A very great article about the real situation of engineers in Malaysia.
Sad, but it's the truth :(
So you’re good at maths and science and since the general perception in school is that anyone who isn’t in the science stream is dumber than those who are, you somehow ended up in it anyway because your mom would like to avoid the embarrassment of telling other mothers that you’re in the economics class.
Then there’s the biology part where, by default, you should either be a doctor, pharmacist or something along the line, but since you’re not in the mood of cutting up people, looking at rectums, smelling blood or dealing with old people, you wonder what in the world should you do with these good results of yours. You want something which isn’t as difficult as, say, “Theoretical Physics” yet at the same time has the effect of impressing the chicks in campus by the mere mention of your major, so naturally you ended up in the school of engineering.
Indeed, while going through triple integrals and rearranging alphabets in a mathematical formula, you began to day-dream that someday you will be the next Steve Jobs, loved and revered all over the world – thanks to the gadgets and devices you designed or invented, used by millions around the world, being worshipped by throngs of cultist hipsters who are actually nerd wannabees that ended up in arts and design.
Indeed as you have guessed it by now, this article is for those of you in freshman year who still have a chance to turn back, or for that student who is currently pulling an all-nighter for that big electromagnetics exam tomorrow and somehow stumbled upon this. This is an inscription, an oracle, a prophecy of what may lie in your near future. Do continue reading but let this technological soothsayer warn you: what you read may make you a little insecure, disheartened and perhaps a bit confused. Do forge ahead young Padawan, but do it at your own peril. Now since we’re done with the cool wordy disclaimer, let’s carry on.
Move a few years forward and voila! you’ve graduated – either you end up with flying colours or repeating several papers and have to extend your studies; either way, it’s fine, as you will find out later it really doesn’t matter for the real race isn’t really about getting three point something-something; rather it’s navigating your way through countless of obstacles that you never thought of, like figuring out the exact diameter of a screw that is small and light enough for an ant to carry yet can hold things together in an earthquake.
After you went through the awkward interviews and once the hype is over, while sitting in your production line, looking at your computer screen or standing in your construction site, you began to realise several things. For one, engineering isn’t what you thought it would be; you realise that this isn’t the 80s and early 90s where engineers were the revered choice for a career path of your girlfriend’s parents. In fact, you probably began to question all those years spent on physics and maths when you learn that the dude who operates the knobs and buttons in a recording studio is called a “sound engineer”.
Here are the hard cold facts: if you’re lucky (or smart enough) you may end up in oil and gas and earn sweet amounts of money. But most of you will either end up in production lines, construction sites, R&D labs, communications, field work or maintenance and services. You began to realise that the average starting salary for an engineer here has been stagnant for more than 10 years and that teachers earn more than you do these days (for starters, at least).
Some of you, after a couple of years, will leave your job; quite a number of you, once realising that the workload is lighter and fantasise about working half-day, will quit your job and become lousy teachers, while some may go into banking as bankers love smart people who understand maths. The clever but not so smart ones may end up in various investment and MLM (multi-level marketing) schemes because you fantasise about driving a German car. It is at this point when you realise that you’re actually Steve Wozniak and not Jobs. Everybody recognises the face of the guy doing the presentation yet nobody knows the name of the engineer that made that thing possible.
But then there are those who stay all the way; now why do they do that, you may wonder? Is it because they have got no other option, hence they’re stuck there? Probably, but perhaps they saw something that no one else saw, felt something that no one else felt or understood, experienced something that others did not – the satisfaction of making, building or doing something. The satisfaction of seeing and having taking part in the transformation of a swamp or an empty plot of land into a school, a hospital or homes where families live in. Making sure those trains arrive and leave on time so that people can commute on time and with ease. Knowing that redesigning something, making things work better, ensuring that things are more affordable and cleaner somehow gives a sort of satisfaction that very few get to witness.
You know, it is somewhat comical when people fantasise about Harry Potter doing magic seemingly out of thin air; yet engineers do more wonders: sending information, sounds, colours and pictures by harnessing the ability of magnetic manipulation and they don’t even need to wave any wand.
You see, chances are no one will remember you and, in all honesty, if your goal is to be wealthy quickly, chances are you’re in the wrong place. Indeed, there are many engineers who made it and became wealthy but materialistic rewards are merely a by-product of a nobler goal – and that goal is to make, design or build something. Though engineers are often perceived to be cold and calculative, they are actually passionate people. Unlike poets and musicians, engineers express it not in words or melody but in the work that they do.
Engineers here are overworked and underpaid, in most cases at least, but it really isn’t that bad, honestly speaking. I once saw a documentary on bridges and at the end of it, they interviewed this old Japanese engineer who was once a part of this big suspension bridge project which became a lifeline between two cities. He ended his interview with this remark: “I brought my grandson to look at it and one of my greatest joys was to point at that great bridge and tell him that I help built that thing.”
Britain may have the most eloquently brilliant politicians in the world but they come nowhere near when compared to Germany, France and Japan.
And so I shall leave you with that.
Engineers may be overworked and underpaid but they say writers are worse off. You know what’s even sadder than that? An engineer who is also a part-time writer.