I browse engineers’ forums regularly. In Quora and in Reddit, I always come across posts about users, sometimes in late 20s and more often in mid-30s, asking for public opinion whether or not they should pursue an engineering course at that age. And the answers, which come from the younger ones to people of their batch, unanimously express one thing: age is just a number.
It must be taboo for them that once you are no longer in the ideal age to be a college student, you are less likely to succeed or not at all. Last time I checked, there is no standard age to enroll in engineering. Hence, nobody is ever too old to become an engineer, or to become any professional for that matter.
From the forums, I have gathered that many brave – and old – souls have made the jump; however, they are not too many to be common. A lot of them come from different industries, regardless if related to engineering, but realized that they want to become an engineer later in life. Which is completely all right.
I agree with the answers because age is just a number indeed – it is immaterial to reach one’s dreams. ‘Age doesn’t matter’ is usually applied in other contexts but it fits so well in this situation.
One cannot rule out though that there may be to varying circumstances that affect the decision of the elderly to be involved in engineering. But I can say that they can only be ruled out as excuses – unless they are planning to take engineering half-heartedly – once they know the story of Colonel Sanders who went through an awful lot in life before he became an icon of Finger Lickin’ Good.
Long before he was known to be the founder of the famous fastfood chain KFC, Colonel Sanders had worked different odd jobs like a farmer, streetcar conductor, soldier, railroad fireman, lawyer, insurance salesman, steamboat operator, secretary, and lighting manufacturer, among others. This was after he quit school in seventh grade realizing that he would rather work all day than go to school. In the first half of his life, he also had a stint in Cuba with the Army.
Until in 1930, he acquired a service station in Corbin, Kentucky and served Southern dishes to travelers. Over time, his little restaurant became famous which forced him to get rid of the service station’s gas pump.
It took him 9 years to discover the signature “11 herbs and spices” that KFC is well-known for, a recipe that was developed in a pressure cooker now considered obsolete. It had the ideal consistency that Sanders had been looking for.
Undoubtedly, his chicken gained wide popularity. Later, he was conferred by the governor of Kentucky in 1950 with a title of colonel, the highest honor the state can give. From then on, Colonel Sanders dressed in white suit and Kentucky colonel tie which is now used as the KFC icon.
But a new interstate had bypassed Sanders’ restaurant, forcing him to sell the location in 1956. He was left with a $105 Social Security check for income, but the 65-yearold did not leave the business and went door to door with his chicken.
Together with his wife and a car, Colonel Sanders entered restaurants, offered to cook his chicken, and made a deal with the owners in case they liked the recipe. By 1963, he already had 600 restaurants across the US and Canada selling the signature Kentucky Fried Chicken.
In October of the same year, Colonel Sanders met lawyer John Y. Brown Jr. and venture capitalist Jack C. Massey who wanted to buy the franchise rights. In 1965 and at 73 years old, he finally agreed to sell the rights for $2 million (valued at $15.1 million in 2015), but under certain conditions: KFC keeps the chicken recipe, and Colonel Sanders gets a lifetime salary of $40,000 (which became $75,000 later) and remains as the brand ambassador, among others.
Colonel Sanders may not be an engineer, but there are valuable lessons to learn about his journey that should be picked up by those who think that it’s too late to achieve success in life.
Nobody is ever too old to become an engineer. It doesn’t matter if you are 36 or 43, one only needs hardwork, patience and determination to succeed in life because again, age is just a number.
Disclaimer: This is rehashed from an article I wrote in March 2017 for GineersNow. Some parts are added or edited for clarity.