To Engineer or Not to Engineer?

“Information Technology or Civil Engineering?” my mother asked sometime mid-April of 2010. It was asked casually, but there is nothing casual about choosing a college course.  

It was a very loaded question that came with a lot of responsibility to answer. My mother let me decide for a matter as huge as that anyway; but in the end, I realized it was indeed my choice to make.

Before arriving to a decision, I assessed my college admission results, considered all my skill set and interests, and asked people around. Yup, even back in high school, although it was a matter of discussion for many times, my college course still wasn’t definite. It came to a point where I had to search on Google about the highest paying jobs, thinking to pull my family from being a below middle income class by earning a college degree. Eventually, I narrowed it down to two, factoring in the universities where I passed the entrance exams.

Time has come that I had to choose regardless if I was sure about it or not. That was when my mother asked casually.

With conviction, I replied IT.

Already decided, I wasted no time and pursued the enrolment in my chosen university for IT. But right when I was given the list of requirements prior to enlistment, and seeing how long the list was, I dragged myself to my other chosen university and there I signed up for civil engineering swiftly.

No ifs and buts, I just did it.

At the time, between “to engineer or not to engineer,” the answer could not be any clearer.

Five years went on and I became a registered civil engineer. Along the way, it’s as if rushing to take up IT and being so sure about it did not happen. There was no desire for me to shift courses, probably because I wasn’t that convinced about my first choice.

There were a couple of times that I asked myself if it was still worth it to pursue engineering, notably that time when I lost my scholarship after third year first semester. But I received enough support to continue what I started and still believed in the idea that I will become an engineer someday.  

Hi. In case you missed it, I am Engineer Dee. And this is how I tell my story of constant confusion – to engineer or not to engineer – in various points of my life in the last five years as a working professional.

How to Get Away with an Existential Crisis

My engineering license was a ticket to several job opportunities. As a newbie in the field, I was excited and eager to learn, despite being grossly underpaid. All of my fellow engineer classmates eyed on going for a career in construction and so did I. Although I wasn’t so convinced about it, I went for it anyway.

And that’s where the problem began. I was not at all into what I do in the construction site, or probably I was unfortunate to join a company weeks after it just had a crane accident. My workmates were okay, but my boss was quite hard to work with. I tried to develop a mindset that my daily tasks are what I have ever dreamt of, but at the end of the day there was just no fulfillment. Eventually, my work was causing so much stress that I hated waking up in the morning and always looked forward to the weekend.

I only stayed six months in that project. If I had a different manager, it could have ended differently.

Still, that experience begged many questions: Is it really civil engineering that I want? Or is it just doing construction that I didn’t like? Or maybe, just maybe, I started on the wrong company with my career?

More importantly, to engineer or not to engineer?

It was an existential crisis of many sorts that I did not expect to have. I really thought I had it all figured out after passing my board exam, but it just wasn’t the case. The worst part is that I did not know how to go about it right away.

Following my resignation, I went home to the province and hunted for a job like any unemployed person would do. At this point I was still not sure what I really wanted, and the question “to engineer or not to engineer” lingered. So I surfed for all jobs I could possibly get, not minding if it is still aligned to civil engineering. I was inclined to pursue work near where I lived.

In less than two weeks, I found one that wasn’t directly related to my profession, but something that I enjoyed to do as an engineering student with lots of extracurricular activities.

I still applied for the job. And I got accepted.

From Site Engineer to Editor

The job was as a home-based junior editor for a digital publishing company based in Dubai. I got to use my skills as a former student publication feature writer, layout artist, and editor-in-chief as well as my experience as the associate editor of our yearbook committee. In such job, one has to be technical enough to understand the content of the articles, so my profession as a civil engineer was not totally useless. I capitalized on that and told myself that the job will be fine.

It was more than fine.

The pay was better than my construction job, although only enough to cover for my personal needs and some wants. But what I liked the most about the work is its great flexibility in handling my time – most days I worked at night because it is when I am most productive, and during the day I would spend time with my family or go to the gym. The work was mostly output-based.

Having a home-based online job also allowed me to take care of my father who was going ill at the time until he expired in February 2018. When this was taken care of by my other family members, I invested on traveling around the Philippines, one thing I wanted to go off my bucket list.

With only a laptop and stable internet, I was able to do my daily tasks without much worry. There was an opportunity to be a digital nomad and I grabbed it: I was able to explore different cities in the Philippines and one in Thailand.

However, there were days where I was pressured to do more and exceed the expectations of my boss, especially when the company transitioned from digital publishing to digital marketing. It was a great challenge for me to realign my writing into digital content. There was also managing our Facebook page and regulating its content which was a delight to do.

But not all content that I made were approved. I had ideas that catered to the local scene, but since the company was a global brand, they were not welcome all the time.

That was when I thought of building my own Facebook page, now Engineer Dee, as the dumpsite of all the rejected content.

Engineer Dee” Was Born

With no clear direction for the page, I just posted whatever I thought of posting. I did not take it seriously at first and only shared stuff that I was not able to share in my company’s Facebook page. Until such time that the content of “Engineer Dee” was all memes, stories I wrote under my company, and information about engineering, among others, that’s how I formed the mission of the page – “designed to inform, inspire, and humor engineers in the Philippines,” a statement I still use even up until today.

It helped that along the way, I became an administrator of a Facebook group intended for civil engineering board exam reviewees, thanks to an invite of someone who read my articles a lot. He said that my inspirational posts might help in the journey of those who struggled as they make their dreams of becoming an engineer come true.

True enough, by featuring more board exam topnotchers and other self-help articles intended for young aspiring engineers in my work, it served as an inspiration to many about them striving hard. I received a lot of overwhelming responses through the page, sometimes via my personal Facebook.

“Engineer Dee” was purely experimental. And when I found out that what I did made some impact, even without profit, I decided to continue running the page and take more effort to generate content that will widen the impact.

Eventually, I had to leave the digital marketing company for something that I wanted to do – build a career in the solar industry. What piqued my interest in the field is a client that I handled in my job that sold solar products. I thought it was an interesting field to pursue. It only took me a little push to take the next steps.

There was a little bit of pressure on my end at this point. As I check upon my college classmates, I discovered they are getting somewhere with their respective fields. Many have been promoted, others already completed projects like a mall, a hotel, and a tall commercial building.

Then there was me, about to embark on a new field. I became insecure, but I realized that if I don’t begin again or go back to construction, I will be stuck in the same place. Since I do not plan to go back, I had to start somewhere, and that is from zero. My focus has to be on my own progress.

Living the “Engineer” in “Engineer Dee”

It is crazy to think that I built the page while not practicing engineering, well, since it is named “Engineer Dee” after all. So I took a shot in practicing my engineering side again by pursuing solar as my new field of focus.

Prior to leaving the company, I flew to Manila in April 2018 and invested in training. During the day I was a student of solar, and at night I worked as a content editor. This lasted for two months.

Roughly 2 weeks before the training ends, I received a call from the human resources of one of the largest solar companies in the country where I applied. Immediately, I took the opportunity for a job interview and got offered a sales engineer position based in Makati. To be honest, I was looking into either a marketing position or technical position given my background, but with the first one, they were not hiring, and the second, I was underqualified. So I accepted the sales position ahead of the end of my training.

With training in my portfolio, I was ready to enter the solar industry. In my one year stint in that company, I was able to spread the word about solar, which is now my primary advocacy, not only by selling but conducting solar awareness campaign. My Facebook page was instrumental to my work as well as I had been invited to do solar talks in schools, eventually in professional organizations.

Fast forward to today, if you are going to ask me, everything has fallen into their right places: I am now a technical sales engineer for a multinational solar panel manufacturer and a sole manager of a Facebook page that made viral posts here and there. Although I know I am far from my career goals, I feel that I am in the right place. I recognize the process: this is just the beginning of something bigger for me.

The choices I made were guided by the answers to the questions I asked myself, one of which a long time ago is the title of this post.

“To engineer or not to engineer?”

At some point I lost the value of this question to me. Now, I would like to ruin it for you as well as this only boxes an infinite amount possibilities into two.

In short, this is the wrong question to ask.

Ask these bigger questions instead, like what I did that led to where I am today, “What do I really want to do? What do I have to do to achieve that?”

My answer? I want to build a career in the solar industry, not necessarily as an engineer, and contribute to the growth of renewable energy. Even if that means abandoning the honor of being a licensed civil engineer, something that I had already done in the past by accepting a job as an editor. I had to invest in training and leave my family behind to accomplish that.  

Your answer could be totally different. But remember that with an ambition, you have to make sacrifices and take the necessary steps. It might be outside of your comfort zone and that is completely okay. Taking risks is part of the process.

The questions asked above are anchored to this more important one: “What is your goal in life?”

To be successful? To be happy? To love and be loved?

Whatever your answer is, what’s important is that it should guide you in your choices and decisions. Stay true to your core and you will never be lost.

As for me, my goal in life is to be useful.

I was brought here to make a difference and not only serve myself. If I change another life for the better in what I do, my life’s goal is fulfilled. Imagine the fulfillment I get if I am able to impact more lives.

This website, EngineerDee.com, along with my current line of work, hopes to do just that.

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