The Biggest Lie We’re Told About Engineering

I think engineering is one of the four most prestigious professions in our country. First is medicine, followed by law, then maybe tied with accountancy. Sadly, people set unrealistically high expectations out of these professions.

However, unlike doctors and lawyers who completed almost eight to ten years of education, engineers and CPAs only completed four or five. But why do we expect so much so soon from those added letters on our names?

When I was a student, I always believed that once I graduate and pass the board exam, jobs will line-up for me. I even expected at least a P30,000 salary.

That is also what’s been told by friends or family members, shown in news sites, and social media, so it must be true. Licensed professionals may laugh at this story, but students might be confused.

When I got my license in October 2014 and started applying for a job, I was confident that my license is enough to get me a contract. This is the first hard slap of reality for me. 

My first interview was from a headhunting company. I don’t remember how I performed, but when the interviewer asked about my expected salary, I said P20,000.

The interviewer tried to hide a smirk and said they can only offer P12,000 – the minimum wage in Metro Manila. I know many young engineers also experienced this, especially in manufacturing, telecommunications, and even the construction industry.

The following interviews also went the same way, but this time, I managed my expectations. However, based on my need at the time, the lowest that I can accept is P15,000. I went on so many interviews in the next six months before finally agreeing to the P20,000/month salary plus benefits from a tech company, which at the time, was the last company I wanted to enter.

I think there is a deep flaw in how families and schools present opportunities to high school students. There is a notion that even without any prior and related experience, an engineer can earn a lot – which only ends with disappointments.

This may also contribute to people’s common impression that the best students should be doctors, lawyers, engineers, or CPAs. They even go as far as degrading courses in the arts, behavioral and social sciences, and even teacher education.

Manage Your Expectations

For students, I want to break this to you as early as possible. Engineering is a challenging course to finish, and looking for a job will be more challenging than you’ll expect.

Your salary will also be lower than what you, your friends, or your family thought. Take it from me or ask any other newly hired engineers that you know.

I am not trying to discourage you from taking engineering, especially if you want to be one. Engineering is more than a profession. It is a commitment to our community to improve our nation through scientific and engineering advancements.

You need to understand that there are so many opportunities in engineering. However, it is not a straight path. You need to gather relevant experience first before you can level up in your chosen field. Higher salaries are possible but only after years of experience and not immediately after graduation.

Working abroad is also one of the goals of young engineers because of higher salaries. Still, it will only be easier to apply to, with enough relevant experience.

Unequal Opportunities

On my first job, it was an open secret that graduates from the top schools in Manila have higher salaries than everyone, even without prior experience.

This puts employees from provinces to a disadvantage. However, it will eventually even out. It will soon be your work experience that will highlight your resume instead of your school.

Many systemic inequalities need to be addressed but do not get enough attention. For example, teachers ask for a higher salary, which they do deserve.

But unknown to many, engineers also experience a low starting salary. Some even go as low as less than P5,000 a month – a sad reality.

There is a Learning Curve

Once employed, you’ll sometimes feel that you didn’t learn anything in school, but that’s okay. Nobody starts as an expert. You will need to learn from other people. It may take longer than expected, but you need to persevere. Soon, you’ll know enough to teach other people as well.

Luckily, we are now living in the Internet Age. Learning is not as hard as the prior generations. We just need to use our time and resources wisely.

The Tipping Point

Once you gained enough experience, you will finally get the opportunity you always thought you’ll get earlier. Like what my former boss used to say, “your first job will not be your last job,” and I guess he was right.

There will be professional choices that you’ll need to make that may challenge your values, and that is when you should be careful. Never compromise what is right just to earn an easy buck. Always choose what is right.

Manila, Manila?

One of the problems of our country is the influx of professionals from far-away provinces to Metro Manila. We often believe that it is better to transfer to the city in search of opportunities – I was also one. That’s why it is seldom that engineers remain in their home provinces to work.

Though there are more opportunities in Metro Manila and abroad, I still believe that there are opportunities in the provinces. We just need to look a little closer or create opportunities ourselves.

Final Thoughts

I wrote this post with good intentions. This is not to break people’s hopes of becoming an engineer. The road ahead will be tough. You need to manage your expectations, especially in the financial aspect.

There are many opportunities in different fields of engineering but don’t box yourself in it. Your degree or lack of it should not dictate your future. You can change your plan; you may change your dream, and that’s okay.

“Wasting” four or five years to suddenly change careers is not a waste. There is a long road ahead of you. You just need to continuously improve, remain humble, and aim for the best for others. 

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