My name is Ryan, and this fall I will be starting college at the University of Connecticut to pursue a degree in biomedical engineering. When I started out on my engineering internship this summer, at Synectic, I expected engineering to just be about building things. I was pleasantly surprised on my first day when I was introduced to one of the most important ideas in engineering: engineering isn’t just about building things, it is about the process of getting to the final product and all the behind-the-scenes work that needs to get done before achieving that final product. If you are like me, and looking to pursue a career in engineering, here are a few things you should know beforehand.
- School Doesn't Teach You Everything
What school doesn’t teach you about engineering is that all the courses you take are only useful for background knowledge. What really makes or breaks an engineer is experience and skills that can only be acquired on the job.
- Ambition Isn't Always A Good Thing
The first part of the engineering process is brainstorming different ideas and concepts for the project, and then deciding whether the project is actually practical. Ideas are brought up by different members in the meeting. Every idea is considered and discussed equally until one is decided upon by the majority of the group. If an idea or solution is unable to be decided on, it is held for further review. Many people, myself included, forget that engineering does have its limitations. There are ambitious ideas and there are practical ideas, and engineers usually choose the latter.
- Never Underestimate the Power of Excel
Research is the next step after a good brainstorming session. The concept or idea needs to be proven with data and testing. Excel spreadsheets will be your best friend when it comes to truncating and interpreting your test data. I always thought of Excel as just boring spreadsheets because that’s all we ever used it for in school, but in the workplace it is an invaluable tool that is very adaptable in its capabilities
- Solidworks Is Your Best Friend
Another important aspect of engineering is design, and before I started working at Synectic I had very little experience with any serious computer-aided drafting software. Solidworks, a CAD program, is an integral part of the work day at Synectic, and it is used to design almost every mechanical aspect of a project. I was able to take advantage of the resources available to me at Synectic, a group of engineers with years of CAD experience. They were able to teach me how they use the program, their various methods to create usable designs, and how to take advantage of the programs’ many capabilities.
- Not All Prototyping Methods Are Equal
To bring my designs in Solidworks to life I used the FDM machine (Fancy 3D Printer) and the CNC machine (Computer Numerical Control). The FDM machine was surprisingly easy to use, and it was able to make a perfect prototype so that I could refine my design more. On the other hand, the CNC machine is an extremely precise manufacturing tool, so it requires a bit more leg work before anything can be made (I left that part up to the real engineers). The CNC carved out my part extremely fast. The one side effect was it also created a huge mess. You can learn more about the differences between 3D printing and machining here.
- You're Design Is Never Truly Done
Having my designs finally in my hand was an extremely satisfying feeling, but soon I realized that they weren’t exactly right. I thought I was done with my little project, but the design needed to be refined. I had to go back to the drawing board and rework the whole idea. After that disappointing result, suddenly everything came full circle. It really is true that engineering is about the process, the process that I needed to repeat all over again.
Now that you know everything there is to know about being an engineer, you may feel certain that this is the career path for you. Congratulations! That's fantastic! However, I still recommend an internship before committing. Every workplace does things differently and internships can help you to make connections and find just the right place for you in your future. If you already are planning on completing an internship, my one piece of advice would be to go into it with an open mind. It can be surprising how different a job field can be compared to just reading about it online or taking a few courses at school.
My final take away from this whole experience is even though my time at Synectic was short, I’ve learned so many valuable skills that will be applicable in my future as a student and as an engineer. I will sorely miss the people, all of the million different acronyms, and of course the lunch breaks.