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Should I Be an Engineer? 10 Steps to Help You Decide

She had worked on the company’s core project for months. Countless hours poring over lines of code, analyzing every detail. The product launch would revolutionize the industry. She felt truly mission driven and a real sense of thrill and accomplishment. She had long ago answered her question, “Should I be an engineer?” and had full confidence.

As the launch date approached, a bug emerged, one that had gone unnoticed and could derail the whole project. Determined to meet the deadline and standards, she worked tirelessly to test and retest and her team supported her every step of the way. And then: a breakthrough! Her heart pounded in her chest. She’d found it.

The Start of the Journey

The life of a software engineer may not always be so dramatic, but the characteristics that make a good developer can position you for a dynamic career path. When asking yourself should I be an engineer, you might follow with a few industry-related questions:

  • Do I enjoy problem solving?
  • Do I value continually learning and staying up-to-date with technology trends?
  • Am I comfortable working on long-term projects with teams?
  • Do I enjoy working both collaboratively and independently?
  • Am I comfortable in high-pressure, deadline-driven work environments?
  • Do I have a passion for programming and building and creating software applications?

That last one may seem logical since it’s what software engineering is all about, yet learning to code doesn’t necessarily mean you have to become an engineer. (And bootcamps aren’t just for those with a technical background—many of our alumni come from diverse and varied backgrounds: teaching, nonprofit, marketing, design, and more.)

If you’re already tinkering with coding using books or online resources, you may already know the answer. At the end of the post, we’ll link to an accessible prep course that teaches Python programming fundamentals in a structured learning environment similar to bootcamp.

But before we get to that, let’s ask a few more big questions and take some of the steps in the direction of software engineering to learn more. Having put some thought into these questions, you should have a stronger sense for where you’d like to go. We hope that Hackbright can help!

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10 Things to Do to Decide if Engineering Is Right for You

1. Ask Yourself What Do You Like to Do?

Is engineering right for you? It’s easy to attribute certain characteristics to specific professional roles: sales people are sociable, designers are creative, and engineers are good at math. Like all things in life, however, it’s not that simple. There are a multitude of factors that contribute to your success as an engineer. Consider this a short “Should I Be an Engineer” quiz:

  • Do you like to solve problems?
  • Do you like to think of new ways to do things?
  • Do you like puzzles and other mind challenging games?
  • Do you like working with computers?
  • Do you enjoy a challenge?
  • Do you wonder how things work?

Now here’s the tricky part. If you answered yes to the majority of the above questions, then yes(!), you probably do have the right mindset to excel at engineering. It also means you’re analytical, thoughtful, and enjoy a challenge. Those qualities lend themselves to many other careers, as well as engineering. So what next? Read on.

2. Ask Yourself What Do You Want to Do?

  • Do you want to make a difference in the world?
  • Do you have an interest in the challenges facing our world?
  • Do you want to help people and improve their lives?

Beyond “Should I be an engineer,” (and before How do I Become and Engineer) you can ask, “Would I be a good engineer?” Again, you probably answered yes here. And again, having an interest in these things means you’d likely do great in a number of professions, including engineering. You want to solve problems, improve systems, and make a difference. Great!

And just to put a fine point on it, there are truly countless examples of software engineers changing the world to help you answer the question “why software engineering?” Think of modern communication software such as social media and instant messaging. Consider Electronic Health Records and telemedicine in the healthcare industry or e-learning platforms and tools making education more accessible and personalized. The list goes on through transportation, energy, entertainment and virtually every industry. Now, how do you know if engineering is truly your passion? Let’s get into more detail.

(Story continues below course outline form.)

3. What Do You Like about Your Current Job? What Don’t You Like about Your Current Role?

For many of our alumni, engineering is their second (or even third) career. Hackbrighters have backgrounds in everything from nonprofit work to teaching to sales to psychology. For all our students, prior experience helps shape the kind of engineer they’ll become, even if they don’t have a computer science background.

Say you love the client interaction piece of customer service. Consider how that experience will help you build more customer-friendly programs and tools. If you don’t like the manual aspect of event management, how would that translate to a technical role?

Think about the pros and cons of your current role, and consider how they might come into play in a new opportunity in engineering. No job is perfect, but if you tend to enjoy being hands on with problem-solving and enjoy working with technology, engineering might be a path you want to pursue.

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4. Why Do You Want to Be an Engineer? Do You Know what Kind of Engineer You Want to Be?

If your answer only has something to do with what your parents want for you, or how much money you want to earn, it might be worth learning more about what you’ll be doing as an engineer before making the switch. While no job is perfect, if you don’t enjoy the bulk of engineering work, the paycheck or parental approval might not be worth becoming an engineer. That said, if you’re passionate about the field, try looking into specific areas of engineering.

Take some time to learn about the differences in front- and back-end development and what a full-stack role entails. You might gravitate to the infrastructure of a back-end role, or front-end development and design may speak to you. During the course of your studies, you’ll be able to hone in on what kind of engineer you want to be, but it’s always helpful to come in with a basic knowledge of the options available.

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5. Conduct an Informational Interview with a Software Engineer

What does it take to become an engineer? What does the work consist of? What skills are most valuable? If you’re looking for answers to these questions, then why not go to an expert?

This may seem like a no-brainer, but before you embark on your decision to become an engineer or learn to code, it’s a great idea to talk to others in the profession to learn how they got there, what their day-to-day routine and responsibilities look like, and any advice they may offer to you as you look to break into the tech industry. (For a quick primer and to spark a few questions, read “ Truths About Being a Software Engineer.”)

Start by reaching out to your personal and professional network. Do you know any engineers or have friends, family, or colleagues that can introduce you to engineers? Practice your networking skills and start to build a list of contacts in the industry. If you’re still asking “What type of engineer should I be”, consider making contacts in a number of engineering disciplines. It doesn’t hurt to have a large network, and, who knows, down the line, one of them might become a mentor (or help you land your first engineering job!)

6. Solve Non-Coding Puzzles

How do I know if engineering is for me? At its core, coding is logic-based problem-solving. To prepare to get into the mindset of an engineer, try completing some algorithmic or other puzzles, crosswords, or sudoku.

The more practice you get in these exercises, the better. As you go, solving these puzzles helps build confidence in problem-solving. If you run into problems you’re having trouble solving, remember:

  • Learn what you don’t know
  • Set a process for analyzing
  • Helps build thinking in a systematic or iterative manner.

Remember these roadblocks or problems that you get stuck on, and how you figured out a solution. As you continue down your path to engineering, these examples can give you confidence in your progress, and even help cope with imposter syndrome.

7. Read about the Software You Use

Are there apps or sites you use or visit on a regular basis? Search their websites for developer blogs or find other engineering blogs that discuss their API. There are likely insights in these forums where you can learn if they are team-focused or prefer individual contributors, what languages they use (Python?), and if they use open-source or proprietary hosting. If they’re on GitHub, take a look at their code.

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8. Read about Algorithms You Already Use

Just like learning about your software, learning about your commonly used algorithms can be helpful in understanding programming.

Think about the recommendation algorithms used by Amazon or Netflix to suggest products or a movie to you based on your previous purchases and watch history. Spotify similarly suggests songs or podcasts based on your listening history and a range of other behaviors and characteristics about your consumption. Or consider sentiment analysis algorithms used by companies to analyze feedback collected on social media, review sites, or their own website to better understand how customers are interacting with and responding to their products and communications. Or consider how a major social media platform like Twitter has made news for shaping and reshaping its algorithm around the complex and sometimes contradictory expectations of its CEO, shareholders, and users.

You may encounter these consumer-facing algorithms everyday, while other algorithms can detect fraud or predict material and process demands in manufacturing.

Now imagine being on the team behind the scenes to build and maintain those algorithms and how they can improve efficiencies for companies and outcomes for companies and consumers!

Here a few stories from recent years on algorithms that may impact your life:

9. Look at the Debug Console in a Web Browser

A great place to get started with understanding basic code is to choose a website you know and like and right click to inspect the page. From there, you can start to move through the page and understand the different elements of the page design, function, and logic. Studying up on these elements let you get a clearer picture of how they all fit together.

10. Make a GitHub Account, and Explore!

GitHub is a web-based hosting service for code. Your individual project at Hackbright will be hosted on GitHub, as will many other engineers’ projects and code. Start by learning how to push code to GitHub, and then once you’re familiar with the basics, check out the trending repos to start familiarizing yourself with other codebases.

Should You Be an Engineer Bonus:

The best way to figure out the answer to the question “should I be an engineer” is to get involved. If you want more than self-guided learning and would benefit from immersive, project-based learning with accountability, consider a coding bootcamp. Make an appointment to talk to one of our admissions counselors to learn more about our upcoming  Prep Course and our immersive  12-week full-time or 24-week part-time Software Engineering programs.

If you’re already grounded in Python programming foundations and embodying that engineering mindset then, hey, you might be ready for bootcamp! For you, here are 3 Reasons To Go To A Software Engineering Bootcamp. You can always apply and take the technical interview with zero commitment to enroll. We can simply get to know each other and where you are in your learning journey.

If you are in fact near the beginning, that’s where Hackbright’s Prep comes into play. This five-week, after-hours course can fit into a busy lifestyle and gives live, online instruction. (That’s real-time learning with 1:1 interaction with instructors!) Not only can you build Python foundations and get to know whether you enjoy programming,  you’ll get a feel for the demands of bootcamp to determine if it’s a good fit for you at this time.

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