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Beginning career advice

  1. Sep 14, 2007 #1
    I have graduated with an electrical engineering degree last May, and have been on the job hunt since then. Right now I have three job offers, all of which expire on Monday, and I do not know which one is the best job for my career.

    One of the jobs is as a software engineer, and although it sounds interesting, will require relocation. I'm also not sure how much I would enjoy a programming job, as I do not have much programming experience. One advantage to this position is they want me to take classes in programming at a local university, and will reimburse the tuition. I am pretty sure I would rather stay more on the hardware side of things though.

    Another job offer is actually just a contract to hire position with Rockwell automation as a design engineer. I think that this position, although possibly only six months in duration, might be most in line with future plans to get a PE and get into a R&D position.

    The third job is as a field service engineer for ABB. For this position I would travel the country and troubleshoot AC drives. I was pretty sure I would accept that position until the offer came in the mail, and the position title was given as field service technician. The ad for the job and the position title for the interview was for field service engineer, and when I asked about the title, I was told the I would be classified as a technician so that I can be payed overtime, whereas if I was classified as an engineer I would be on salary. The job does require a lot of overtime, and the pay would be good, but I really want to get engineering experience, and am not sure if this sort of work will count towards becoming a PE. Ive also heard it is a bad situation for a graduated engineer to take a technician role, as they will be climbing the wrong career ladder, and have trouble moving into engineering. On the other hand, I am allowed to have engineer on my business card since I did graduate from a 4 year school, and the technician designation will only be internal to the company.

    Due to having good training, benefits, travel, and good pay I am most interested in the field service engineering position. I was wondering if anyone else has taken a similar job, and moved into design or R&D later. Would the experience count toward getting my PE, or not. Also is taking this position shooting my self in the foot when it comes to career advancement as an engineer? Thanks in advance for your thought on this situation.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 14, 2007 #2


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    Staff: Mentor

    I have done both hardware and software, but I find that the software work gets a bit old if I do it exclusively for a period of time (like 3-6 months). I too prefer more hardware-oriented work.

    The Field Service position sounds a little interesting (I assume you are not in a close relationship or married), but travelling can be a grind, and the "technician" thing sounds like it could be an issue down the road.

    The second position that you mentioned would probably be what I would choose. It sounds like if you do a good job during the 6-month contract period, that there would be a reasonable chance that you got hired. Is that correct? It sounds like a good division and a good company, and starting out as a Design Engineer puts you on the right path for the R&D position that you say is in your goals.

    Hopefully you get some more opinions in this thread over the weekend, in case the feedback helps you think through all your options. Best of luck to you!
  4. Sep 15, 2007 #3


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    Be careful with that "field service" job. You could be looking at just swapping faulty parts for new ones. Remember field service guys are paid to FIX problems, not understand what was the root cause of the problem and feed suggestions back to the design team about how the designers could do their own jobs better! The "technician" thing is a big warning flag IMO.

    Living on the road with a company credit card, and possibly driving 30,000 miles a year in a company car (or flying several times a week) and working long hours to get paid lots of overtime won't necessarily compensate for the lack of intellectual challenge, when the novelty wears off.

    A service or support job that's based permanently at one (large) customer is a different thing altogether - but those are usually filled by experienced people, not new starters.

    I think you already decided you prefer #2 to #1, for reasons that sound entirely rational.
  5. Sep 15, 2007 #4


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    For the benefit of satisfying my curiosity and that of others around here, may I ask how much you are offered as starting salary for each job?
  6. Sep 15, 2007 #5
    I'm a Computer Scientist, working a as a Software Engineer for IBM

    So for the programming job, if you enjoy programming, go for that one, if you think you'll get burned out then I wouldn't recommend it.

    Also if your not excellent at programming, just getting into it with no real love or drive for programming will put you at a disadvantaged. If you want to keep your job and stay competitive in the software world you have to stay up to date on all your skills constantly, learn the new and best thing.

    If you don't get excited when learning a new programming language then it probably isn't for you.

    Once you hit software you wont hit any EE, you'll be on the other side (all software) unless you are working in embedded systems programming.

    #2. sounds like the best choice

    #3. Sounds like it would be a waste, an EET major would be good at that job, not an EE. Its like grunt work.

    Its like me being a Comp Sci major and getting a job as a Computer Technician (which 10 year olds can do)
    You also would get paid a great deal less if you get the title "technician"

    Why wouldn't engineers get paid over time? I get paid over time, I'm sure lots of people do, they sound a little fishy.
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2007
  7. Sep 17, 2007 #6
    I came across your posting only from Google alerts I receive on ABB. I have worked for ABB for 12 years, and have ventured down one path that your are considering, so I felt compelled to register for this site and offer some observations for you to consider. First, my background:

    I started off as a Field Service Technician also, after graduating with a mechanical engineering degree (UMaine; I am American). I had the same reservations about the title as you do now. I am now Area Sales Manager for Europe, Middle East and Africa for a specialized area of our process automation division (quality control systems). I live in Dublin, Ireland. I also continue to travel, but now it is around Europe. I have been in 7 different countries in the last 3 weeks. My progression went like this: Field Service Technician (1 year); Systems Engineer (1 year); Account Manager (8 years); this job (2 years). I can say with a very high degree of confidence that you have been told the truth about the title - that it is an internal formality and will not limit you. After my time as a systems engineer, I had two opportunities available - R&D or sales. I chose sales for the money, and then learned how much fun it is. But my point is that R&D was a door open to me after two years, and I have a BSME and no PE.

    I don't know the requirements for PE, you might want to check this independently; I was never all that interested in getting this designation. I think it is only important in the US and I think only for people wanting to open their own consulting business or to join a pure engineering firm, but again I am not an authority on it. I can say two things however - I knew field serivce engineers in the drives business of our company that did get the PE status; and I don't think that PE is very meaningful outside the US. I don't see this on business cards in Europe or Asia. FYI, our drives R&D is mostly done in Helsinki, Finland, but some applications development is also done all over the world.

    By the way, I can't remember ever seeing the word "technician" on the business cards of the 100 or so people that I know with the same job your are considering. The word on the business card is always "engineer" because that is the competence we want to project to customers. I have managed customer relationships where the subject of service engineer competence has come up many times, and I can say with confidence that in our business AlephZero is wrong about the quick "fix" - of course they want a problem fixed, but their biggest concern was usually about getting to the root cause of the problem. This is a skill that is highly valued by customers, and therefore by ABB.

    I think the biggest decision you need to make is a personal one about travel. For me it is a big positive factor. You seemed to mention it in a positive way in your last paragraph also, but give it some careful thought. I don't have children (and don't plan to) and my wife has her own demanding career, so it works out fine. Of course I know many traveling engineers in the company that do have young children and they make it work, but think carefully about this.

    You are right that the pay an benefits are quite good.

    Drives is great place to start also because it is one of the highest technology areas of our business, and it has an interesting mix of HW and SW technology, and lots of embedded technology also.

    I agree also with Mr Coffee about programming. We have several software engineers in our R&D center in Ireland, and it is seems clear to me if you haven't fallen in love with it by now, then I think it is a bit risky to dive in now. The programming you would do in drives is very different than coding - it is more about configuration of logic to match the needs of a real-world application. Our programming language is graphical, using logical blocks that you connect. It is a DCS, which I am sure you worked with in school.

    Comparing the opportunities between #2 and #3 (Rockwell vs ABB), I will try not to be too biased against my competitor. They are certainly a decent company, and well-known and respected in the US. But as a design engineer I think they would want you to work in Wisconsin with little travel - you should confirm. Also, the 6-months is a red flag in my view. Do you know why it is only 6 months? Product design projects in our business are normally 18-24 months long, why is this stint so short? Does your personal situation allow for being back in the job market in 6 months? You have to be prepared for this as a real possibility. By comparison, ABB is a much bigger company, with a much broader portfolio and geographical reach. R&D opportunities are too numerous to mention here. We have product-line R&D centers in Ohio, Wisconsin, New York, Texas, Ireland, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Italy, India, Singapore, China (and more). Our corporate-level R&D, which focuses on ground-breaking technologies and technology standardization, are located in US, Sweden, and Germany.

    I don't want to sugar-coat it too much either. I can say that you will definitely be in situations in the ABB job where you are troubleshooting a drives hardware problem at 3am on an emergency call in some factory. So if you know that you will be very unhappy in that situation, then consider the job very carefully. But I have been in this position early in my career also, and I personally felt that it gave me a grounded perspective of customers' needs on which to build my own value propositions to the company and fuel my advancement. In other words, I have dealt with hundreds of engineers and managers in my career, and I can say that the ones that never experienced the stressful, painful moments like this at 3am, side-by-side with a customer and colleagues, often behave in a very "disconnected" way - they are good engineers, but often have to be explained the important end objectives in a very basic way, and they never are able to internalize those objectives. On the other hand, engineers that have been on the battlefield, even if only for a year, seem to have developed a natural instinct for the end objectives. They are more valuable in my view. So, to say it more directly, the experience should give you "heart" that good managers can see and find valuable.

    Although this blog seems interesting, and I did start off as a physics major, I will probably only check it one more time to see if you would like to contact me by email.

    Good luck in whatever you choose. It seems like only yesterday that I was in your shoes.
  8. Sep 17, 2007 #7


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    Wow, SSJ_temp. Great post -- thank you for taking the time to share your extremely relevant background and experience. This is one of the best "hits" I think I've ever seen here on the PF, or on any other forum for that matter. Great stuff.
  9. Sep 18, 2007 #8
    Thank you for your thoughts all. I have decided to go with the Rockwell contract to hire job. It is definitely an engineering job, will give me experience, and it gives me some more time to look at other employment possibilities. My only reservation with this job is that since they have more work than they anticipated, and that the contract is such a short amount of time, that the training may not be that good, and I may be given busywork.

    ABB said at the interview that they wanted a five year commitment for the job so that my training would pay off. As a field service engineer that would have been fine, but not as a technician. My fears are that if I were to accept the position, and after say 4 years become unemployed for whatever reason, it would be hard to get an engineering job with another company. If another employer were to see field service engineer on my resume and call ABB to verify, they would pull my file and find that my position was technician. Also, I have considered the possibility of advancement at ABB, and although a few people have told me there is lots of moving around inside ABB, the fact that they want a commitment for this particular position tells me it may not be easy for me to move up for a while, at least until they feel the training they put in to me paid off.
  10. Sep 18, 2007 #9
    well as some one else that works i nthe capital equipment engineering industry I can say that the FSE job I think would have been a great steping stone for many other positions. I have known people in the company i work for that have followed similar paths to SSJ_temp and others that instead of going down sales have followed a path leading to systems development, applications development or support or management positions within the service organization. the technician title is really only a way for your HR group to keep track of where you start and that you will get over time.

    again I also think i would be suspicious of the rockwell job(i know you decided but still) as temp developer roles will be way to high a stress level with low likly hood of any chance of development on that companies carreer ladder and six onths is really no work experence to talk of. I think that working as an FSE would give you many great trouble shooting skills and get you use to seeing what customers expect from systems. where as with out leaning what a customer really expects how do you think you can design what they need.

    good luck with your decision
  11. Sep 21, 2007 #10
    Well I've been thrown a curve ball. I accepted the contract position at Rockwell, and during the first day of work I get a message that ABB changed the offer letter position from field service technician to non exempt field service engineer. I like the position at Rockwell so far, and do not want to burn any bridges with them by throwing in a two week on my third day. On the other hand, I may really like the work at ABB, and there is no guarantee that I will be working for Rockwell 6 months from now. Another weekend, another tough decision.
  12. Oct 4, 2007 #11
    Sorry, I meant to check in earlier. It seems you have been through quite a lot. What decision did you make? If it was to stay at Rockwell, then I think it was good thinking in that leaving a job after only a few days would be a negative in your career, and anyway you would have another chance to make a decision in 6 months anyway. If on the other hand you chose to move to ABB, then time and experience should erase the initial indecisiveness. If the latter, then post your ABB Lotus Notes email address address on this blog and I will get in touch, or if you want to keep your name off the web then post only the first letter of your first name, the full last name and I can find it from there.
  13. Oct 10, 2007 #12
    Sorry for the delay, I started at ABB on Monday and have received my email address there. I have sent it as a private message to you SSJ_temp.
  14. Oct 10, 2007 #13

    D H

    Staff: Mentor

    A bit off-topic, but apparently you new guys apparently don't know how the real world works.

    Most engineers and scientists are not paid overtime. We are not paid time-and-a-half, we are not paid straight time. We might, if our employer is particularly benificient, get "comp time". We are paid a weekly or monthly salary, not an hourly rate. We are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act. I bolded the word exempt because the FLSA has a specific category, "learned professionals", that makes us exempt from the rules. The FLSA does not apply to us. We are so lucky! :uhh:

    As a co-op, you are a non-exempt employee. You do not qualify as a "learned professional", so your employer is forced to pay you overtime for work over 40 hours per week. Once you graduate with a degree you too will be exempt from all of these silly protections. Lucky you!
  15. Oct 10, 2007 #14
    D H,

    I just recently found this out at IBM but forgot I ever posted that which like you said, was incorrect.

    Comment 09/17/07:
    Here is the monthly salary survey update:
    Band 2: 4 respondents, avg: $36K, standard deviation: $9K, range: (min/max reported): $24K to $42K
    Band 3: 1 respondent, $25K Band 4: 11 respondents, avg: $46K, standard deviation: $11K, range: $32K to $60K
    Band 5: 3 respondents, avg: $58K, standard deviation: $16K, range: $48K to $77K
    Band 6: 30 respondents, avg: $61K, std dev: $9K, range: $41.9K to $79K
    Band 7: 63 respondents, avg: $71K, std dev: $13K, range: $49K to $110K
    Band 8: 64 respondents, avg: $98K, std dev: $16K, range: $55K to $130K
    Band 9: 30 respondents, avg: $118K, std dev: $17K, range: $89K to $152K
    Band 10: 11 respondents, avg: $148K, std dev: $25K, range: $107K to $190K

    It has been reported that the "official" range for
    - band 6 is 39.5K to 80.3K
    - band 7 is 53.4K to 108.5K
    - band 8 (Software Engineer, 01A) is 60K to 144K
    Bands 1-5 are non-exempt (overtime-eligible) while bands 6-10 are exempt.

    At IBM if your paid hourly your ranked 1-5, if your salary you band 6 and above.

    I'd rather get paid salary and get a ton of money and maybe have to work over time and not get paid for it, rather than getting not that much hourly and sometimes getting a chance to work overtime.

    A lot of the people I talk to normally work 40 hour weeks on salary but managers I heard its more like 60 hour a week average.

    Thanks for clearing that up DH
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2007
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