I often get asked, "What do you have against engineering". When someone hears that I quit my engineering job and that I would live in a van before I go back to an engineering career, they think I'm crazy. And yes I am crazy. I won't shy away from the fact that I think differently than most people.
So here's a short history of my experience and background in engineering. I grew up loving math and science. I attribute this to my dad and his dad (Papa). My dad has worked as an electrical engineer for thirty years at Lockheed Martin, and Papa (now retired) worked as a mechanical engineer for an aircraft braking company. As someone who excelled in math and science, and grew up around engineers, it only seemed fitting that I took the same route.
When I was eleven years old I dreamed of designing roller coasters. I had grown up going to amusement parks, and I loved the thrill of them. At the time I was living in Saudi Arabia, and there were no coasters to ride in the country. When you're that young you feel like you can do anything, so I decided to start a coaster design company. I devised a way to build track pieces out of pop cans. By using pops cans, hot glue, and tape I was able to build track pieces that could hold my weight.
The love for designing and creating carried into high school. For all four years of high school, I took drafting and CADD (computer-aided drafting and design) classes. Parts of our curriculum consisted of designing and building random things out of ordinary materials. I designed a bridge out of toothpicks. Built a chair, and even a full-scale Mini Cooper out of cardboard.
After I graduated high school I decided to attend The University of Akron to study Mechanical Engineering. During my junior year of college, I decided to pursue my passion in photography. In 2010, I photographed my first wedding and fell in love with it. After five long and fun years of college, I graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering Technology in 2011. I didn't have an engineering career lined up right after graduation, so that summer after graduation I shot over 13 weddings.
In October 2011, I got hired into a company creating CAD drawings for brake pads and transmission disks. It was by far the easiest job in the world, as I was using CAD systems since I was 13. However, when you start a $40k/yr job after being a broke college student for years the money feels good; at first. Before too long I started feeling bored and unfulfilled. I was drafting up the same thing day in and day out, and it became so mundane.
There was a position that opened up in the company I was with that was a significant step up from what I was doing. It was exactly what I needed to feel more challenged, so I applied, interviewed, and got the job. I was now working as a prototype engineering position. Essentially, I facilitated the manufacturing of brake and friction disk prototypes for our customers like Caterpillar and John Deer. They would send us our drawing/specifications and I would create the manufacturing plan to get them produced and sent to our customers for testing.
Before I even started the new job I was made aware from my boss that this was in no way a promotion, and my new salary certainly reflected that. For the next two years, I worked on hundreds of prototypes, and it certainly challenged me. I would come in early, stay late, and do whatever possible to make sure prototypes were produced and sent out on time. Each performance review I was hitting my numbers, yet my pay raise was barely reflecting that. Each raise I received practically reflected the cost of living increase that I was facing each year. I began to come depressed, unmotivated, and angry.
During this time I was still running my photography business, and it was starting to get to the point where I was making more taking photos than I was making at my engineering job. I found myself having the thought of quitting, and when I would tell people that they thought I was crazy to even think to leave an engineering job. You see, they like many have this perception engineers make $$$ money. To some extend, that is true to people who have been with companies for years, but I didn't want to wait twenty years to start making a six-figure income.
I knew that I was capable of much more. In October 2014, I submitted my two weeks notice and was on my way to pursuing photography full-time. I had a pretty great financial safety net at this point, so I felt very comfortable taking the leap.
In the years following, I went through a lot of self-discovery. I became more aware of what really mattered to me, and what my personal strengths were. I would look back on my eleven-year-old self and wonder what happened to the boy who would dream big, created what he wanted, and didn't give a shit what others thought. I missed him and needed to get him back if I was going to be happy.
This all leads up to where I am currently in life. Yes, most people think I hate engineering, but the truth is I don't. I love it more than ever, but it's now on my own terms. When I say I won't go back to an engineering career, I'm saying I'm not going to let someone else tell me how much my ideas and work is worth. I'm in control now. I design what I want to design. I create what I want to create. And I'm happier for it.
So no, I don't hate engineering; I love it. I'm just not ready to go back into a career that limits my creativity. I'm grateful for my education. It's a perfect compliment to my creativity, and with the two combined I know I'm bound for incredible things.
And yes...I designed that roller coaster track piece on the computer just for the header photo.