View Full Version : Is "mechanical design" a dead-end job?

12th Aug '09, 20:58
I feel like I'm in a career-rut - or should that be just a "rut", as I no longer think of mechanical design as a career - just a job these days.

Wouldn't it be nice if it was like being in an institution such as the police where you could aim for being a "Sergeant Mechanical Design Engineer", or one day be a "Chief Inspector Mechanical Design Engineer". I like the idea of a ordered pay structure and career path broken into bite-size chunks. But obviously that's not possible in our world. It's either Mechanical Design Engineer or Senior Mechanical Design Engineer (meaningless titles that do not reflect expertese or pay).

I'm not interested in getting into management so I guess that means I'm stuck as a "mechanical design engineer" for the rest of my life. I can't see any opportunities for "career" progression unless I move to management, but that's means I won't do mechanical design anymore and would end up driving a desk instead.

What do people do in my position? The options I think I have are as follows.

a) Stay where I am without any future progression
b) Become a manager and become miserable
c) Invent something or set up my own business (very difficult and I'm not sure It's my cup of tea)
d) Join a circus.

Any suggestions??? Anyone else stuck?

8th Oct '09, 01:24
I sincerely understand.

I'll let you know when I figure it out. Try some acting in the meantime.

15th Oct '09, 09:44
Well, I can understand you. I'm in the same situation. I think about many options about my carier, what to be in the future. I'm worried that I don't have brilliant future as design engineer, especially here in Bosnia, where there are only few companies that want design engineer. To start job with someone abord is maybe chance, but it's not so easy, especially for someone with poor experience (2 years).

15th Oct '09, 09:50
Hey, sorry if my engllish is not so good.

13th Dec '09, 09:34
I think the only way is to start up on your own.

I experienced the same problem - but as a product designer. Not an easy one to work out. I suppose it's down to the individual but I think it's inevitable you have to reduce time designing. By what amount is the question. Setting up on my own has given me a way to progress I think. Yes you have to run the business but if you keep small you also get to keep on designing. Not for everyone but for me it has solved the issue.

14th Apr '10, 10:39
The key is to strive to do something new and interesting. Like me, I change jobs a lot. So, you have to decide to become a lifer contractor and be willing to work anywhere in the UK, or even in Europe (for me, since I'm an American I can only work in the UK, unless I can find a European employer who willing to get a work permit for me). Also, don't be afraid to take on new challenges, different industries you've never worked in before.
I started in the disk drive industry back in the San Jose California area. Worked in both designing disk drives as well as working for a company that manufactured the disks. I also worked on designing the housings for various computer products. When I moved to the UK I managed to get a job for a hand held computer company. I worked for a Product Design Cosultancy. A high end audio speaker company (I would have stayed there, I loved the products, but the company paid cheap). Mobile phone companies. Automotive electronics (engine control units, and car audio - which gave me the opportunity to work in Germany for almost 4 years!) and recently I've been working with an R&D group that designs and develops the little cameras that go into mobile phones. My next assignment is working for a company, a group, that designs and manufactures solar panels.
But what you really need to do is find employers that are willing to challenge you and give you the opportunity to expand you skills, try new things and get involved in looking at future technologies, or even inventing these technologies.
Sadly, employers can really make your job boring, especially if they don't have any imagination to start with.
As for moving up into management, that's if you really have a desire to do so. As for me, I studied management, both on my own, as well as taken courses through the Open University. What it taught me is that most managers know nothing about managing people (or, should I say have no supervisory skills and/or leadership skills!). In fact I've even confronted some of my managers with the fact they had no idea what it take to manage people. Obviously they didn't like what I said, but could not argue with me. I know what I'm talking about.

15th Sep '10, 16:06
I concluded some years ago that there's a definite limit to the amount of money you can make as a mechanical design engineer. Sure there are exceptions, but for the most part the advancement is limited once you get to a certain level... unless, as others say, you become a manager (not for me, either).

Some years and several jobs back my boss asked me where I wanted to be in a few years. I said that I'd like to be a "chief engineer", but not an "engineering manager", if you understand the distinction. Where I work now, the guy who holds the title "chief engineer" is really an "engineering manager", and I get the impression he's not particularly happy in the position, though doubtless he's paid considerably more than me.

On the consulting side, it's just as tough (or tougher). I did that for about 5 years. The problem is that you're competing with every recent graduate with a pirate copy of AutoCAD and free time in the evenings who's willing to moonlight for $20/hour. You get what you pay for, of course, but a lot of customers don't seem to realize that.

The only way make significant money doing mechanical design is to hire other engineers and take a percentage (which I tried a few times but I was never satisfied with the work they did for me), or design and build (you can make good money but you can also lose your shirt).

Sometimes I think I should have gone into software like my rich brother in law... but while I enjoy doing programming occasionally, I wouldn't want to do it full time. I like mechanical engineering, so I guess it's like the forest ranger who accepts relatively low pay for the pleasure of being out in the woods all the time.

15th Jan '11, 02:54
One thing that I don't understand is that you'd like designers to progress like sergeants or chief inspectors but then you say you don't want a management job. But isn't that what a chief inspector is? A manager? They manage a group of police officers.

16th Jan '11, 01:22
There is no such thing as a "dead end" job. There are jobs that don't necessarily offer one the sort of opportunities one is looking for...
I would suggest the first thing to do is to analyze your situation. What do you do day to day? What part of those functions do you enjoy, what do you not enjoy? Once you have a handle on where you ARE, you can think about where you want to be. It is perfectly OK to decide you are exactly where you want to be- doing work you enjoy, making enough money to meet your personal needs, raise a family, etc. If you are happy doing what you are doing, then how can you consider it "dead end"? Just because someone else wants to "shoot for the stars" does not mean that is what you want to do.
If you are not happy with what you are doing- maybe you want more challenges, maybe more independence, maybe more money- whatever. The important thing is that it has to be what YOU want, not what your brother or your mother (or even your wife or husband, for that matter) THINKS you should want. Define the "Perfect World" in your own mind...
Once you know where you are, and where you want to be, it should be pretty straight-forward to figure out how to get there. Just because I enjoy starting businesses does not mean you would enjoy it. Want variety? Maybe consulting would be the right direction- and don't worry too much about "any recent graduate with their own copy of AutoCAD"- if you are good, the market will recognize it. Is job security your primary goal? Stay where you are...
Just some random thoughts. A job seems to be dead end mostly because of the job-holder's attitude. What appears dead end to one person would look like heaven-sent to the next...

17th Jan '11, 14:42
One thing that I don't understand is that you'd like designers to progress like sergeants or chief inspectors but then you say you don't want a management job. But isn't that what a chief inspector is? A manager? They manage a group of police officers.

It should be (but isn't always) possible to progress on a primarily technical level. The way I would use "chief engineer" is a senior engineer who oversees the technical direction of a group of lower level engineers. He may be directly involved in the critical part of a project, delegating less critical parts to other engineers... or he may delegate the entire project but oversee it and give direction but not actively making CAD models or drawings himself.

"Engineering manager", OTOH, sounds more like the guy who manages time cards and budgets, and approves purchases requested by other engineers. To understand how to properly manage an engineering group, he needs to be an engineer himself, but doesn't need to be a really good one; I think the most effective managers often aren't the best creative engineers.

But however I personally understand or use the above terms, they're used interchangeably by different companies or personnel departments, so the actual job title is meaningless.

8th Feb '11, 01:08
I started out as a machine programmer then learned CAD Drafting and eventually became a Design Engineer. The thing I really like about being a Designer is the opportunity to create things from scratch. Sure, not every assignment has this ground up design process but all have required some level of creativity. I advanced to Senior Design Engineer after 6 years then Lead Engineer for a group of younger Designers without becoming a manager. My pay went into the 6 digits after 16 years in the field and I was one of a group of Staff Engineers for a time reporting to the VP of Engineering. So as you can see there is upward mobility in the Design career path that does not necessarily mean management. As with any career and life in general, the more you enjoy it the more you get out of it. Many Design Engineers make good Manufacturing Engineers and CAD Drafters. If you cannot find the creative part of Design then you should get out and move on.

12th Feb '11, 05:32
OR, option E.) Join up with a beginning product designer/inventor who seriously needs help ironing out minuscule technical details to make things production ready and who will to split patents/royalties to everyone involved. Only bad side? Don't get paid until there's profit on the object, which, without an investor in the back pocket could be a while. But hey, the calls would be spaced out and not take much time to answer since you already have the knowledge in your head! And you could do your crappy job in the mean time! And it might pay off at some point!

That makes my life sound so much sadder than you, so be happy about that at least, eh?