Want to choose your own adventure? Engineering offers many ways to do so
By Rich Vedvik
When I was growing up, I had a fascination with how things worked. I would disassemble household items and look upon the internal components—especially any printed circuit boards—with awe and wonder. I hoped that someday I would know what all those parts and pieces were and why they were there. In high school, I was able to participate in a program that introduced students to different engineering disciplines and 26 years later I still remember the day I met an electrical engineer and how that career matched my interests.
To me engineering is the focus and study on both HOW and WHY things work. Engineers look at the world the same way a surgeon looks at the human body. We delve into the details as we mentally dissect everything from the mundane to the extravagant. Engineers solve problems by combining an understanding of the underlying systems with creativity and innovation to generate a solution. This mindset is not limited to the careers we choose, as it filters into our personal lives where many of us strive to improve the lives of those around us.
My Bachelor of Science degree is in electrical engineering, and it included a dual emphasis: Analog & Digital Circuit Design and Power System Design (utility distribution). I chose the former for my personal interests and the latter for employment flexibility. Years later I added a parallel career path in architectural acoustics, where I prevent and solve noise problems related to speech intelligibility, speech privacy, noise isolation, and room acoustics (echo). These skill sets set me up for a career designing commercial buildings, which is mostly healthcare these days.
An engineering career is a “choose your own adventure” path in that it offers nearly unlimited possibilities in both physical environments and future growth. Buildings, bridges, roads, and other types of infrastructure are everywhere and all of them need engineering efforts. As engineers we get to talk with just about everyone—from CEOs to government officials to janitors—to understand how our designs impact the daily users of the completed buildings and infrastructure. We are both in the office and out in the field, allowing for a wide range of experiences as we plan for new construction, review existing buildings or infrastructure for improvements, or meet with contractors to solve real-world problems. We are liaisons between the “built environment” and the people who interact with these environments.
My current roles include Senior Electrical Engineer, Acoustics Engineer, and Project Manager. The common theme between those roles is that all of them focus on helping people enjoy their day. I don’t have a job that I have to do; instead, I have a career that I get to do, and I feel very lucky to do so.
I heartily encourage young people who want to make a difference to take a good look at the many opportunities engineering provides. If it’s right for you, there is no doubt you’ll be able to choose your own adventure as you help improve your community and the world.
This blog first appeared as a guest column in the Quad Cities Regional Business Journal.