Seeking Greener Grass: Should You Be a Design Engineer or Sales Engineer?

by Dave Lindstrom

In a conversation between two engineers, how can you tell which one is more outgoing? …By which engineer is staring at the other person’s shoes instead of his/her own while talking.

As bad of a joke as that is, many of us can easily see ourselves or someone we know fitting into that stereotype. As the world moves further into an era where a high level of technical aptitude is needed even just to make a decent cup of coffee, the question engineers should be asking is “what kind of engineer am I?”

Each degreed engineer has dedicated a significant amount of time studying how things work – and how to make them work better.  Whether it’s faster, stronger, smaller, more efficient, or even “greener,” engineers have had a hand in its creation.

 

Design Engineers vs. Sales Engineers

I speak with technical people every day who are convinced the grass is greener on the other side.  Design Engineers think that Sales Engineers do lunches, entertain, and make all of the money. On the other hand, Sales Engineers envy the Design Engineers not just because they don’t have to subject to the customer’s whim 24/7, but also for the fact that they don’t often have doors slammed in their faces or have to hear “NO” about 30 times a day.

 

Determine Your Interests and Skill-set

Whether you want to hang out in the labs and in front of computers doing design and testing, or if you really enjoy interacting with people, specifically customers; the important thing is to really know where your strengths lie. Take a look at your current daily duties and honestly evaluate what you like and dislike about your role. Taking this audit of what you need from a career is one of the best things you can do to set yourself up for success on whichever side of engineering you fall into.

You might find that you’re ready to switch from one type of engineering to another. Before you start packing up your desk, just know that it will be much easier to make such a switch within your current organization than it would be to start from scratch in the marketplace.

 

Transitioning Within Your Company vs. Looking for Another Employer

Companies are more likely to take a risk with a candidate that has some internal “equity” built up rather than a candidate that is completely new to the organization. Do a little research to find out if your company has a job-shadowing program as a part of its employee development plan. If so, you can connect with people currently doing that job and ask to shadow for a day to get better feel for how you would fit in the role.

You might find you fit well into your current role after all – but then again, you might not. Either way, you’ll be better prepared to speak to your skills and abilities and know what you need to work on in your career. Whatever you do, don’t let those pesky engineer stereotypes get you down; find what you’re good at and go for it.

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