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For those of you who don’t know, I hate engineering as a career, and I have no plan to return to the industry. In fact, I’m so committed that I actually wrote a 15-chapter series slamming various aspects of the discipline. Those 15 chapters contain 11 reasons why I quit my engineering career. At any rate, let’s dive in.
Table of Contents
#1: The Bewildering Bureaucracy
When I decided to become an engineer, I had no idea that my day-to-day grind would be steeped in bureaucratic processes. If I wasn’t coding, I was responding to emails, writing documentation, attending a meeting, completing a training, taking orders, or waiting on someone else. All of this occurred while strapped to a desk from 8-5 in an old warehouse, the truest form of bureaucracy.
Since we’re on the subject of bureaucracy, here’s a little teaser from the Bewildering Bureaucracy article:
Since you’re the brilliant fella who came up with the idea, you’re naturally the person upper management has put in charge of overseeing the project. Wait a minute! Aren’t you the one who was getting excited about implementation? Yeah, you’re not going to have any time for that. You’re now in charge of writing impossible deadlines for your teammates who will inevitably hate you by the end of the project.
If this reminds you of your job, you’ll love this article. There’s nothing quite like burying the work you enjoy in painful processes. For me, bureaucracy ruined a lot of what I enjoyed about being an engineer. In fact, it played a major role in my decision to quit my engineering career. I may still be an engineer today if it wasn’t for corporate processes.
#2: The Miserable Management
Recently, I was on a visit to a grad school, and I found myself complaining about how bad management is in the corporate environment. That’s when one of the prospective students mentioned the Peter Principle. According to Wikipedia, the Peter Principle refers to “anything that works will be used in progressively more challenging applications until it fails.” In other words, employees will be promoted until they are incompetent in their role.
Speaking of incompetence, check out this snippet from the Miserable Management article:
Finding a good manager is like winning the Powerball. It could happen, but you’re more likely to get struck by lightning. Hell, if you have one of the duds above, the lightning option doesn’t sound like such a bad deal. Maybe Ben Franklin had the right idea. Now where’s my kite?
When I was writing this article, I wasn’t aware of the Peter Principle, but it totally makes sense. Just about every manager I ever had rose to some level of incompetence. Dealing with miserable management really burnt me out. In fact, I attribute a lot of my decision to quit my engineering career to the Peter Principle.
#3: The Everlasting Exertion
For some reason, the corporate environment values time over effort. While this isn’t quite as extreme in the US as Japan, it’s still pretty apparent. Think about it. When was the last time you left before your boss? When was the last time you got your work done and went home early?
Honestly, as an engineer, I spent significantly more time at the office than full-time dictates. Forty hours a week is a nice sentiment when you’re stuck at the office for two or more meals a day. At any rate, here’s a little sample from the Everlasting Exertion article:
People like me value our time, so we don’t waste any of it when it comes to completing an assignment. Meanwhile, corporate culture values time over results, so getting an assignment done doesn’t mean we can go home. Instead, it means we’re stuck doing someone else’s work.
No one in their right mind would kindly take on everyone else’s work without some sort of compensation. That would be insane. At the very least, it’s a recipe for burnout which has ultimately led me to quit my engineering career.
#4: The Artificial Arrogance
Perhaps my biggest pet peeve in corporate engineering is the arrogance. For some reason, engineers seem to think they’re the greatest thing walking the planet – even around other engineers. I never understood this, and I found it pretty frustrating. Why would I ever try to collaborate with someone who thought they were always right? It makes discussions impossible.
If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, here’s a quote from the Artificial Arrogance article:
During the chaos, I remember building this elevator-like structure by the directions. At some point, I realized we were missing pieces, so I told everyone to look out for extras.
Of course, everyone was sort of ignoring me, so I dug around to try to find the missing pieces. Eventually, I ended up grabbing some similar looking pieces and swapped them in place. I mean we’re dealing with LEGO here. I’m not too worried about getting everything perfect.
As fate would have it, one of the other engineers caught wind of what I did, and they absolutely lost it. I can’t tell you have many times I heard the word “perfect” in five minutes.
This was day one of four, mind you, and I had already checked out. By day three, I was sleeping under the table. I don’t think I did an ounce of work all week.
Apparently, engineers can’t even shake their arrogance to play with LEGO. Ugh, I’d rather quit my engineering career than deal with these stuck-up idiots.
#5: The Military Mentality
Picture this: An assignment comes across your desk with the word “URGENT” printed on it. As a good employee, you immediately get to work. Within a few hours, you’re able to pat yourself on the back for a job well done. The amount of stress this caused you pales in comparison to the elation you feel now. You turn to your boss to share the completed assignment. With a stern face, they reveal “we don’t need that right now” leaving you frustrated.
I can’t even recall how many times this happened to me. My manager would tell me that my latest assignment was urgent before ultimately deciding otherwise when I’d finish. Here’s a snippet of one of my rants from the Military Mentality article:
For reference, I was asked to complete a task which normally would have taken several months in just a week. This was NOT the first time either. In fact, our first formal release of the product required two tasks to be completed. One of those tasks took about 4 months while the other task was completed in a week. The second task was garbage and required rework for several weeks after that. But we had to get it out the door! Engineering is a joke.
When it comes to project management in engineering, the military seems to have left its mark. The hurry-up-and-wait cycle played a critical role in my decision to quit my engineering career.
#6: The Dire Discrimination
This one should be obvious to women and minorities, but keep in mind that I’m a white male. I don’t typically expect to deal with racism or sexism. Instead, I dealt with ageism which came in the form of something know as corporate hazing.
Hazing can come in many forms, but for me it came in the form of ridiculously high expectations in terms of time commitments. Apparently, young people can be used and abused in the workplace because they don’t have lives. In fact, I have a great example of this in the Dire Discrimination article:
Long story short, a few of us on the team were asked to put in some extra hours because we “didn’t have any kids.” That’s right. Apparently having kids affords you extra rights in the workplace. I guess I’ll go make one of those real quick, so I can get the benefits.
For me, other forms of hazing included people taking credit for my work, people double checking my work, and people challenging my decisions. All of these were total breaches of respect and trust, and I could only ever attribute them to my “lack of experience.” This culture of discrimination against youth played a major role in my decision to quit my engineering career.
#7: The Looming Legacy
When I first stepped into the corporate engineering world, I found myself particularly disturbed by the lack of innovation. It was like stepping into a time machine set for the 1980s. Code was passed around in zip folders, and everything was tracked using spreadsheets. It wasn’t until I was on my way out the door that I realized how much this lack of innovation had affected me. Just take a look at this snippet from the Looming Legacy article:
With just six weeks left to spare in my job, I began visiting universities. At one of the universities, I was quizzed about my day-to-day job. As usual, I gave a generic answer about what I typically did: “I develop predictive algorithms to detect locomotive failures.”
Naturally, I was immediately quizzed about the machine learning techniques I was using. Plot twist: I wan’t using any. I was essentially determining failures based on some perfect scenario mathematical model. It only took a few moments before the entire group – prospective students included – were sharing all kinds of stories about neural networks and deep learning activities they’ve tried in their free time. Needless to say, I was being roasted.
After that experience, I felt both embarrassed and frustrated. Why weren’t we trying to leverage the latest tools? How come no one was pushing for personal growth? I felt like I had wasted two years of my time, so I I figured the best move I could make would be to quit my engineering career.
#8: The Cubicle Conundrum
If you’ve ever worked in the corporate environment, you’re probably very familiar with the cubicle. Here’s a scary thought: you spend more time in a cubicle than you do in your bed. The best part is cubicles are both soul crushing and physically debilitating. Who doesn’t love them? Let’s consult the Cubicle Conundrum article:
Let’s be honest. No one does work 100% of the time they are at their desk. That’s a recipe for burnout. However, the lack of privacy means that even when you’re taking a little break you need to be pretending to work. This is somehow more exhausting than actually working because you’re essentially sidelining as an actor.
Ah, yes. Over these past two years, I’ve built up enough “pretending to work” skills that I could probably have been an extra in The Wolf on Wall Street.
#9: The Malevolent Meritocracy
I’ve always liked the concept of a meritocracy in terms of its textbook definition. But just like most concepts, people come along and mess them up.
When it comes to a meritocracy, you’d expect that the highest performers would be rewarded, but that’s not exactly the case. Ironically, performance isn’t even promoted in a true meritocracy. Instead, corruption becomes the new norm. Just take a look at this passage from the Malevolent Meritocracy article:
For example, as a part of this program, we all had to take classes together. I was split off into a smaller group of software guys, so I didn’t run into nearly as many issues. For the remainder of the group, there were loads of issues. In their class, they had people rotate through grading the assignments. While that seems fair on the surface, it actually became quite a problem.
1. Some people were fortunate enough to grade more than others
2. Some people graded differently than others
You can probably imagine how this played out. Simply put, the more corrupt individuals got better grades. By the end of the course, the overall grade distribution did not reflect characteristics of an ideal meritocracy. Instead, intelligence, teamwork, and work ethic were outweighed by dumb luck and corruption.
Needless to say, meritocracy is a ruse. The lack of morality required to progress was enough of a reason for me to quit my engineering career.
#10: The Sedentary Situation
When people imagine engineering, they typically think about this very hands on discipline. Unfortunately, the reality is remarkably sedentary. Not only do most engineers design machines using software now, they also rarely play with their own toys. After all, prototypes cost money, and businesses hate spending money.
At any rate, sitting all day is guaranteed to have a profound impact on your health. Believe me when I say, the corporate culture hasn’t been good for my health. In fact, I even wrote about it in the Sedentary Situation article:
I started taking my weight in March of 2016 when I was about 170 pounds. I believe I hit my lowest weight that summer. However, pretty much the moment I jumped into the corporate environment, I started gaining weight. By the end of 2017, I was almost 190 pounds.
People joke about the freshman fifteen in college, but I’ve never heard anyone joke about it in their career. I assume nobody wants to talk about it.
#11: The Perilous Perspective
Last but not least, we have the perilous perspective. Have you ever been around a group of people who all had similar thoughts and beliefs? It’s weird, right? You’re outnumbered, so you’re stuck trying to blend in while avoiding any opportunity to drink the Kool-Aid. Welcome to my life as an engineer.
The problem with conformity is that it works in direct opposition to original thought. When applied to an engineering environment, you end up with these major titans that fail to innovate simply because of their arrogance. Take a page out of the Perilous Perspective article for instance:
I think one of the worst times I had with this perilous perspective was when I first told my program manager about my plans to go back to school. At the time, the business was going under. Company stock was crashing while the market was growing, and the business was forced to make major cuts.
Obviously, I hated my job, but I also wanted some sort of job security. After all, I still had loans to pay. In addition, I was in Atlanta for at least another six months, and I wasn’t moving. So, I decided to explain the situation to my program manager. Unfortunately, they weren’t quite comforting.
When I admitted all that to my program manager, they acted as if I was crazy for wanting to leave.
Do you see what I mean? In these sort of environments, you’ll find yourself working with people who would rather drown in their own Kool-Aid than have an original thought. It’s no wonder I quit my engineering career.
Why I Quit My Engineering Career
If you haven’t heard, March 29th, 2018 marked the day I officially quit my engineering career. Coincidentally, March 30th was the big release of the first article from my new series titled A String of Unfavorable Roles. Why not check the series out?
- The Proactive Preface
- The Sinister Start
- The Bewildering Bureaucracy
- The Miserable Management
- The Everlasting Exertion
- The Artificial Arrogance
- The Military Mentality
- The Dire Discrimination
- The Looming Legacy
- The Cubicle Conundrum
- The Malevolent Meritocracy
- The Sedentary Situation
- The Perilous Perspective
- The Finish
- The Affirmable Addendum
All of the headings from this article are actually the titles of 11 of those articles, so you should already have a pretty good idea of what to look forward to.
As always, if you have any questions or comments, leave them below in the comments section. I thoroughly expect to spark some controversy with this article, so fire away!