
    Thanks for Info!

    But I thought it would have been vice versa, in which I mean the older engineers are sitting in a chair more than the young fresh engineers. Man I'm really hoping that I won't be sitting at conference tables for hours discussing "stuff".

    My fantasy day for being an Engineer is taking an assignment from my Chief Engineer, and designing and developing that assignment with a team of Engineers. Sadly I don't think things will plan out like that.
  16. Mar 17, 2012 #15


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    Oh, there will probably be some time spent around conference tables, but it is usually on your feet, shouting at the people on the other side of the table about half of the time!
  17. Mar 18, 2012 #16
    I'll give you my 2 cents.

    First let me give you a background of what I do.

    I started off with my current company as an electrical assembler, worked my way up as a Designer, and I will be a electrical engineer in about 3-4 years(company is paying for it but going part time does take...time)

    Anyways I work directly with engineers; I am their designer, mainly electrical.

    90% of the engineer's at my company are sitting in chairs everyday. I have to be honest with you here. This isn't just at my company, but my previous two other companies as well (Deck electrician and industrial electrician)

    The only time a Engineer or Designer is out of there chair is to go to a meeting(which isnt much different) or if there is a problem and they have to go out to the shop to see the product.

    I do agree, there is ussually a engineer in your team that is generally assigned the task to go out to the field. When we build a prototype this person ussually gets to go out and see it built and make sure everything goes smoothly..but in reality this is like 2-3 weeks out of the whole year.

    Going out to the shop for a few hours every 2 weeks does not count in my book.

    I am with you in; I want to design it, build it, and test it.

    These jobs are rare to come by, because big companies will hire you for a specific portion of that lifeline of a product. You will mesh into the other categories but don't expect it on everyday duties. Desgn>Build>Test IE: the guy building the prototype may ask why you design something a certain way..etc..etc.

    Research and Development department gets to see the most action, but the R&D group in my company rarely sees design work and they are constantly on the road(not a life for me).

    Once again this is very company specific but from what I have seen in the previous three companies I work for; what is stated above is true.

    The best way to get around this is to work for a smaller company who probably wants a jack of all trades.

    To end with a summary; most of the engineers I have seen are stuck in 3d Modeling software/cad/schematics in their office chairs.

    It sounds like you want a dream job; and some people seem to think that going out to the shop for a few hours to see problems and relief the pressure of sitting in a chair all day.

    But take it from someone who has seen it from both sides; you would have to have a 70%/30% to really feel what you are looking for.

    Just prepare yourself to be sitting in a chair, that is all I am trying to get across.

    P.S.: Every company is different.
  18. Mar 18, 2012 #17
    I work near 12 Mechanical Engineer's, and most of them sit on their butt..but they are excellent engineers. Their job duties does not consist of "getting off their chair".
    You cant just say "just because they arn't getting out of their chair they arnt doing good", they have no reason to ever stand up, lol. It is all job specific.

    It seems some people have been in academia too long or they are out of touch of what is really out there, or they are speaking from a previous job or current job(which I am).
  19. Mar 18, 2012 #18
    I asked my dad, and he said at his company, it is in large sitting on your butt in front a computer/desk work.
  20. Mar 18, 2012 #19
    Rats! It's not looking to good for me. I always pictured engineering to be hands on with models and prototype objects that you test and evaluate. Not hands on keyboard and mouse!

    This is bad, really really bad. I haven't even started school yet, and I'm feeling bad about going into engineering. I always won Science Fairs and did very well in Science Olympiad as far as designing and developing objects.

    But this, is a real big slap in the face! I wanna do cool stuff! I don't want to sit in front of a computer all day.

  21. Mar 18, 2012 #20
    Maybe pure science? I'm in a situation similar to you, I don't know what I'm doing to do with my life right now either. Maybe go shadow an engineer for a summer and see what they actually do before you dedicate 4 years of your life to being educated in it.
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