1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Is management the destiny of every engineer?

  1. Nov 11, 2015 #1
    I've been discussing with some friends of mine recently and one of them pointed out that all senior engineers end up more involved with management stuff than actual engineering work. I know that, in some cases, that is not correct, but even so, I wonder if the big opportunities in an engineering carreer will be only in management positions. I, as a student of MechE, would prefer to work directly with engineering for my entire carreer.
    I'm inclined to say that this tendency of engineers becoming managers is more common in certain fields of engineering, is that correct?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 11, 2015 #2


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

  4. Nov 11, 2015 #3
    It's not too hard to avoid getting derailed into management. You need to be intentional in your career and be willing to leave a lot of money on the table.
  5. Nov 11, 2015 #4
    Generally speaking the higher up the ladder you go the further you go away from the technical aspects of engineering, but it's not always like this. Some smaller, specialised design/consultancy type firms will have a higher ratio of technical people to management types than your average engineering firm.

    However, it's all very well saying that you don't ever want to go into management as a student, but your priorities might change when you have a family, mortgage etc.
  6. Nov 11, 2015 #5
    Yeah, probably my priorities will change in the future. Even so, that makes me wonder. Let's say I'm a MechE, I've got a master's degree - I don't know, maybe in Automatic Controls, for example - and perhaps a PhD. I've studied years, and I've become an expert in some field of MechE. But that means that, if I want to go after the money, I will end up moving away from all this knowledge, becoming embroiled in the management.

    Well, in a management position, what would likely be the balance between the more "technical" and managing work?
  7. Nov 11, 2015 #6


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    I'm north of 40 with a PhD in Electrical Engineering. I still do 100% technical work (although PROJECT management is a different story, as it should be somewhat technical). In our organization once you "go into management" you deal with schedules and funding various activities and performance reviews and you do essentially zero technical work.

    Other places have different balances but it is not typically in anyone's interest to do 50% "management" tasks and 50% "technical".
  8. Nov 11, 2015 #7
    What worries me is that I know I wouldn't be a good manager, specially if I'm to manage people in a team. Managing people it's not for me, really.
  9. Nov 11, 2015 #8
    Same here. I've found that my good technical skills have been highly appreciated and rewarded, especially in a small consulting engineering firm where only the president of the company did no technical work. My advice: always check your work....twice.
  10. Nov 11, 2015 #9


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    There is an additional problem: if you don't become a manager, you become an overpaid engineer, which makes you good layoff bait.
    Is your avatar photo recent? You look like you are about 25. Based on that alone, I would assume you would be a terrible manager as well. 10 years from now, re-assess.
  11. Nov 11, 2015 #10
    This happens more at old school companies like IBM and Ford. The companies I worked for tended to keep a lot of compensation in stock options and annual bonuses, which allowed them to keep base salaries from getting into the overpaid range. In down years, trimming bonuses and stock options could reduce compensation costs without having to layoff the more experienced engineers. They were more likely to fire the slackers regardless of where they were on the pay scale.
  12. Nov 12, 2015 #11
    Well, that's good to know. If you don't mind questioning, how was this transition between technical and management work for you? I mean, besides the financial aspect?

    I'm a little uncomfortable with this, mainly from what I see in people I know. My father, for example, used to work in the technical branch of his job - he isn't an engineer - and, when he was promoted to a kind of manager position - where he was overseeing others doing the work he used to do - he became very unhappy. In the case of engineering, there is any any satisfaction in moving away from the technical work?
  13. Nov 12, 2015 #12
    I have avoided getting in to management. The way I look at it, the increase in salary wouldn't be enough to cover the additional stress and mental health issues that comes with the work. In other words, it wouldn't buy me enough of my favorite activities or give me enough free time to make that job tolerable.

    I know quite a few Technical and Engineering staff who have made that transition. Some handled it very well and seem to be quite happy with their work. Note that they're not always the best on the technical side of things. One of my best bosses ever was a mediocre technician; but he could play the management work like a violin.

    If you feel you probably wouldn't like management, you should probably stay out of management. You can make a comfortable living as an engineer. You may want to look for places that have dual-track management/engineering pay scales. A senior engineer who knows the field and has strong institutional knowledge is worth a lot.
  14. Nov 12, 2015 #13


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    To me this sounds like one of the issues that you won't have to confront for a long time, if at all, and an issue that can likely be avoided if planned for correctly.

    There are pressures that push people towards management at the latter portion of their careers. For one it often pays to have a manager who understand the technical aspects of a project. Without that, you have unrealistic expectations, frustrated workers, inefficiencies, project errors, and general misunderstandings that all end up costing the company money. So you need someone in a leadership position who can speak the technical language of both the engineers and technicians on the project as well as the customer. As a result companies are often wiling to increase the compensation for more senior employees.

    Additionally, there can be a skill stagnation factor as well. For a person who lets his or her skills slip, or simply doesn't update them, sometimes management is an option that allows that person to still contribute something of value to the company. In most cases you probably don't want to work with someone who's in a management position because he or she can't do anything else, (and you certainly don't want to be the person in that position in the first place), but it happens.

    A third factor is more of an opportunity one. With management often comes leadership opportunity. You have more of an opportunity to have input into the overall direction of a project and for some people, this may be a lot more of what they initially envisioned the job or career would entail. Once you've done ten years of solving the problems that someone else assigns to you, having the opportunity to assign those problems to others and decide on which problems to tackle in the first place might seem a little more appealing.

    (Note: I'm not an engineer, but I work with a fair number of them.)
  15. Nov 12, 2015 #14


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    It also depends on what you mean by "manage", Most (albeit not all) people who have had a job for long time will be expected to take on more responsibility and at least to some extent supervise more junior staff. If you are e.g. a project leader you will inevitable spend some time looking at spreadsheets and going to meetings.
    I am a scientist, but I am senior enough to have PhD students (for whom I am the "line manager") and I also lead a couple of projects and am involved a few others. Hence, even though I am not part of the "management" where I work I still end up spending maybe 1-2 days a week managing project and people.
    Sometimes this is quite boring, but it can also be quite interesting since it takes me out of my comfort zone. I have been working in the same area of science for about 15 years now, meaning I will have done most of the day-to-day tasks in the lab a few hundred times. Hence. I don't mind doing something new.
    I imagine this same thing will be true for engineers; even technical working can become repetitive once you've mastered it.
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2015
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook