If only they knew then what they know now, who knows what would have happened? It’s a lamentable thought, but, short of the invention of some sort of time machine, the best engineers can do is offer their advice to the younger generation. It might be nice to go back and make a few changes, but considering over half of you consider engineering “your home” and made it very clear you’d do it all over again, we don’t think you would change too much.

The really encouraging outcome is that of all the responses where engineers wistfully wished they had joined Microsoft in the 1980s or picked another industry, there was one answer that was far and above the most frequent response.

If engineers could be transported back to the beginning of their careers, what would most of them change?


For every wish that something had been different, there was a chorus of voices saying they enjoyed their career, regretted nothing, and had done well in the industry.

That being said, the following things you would change were taken from a survey ECN conducted about engineers and retirement. (In no particular order.)  

1. Changing companies more often

Quite a few of you lamented that you had spent too much of your career with one company. Even though the Bureau of Labor Statistics has the median tenure of workers 65 and older at over 10 years, this is a changing trend. When it comes to workers between 25 and 34? Just 3.2 years. The overall average is around 4.4 years. But that’s just for overall work force, when you consider engineering (which gets roped in with architecture by the BLS) the average is 7 years.

So, engineering are sticking around longer than most, that might be something that changes in the next generation.

2. Changed the exact focus of career

Engineering is one of those fields that has about a million different niches and specialties. (I did the math.) So it makes sense that engineers would have wanted to pick one that was more lucrative or played out better with their lifestyle. It’s hard to say what’s going to be the next big thing, which is why another piece of advice that showed up lot was “follow your passion.”

3.  Listen to the old guys/Realize a degree doesn’t make you omnipotent

Those darn youngins never listen to their elders. This seems like good advice for everyone in every industry because there is often a lot you can learn from people who have been in the industry for a long time. This is not to say that ever 30-year engineer will be a great mentor, but the goal should be to carefully select someone who you think will be a valuable asset to you and your career.

4.  Be an entrepreneur/Venture out on your own

There wasn’t a lot of reasons why some of you wanted to go out on your own, but I assume it has to do with a serious drive for independence and flexibility. I think the dream is to break out on your own and see what you can do.

5.  Keep educating yourself

Whether it was achieving a bachelors, MBA, or PhD many engineers regretted not pursuing their education to a higher level. Others mentioned going back to school for specific courses in software engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and even one engineer who yearned to learn a foreign language. The reasoning was mostly to accelerate career progress, but most recognized the advantages to having more degrees.

There were a few other lessons we learned from surveying our readers, but these were the six major takeaways. All in all, our ECN engineers are pretty happy, so that makes us pretty happy too.