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Becoming an engineer at age 50

  1. Apr 23, 2013 #1
    My name is Ken. I am currenlty 42 Years old and have been working as a freelance camera operator for several years. After much struggle, frustration, and recently, time spent with a career counselor to find my true vocation, I have finally figured out what I want to be when I grow up: an engineer. I am drawn to aeronautical and environmental egineering as well as the possibility of working with architects in construction. In short, I am excited about the possibility to work with my hands and be part of a project that designs and manufactures objects and systems. It seems that a degree in MECHANICAL ENGINEERING will give me the option to enter some of the industries above. I currently hold a bachelors in liberal arts and realize I will have to start from scratch to earn a bachelors in engineering. When I finally graduate, I will be close to 50 years old (when many engineers are probably retiring). I am wondering if I have any chance of employment at this age and would greatly appreciate any advice! Thanks so much!!
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 24, 2013 #2
    Maturity in engineering comes from having seen what works and what doesn't. Learning how to play the bureaucracy is also a major part of engineering.

    However, if you feel you have a lot of that kind of background that you could apply to the job, then 50 is not too old. You forget that many engineers continue working well in to their 60s and even their 70s. Knowledge of engineering concepts is also good for leveraging your degrees toward engineering management.

    But I'm not going to sugar coat anything for you. A 50 year old candidate for anything is going to have an uphill battle. Try not to look or sound like one.

    (from a life long engineer who happens to be 50 years old)
  4. Apr 24, 2013 #3
    Thank you so much!

    Thank you so much for the encouraging message!
  5. Apr 24, 2013 #4


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    You don't necessarily have to be employed by a company, you can always consult as well. If it's been your lifelong desire then nothing bad will come of it.

  6. May 4, 2013 #5
    Don't enter into this casually. Getting an Engineering degree is a daunting affair at any age....that's why there is such a high drop out rate. It will require a lot of time, dedication, money, effort, sacrifice, etc. But it certainly can be done and I wouldn't think "age" is an issue so much. But don't do it unless you are ready to dedicate the necessary effort to it.

    Then, what about when you graduate? Perhaps no one would offer you anything except an entry level starting salary. A newly-minted BSME and 50 years old? So what? You still are entry level with no real "Engineering" skills because you have little or no experience.

    I have lectured early Engineering students many times over the years: surviving an Engineering Curriculum rearranges one's brain wiring and turns them into trained problem solvers. And employers have problems to solve, so they hire trained problem solvers. Then they get trained to solve specific problems.

    Do you REALLY know what you want to do? You state: "aeronautical, environmental, architects, constuction, works with hands, designs and manufactures objects and systems." I consider these to be diverse and mutually exclusive. I doubt you will find any job that does all of that. Companies hire Engineers to be small cogs in the bigger machine and by virtue of that, to do specific tasks rather than broad tasks. Otherwise the machine doesn't work well. It's great if you can work in a very broad & diverse mode, but it's rare for most folks. And it is WORK. Most Engineers I know live for the short term thrill of doing real, creative, innovative, and intellectually challenging stuff in their jobs. But they have to suffer through the drudgery, politics, poor leadership, insecurity, and paperwork that is the real majority of jobs in modern society.

    But of course many many moons ago when I started out I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with an Engineering degree, either. My likes and dislikes developed over the course of getting the BS (and later the Master's) and then working at a few different jobs.

    Certainly some aspects of Engineering jobs are "hands on". And there are many jobs where one is out in the field instead of behind a desk. But many times companies want you for your brain power, analytical thinking, attention to detail. They use lesser-paid technicians & operators to do the "hands-on." Something to consider.

    Engineer at 50? So what? If your heart is in it, then go for it. But know that you will have to market yourself much more aggressively than the youngsters in your graduating class. No matter what the Human Resources Departments say, there is real and tangible Age Discrimination lurking out there in the working world. And you'll have to deal with it.
  7. May 4, 2013 #6
    A lot of MEs work in aeronautical. I suppose some MEs work in environmental. You don't see too many MEs working with architects though. I think that's more along the lines of structural engineering hence a CE degree.

    Now you didn't say whether you operated a video camera for the nightly news or you were a film grip but either way, it is a unique background. If I were you, I'd try to sell myself as an engineer with camera knowledge to a company that needs those attributes. That would be your one and only advantage.
  8. May 5, 2013 #7
    Hi Jakebrodsky PE, Stewartcs, Tygerdawg, and Jupiter6,

    I can't thank you enough for taking time out of your day to respond and share your advice and suggetions with me regarding my career-search question above regarding beginning an engineering career at 50. As you can tell by my interest in different areas, I have not found the exact field of engineering I fit in( if at all). However, all of your help above gives me a better idea of what to look foward to ( both the rigoruous curriculum and the working world of an engineer). By the way, I light and shoot video for documentary-type programs as well as reality TV (the best of the lows..ha!!). If I can ever shoot return the favor, please let me know! Thanks again!!
  9. Nov 5, 2014 #8
    Hi Ken.
    Sorry if this answer is too late. I went back at 38 and am now a working structural engineer. Be very sure about your choice. The degree is challenging to say the least. In addition to the hard work, etc., I always felt a little out of place. I had no trouble getting employed and the employers were very happy with my work. But remember that when you get your first job, the people that are running the company and making all the "big" decisions will be the same age or younger than you. You will be working in a role that is typically filled by a much younger person. You can succeed but you need to be realistic about your future potential.
    To put it another way; you can do it (I did) and you can definitely succeed (I am) but be prepared to deal with a bit of inner torment regarding what may have been had you entered the profession at a younger age.
  10. Nov 7, 2014 #9


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    In addition to the good advice above I have this to add. Pick a subject that interests you on a personal level.

    My degree was computer and electronic systems, despite the fact that most of the engineering I do for a living is process and mechanical. Because those two subjects (computers and electronics) always have been a bit of a passion I carried motivation to get through the tough bits (and there are tough bits on any engineering degree). The maths on that course was pure electronics and I think being able to do that level of maths is a key part of being an engineer.

    If I had been doing a pure mechanical or electrical degree I would have got through it, but it would have been much harder.

    Your first job will likely be close to your degree subject. Another reason to pick an interesting one. If you are a good engineer you will be able to quickly diversify after that though.
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