2013 marks my thirty-third year of work in the A/E and environmental business. It's hard to believe sometimes – I was the young guy but now I'm the old one – oldest in my firm and amongst the oldest in some of our clients' companies as well!
Over those years, I have witnessed an ongoing debate about the dual career path for engineers. People can pursue a technical career or a managerial career. Each has pros and cons. CE News is a manifestation of this, as our tagline explains we are all about "business and technology for civil engineers."
I'm not one to hold back, so here are my thoughts:
- The technical career path pays a lot less. Unless you are a terminal-degreed geotech or structural engineer working in an environment that values extremely technical people, the odds are if you pursue a strictly technical career path you will make a lot less money than someone who pursues a managerial one. Why? Because there are more people out there who can do technical work but cannot manage anyone else. The marketplace doesn't value them as highly.
- The technical-only career path offers you a greater probability of personal obsolescence. Think about it. Experts claim half of all technical knowledge is obsolete every two years. Management knowledge, however, is not changing nearly so fast. Hmm...
- Love of technical work is probably why you became an engineer in the first place. Anything that takes one away from the work that is intrinsically satisfying should be carefully considered, lest one go down a path that ultimately leads to dissatisfaction.
- The managerial path also offers plenty of opportunities to become irrelevant. How many people "move on" from design or technical work as they move up in the organization? Most, in my experience, do this to a large extent. This, too, can lead to problems as it becomes difficult managing technical people who can do something you don't do yourself. Not to mention, you forget how long things take to accomplish and become disconnected with the obstacles people face daily in doing their jobs or the tools that they need to work.
- Selling skills are really what's in demand, more so than technical or management skills. Every engineer in any job – public or private – can benefit from being able to sell the benefits of their thinking. So, ultimately, those who can influence people become the most effective technical people and managers.
In any case, as 2012 fades into our collective memories, 2013 beckons with new promise. All of you have my best wishes for a really great year. I hope you have much success. And enjoy this January 2013 issue of CE News. We aren't going to rest on our laurels and look forward to working with you, our readers, and our sponsors and advertisers, to help make your job and engineering overall a better and better-recognized profession. Happy 2013, all!
Mark C. Zweig