I work as a manufacturing engineer for a medical device company.
How would you describe what you do?
If I could sum my job up in one sentence I would say it would be to improve the process of manufacturing the products that we build in our business. A lot of what I do though, given that it’s an FDA regulated industry, does involve substantial amount of documentation. Additionally if I could say my job in two words I would say I “fix problems”.
Well I had known people working in the medical device industry so I got my undergraduate degree in engineering. I was originally pursuing a career in medicine after my undergraduate degree and while applying to med school and in the process of doing that I sort of fell into the job as an engineer for a medical device company.
What do you like about what you do?
I’d say that what I like most about what I do is I know that I have an impact on people not only with the longevity of their lives but the quality of the lives they live. So I feel as though I’m helping people by improving the process of making a device that can save lives.
What do you dislike about what you do?
Definitely too much paperwork. That’s something I would say when you work in a medical device industry you have to do a lot of paperwork and everything you do, any changes you make you have to document and it takes a lot of your time. It takes a lot of your day.
Can you describe what a typical work day is like as an engineer?
I show up to work about 8 o’clock and we have a plant wide meeting to talk about yesterday’s production, did we meet our goals? That sort of thing. If we didn’t meet our goals we talk about what happened and what we can do to make sure that the same issue doesn’t re-occur. I’d say about two to three hours of my day I’m spending in meetings and talking about certain projects. A big part of what I do is project management as well. From start to finish projects can last anywhere from three months to a year and a half so you have to, at least where I work and in my experience, coordinate with every department in the facility. You have to assign and delegate tasks and a lot of it you obviously have to do yourself.
I’d say another two to three hours is spent working on projects and then an hour to two hours of administrative tasks that go with working in an FDA regulated industry so all-in-all I’m probably working forty five to fifty five hours a week.
How are you paid or how are you compensated in this job?
I’m paid on a salary. Obviously working for a large corporation I have full medical and dental benefits. I’ve got 401K investment incentives where there are employer contributions matched up to a certain percentage. I also have options to buy company stock at a fraction of the market value so there’s a lot of added bonuses other than the salary.
How much do you make as an Engineer?
I’m making $62,000 a year.
How much did you make starting out in this career?
In this career it ranges depending on the company but you know in my situation you start out about right about $58-60,000 a year.
How much vacation time do you get as an Engineer?
Well that’s an interesting question. I mean by the book I get two weeks paid vacation; however, after five years you get three weeks of and then of course in this career should you switch companies or switch jobs obviously that’s negotiable. Three weeks is very common for most people with 3-5 years’ experience. Even still with two weeks if I work a long weekend I’ll get at least one comp vacation day so I actually probably end up getting 3-4 weeks vacation because there are a lot of Saturdays I work. I’d say I work at least one day on a weekend every two months if not a weekend a month.
What would you say is most challenging about what you do?
I have two answers. One it’s been my experience that as you’re progressing through your project you run into issues and you need to figure out how to get them done without sacrificing your time line—it’s been my experience that as soon as you overcome one obstacle there’s another one in the way and so it’s just that constant drive to overcome obstacles that’s very challenging. The other thing that is very challenging is when you’re managing a project you have to rely on a lot of other people to do what they say they’re going to do when they say they’re going to do it and that doesn’t always happen. So you have to learn who your best resources are to get your job done because as project manager it’s on you to make sure it all happens by a set date.
What would you say is most rewarding?
It’s completing your projects on time. It’s seeing the difference that your projects make to the production staff, the improvements you’re making, and their level of satisfaction with the changes. Because at the end of the day I’m just trying to help production staff make sure they have all the tools they need to do their job efficiently and effectively.
What advice would you offer someone considering this career?
I would say that the opportunities in engineering are very high and they’re very numerous because a lot of people going into college couldn’t make it through engineering. It was too much work. It took too much of their free time so they switched to another field. I would say that if you want to become an engineer you have to realize getting through school isn’t easy but it does give you the tools you need to be successful in your career. The other thing I would say is I think that there will always be a need for the engineering field because everybody wants to do more with less resources than ever before because of this huge push to save money especially in corporate America right now.
What education and/or skills are needed to do this?
As a minimum you need you need a four year bachelor’s degree from an accredited university in the engineering field; mechanical, chemical, electrical, industrial, biomedical etc. As far as skills I’d say one thing needed that probably isn’t written in any textbook anywhere but you need really good people skills and you need to be really resourceful in terms of learning who you need to make sure all your tasks get done and who is the best person or persons to go to for an issue. It’s dealing with a lot of people. You have to be fairly organized. You need a good technical knowledge as a large part of my job is troubleshooting manufacturing equipment. You need to be able to understand how things work. That’s about it.
What would you say is a common misconception about what you do?
I would say that the majority of people, including myself before I did it, thought that we would just go in there and just start fixing things, changing things. You go in it’s quick, it’s easy. I want to change equipment. I want to buy new equipment. I want to change the process and you just go in and do it and that’s not how that happens. In reality it takes several months to even a year sometimes because you have to be sure that all your steps and changes don’t effect form, fit, or function of the product. And there’s numerous documentation steps along the way.
What are your goals and dreams for the future?
I’d definitely like to move into upper management of corporate America. I think engineering gives you a good foundation of the business; however, I think it’s critical that in my career I spend times in other areas outside the engineering department to get a broader scope on the business as a whole but I definitely see myself in fifteen or twenty years as VP level or higher. That’s where I’d like to be.
And I’d say in the manufacturing industry it’s very common to see engineers by trade become CEO’s and COO’s because you learn how to make decisions and solve problems without always having all the information.
What else would you like people to know about what you do?
I think engineering is a very good living for people but don’t expect a lot of money fast. I think that was my big misconception about it too was to realize that it is a good living but you have to gain experience. And that’s invaluable because as you gain experience situations will occur that you’ve seen in your career and you will have the knowledge of how to handle them and how to fix them. So if you’re doing something for the money it won’t happen right away but there are a lot of good opportunities once you develop your career.