Engineering career advice from the 2015 Control Engineering salary survey

Think Again: Many subscribers taking the 2015 Control Engineering salary survey provided write-in advice about engineering careers. Keep learning and mentoring, learn effective project management and communications, including the benefits of automation and controls engineering, are among tips and reminders.

By Mark T. Hoske May 18, 2015

Among engineers taking the Control Engineering salary survey in 2015, about one-third, 175 respondents, offered write-in advice, much touting the importance of career-long learning. I grouped the advice into six categories: workplace strategies, education, attitude, communication, project management, and engineering tips. The table totals more than 175 because when advice included multiple topics, I tagged more than one. A sampling follows, more than would fit in print, and some of it is contradictory; I suspect advice offered reflects engineers’ individual experiences, and those vary. The remaining advice appears at the bottom, if you’d like to see it all. Also, please, feel free to offer your own advice using the comment tool at the bottom. [We review the comments, though, so it may take a few days for it to appear.] 

Control Engineering career and salary survey 2015 

Workplace strategies

Always give your best and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Always investigate the company thoroughly before you accept a position. Continuing education in your field is so important.

Be adventurous. The worst thing for any professional is to do nothing. The only people who do not make mistakes are those who do nothing.

Develop a team relationship with other members; take time to brush up on the personal and presentation skills.

Fight for what you believe is correct/ethically correct.

Involve yourself in all areas of the plant or operation to make yourself indispensable.

Keep acquiring new skill sets; the ones you have today have gotten you to where you are, but may not be enough to get you where you would like to be in the future.

Learn how to market and sell your ideas. Management does not always have the technical expertise to make a decision. If you can somehow quantify the advantages of your idea in a way that is meaningful to your management (less downtime, lower costs), then you stand a much better chance of actually implementing it. 


Be flexible, don’t get pigeonholed in today’s economy; keep learning new things all the time.

Co-op in college to get plenty of work experience before graduating.

For those thinking of engineering as a career, don’t go into debt, find a company that has a co-op program, and use it. For those who are already engineers, find a recession-proof industry to work in.

Get a two-year degree over a four-year degree.

Get a master’s degree as soon after graduation as you can.

Get your PE license. Go into controls. 


Be willing to try anything and do anything. Only by trying and failing will you learn. Successes only showcase what we already know; failures teach us what we don’t know.

Keep an open mind and try to become a well-rounded employee. Management skills are a must. 


Being technical is only a part of the job; people skills are the key to advancement.

Practice clear communication based on expectations.

Spend an hour or two per week building and maintaining a professional network. These are the people that can help you do your job better, and they will have the best leads if you are in search of a job.

Technical skills are necessary but being diplomatic when dealing with others is just as important.

Project management

Know your process from ground zero. Read and understand the work instructions. Go to customers and see how they use and test your product.

Learn as much as you can about what your clients/customers do and how they do it. Listen to what they want and integrate this into your design and your controls. If you understand their business, and adapt your job to them, you will do a better job for them, they will make sure you do more for them, and you will be more profitable.

Make sure you have a complete and solid scope on every project and that everyone understands the scope. With a one-page scope of work, there are misinterpretations later. 

Engineering tips

Do in-depth research before any purchase. Follow up on references from multiple customers.

Don’t limit your career moves to one discipline. Try other areas as you will find that your engineering background will always be an asset.

Engineering is in demand and will remain so.

Engineering is the future.

Engineers are needed to improve the world.

Finally, think again because, "There will be a critical shortage of skilled technical people in the future, which is already creating a growing demand for automation and controls talent. Learning the basics of automation will open doors in the future."

– Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering,

ONLINE extra

All advice appears in the online version of this article; a longer version appears above, and the remaining advice appears below. Also see the salary survey and career advice report and related articles, linked below, providing more salary survey results and career trends.

Additional 2015 salary survey career advice follows from survey respondents 

Workplace strategies: Online extra

Always be willing to take on new tasks.

Be flexible and never be afraid to learn from items outside your particular field/expertise.

Be open to change.

Be open-minded. Be willing to take on new challenges.

Continue education. Make yourself valuable to the organization. Have a good attitude.

Learn a skill set, such as programming, AutoCAD, and control panel design.

Learn as many aspects of your operation as possible: process fundamentals, process controls, and process safety.

Never burn bridges. Do not change for the sake of changing or for flashier appearance of technology.

Sometimes the right thing to do is to wait for the next cycle in technology (such as Microsoft Windows Vista, etc.).

Pay attention to the details.

Pick a field of engineering that has the fewest market swings.

Technical/engineering … management/leadership

There are two ways to do a job—do it right or do it over.

Be focused on the real needs of customers. If they change, you must change.

Be updated always with the latest developments in industries and technologies.

Try to be an expert.

Take advantage of opportunities to learn new things as often as possible.

Take all the training offered.

Think hard before choosing engineering. It won’t be rewarding if you are chasing money or the limelight.

Develop engineering skills, possibly with formal training.

Try to do something that you are really interested in; otherwise, it’s just a job.

Achieve personal goals to receive accolades.

As a technical employee, leadership doesn’t want to give you promotions since they will then lose your direct-touch expertise. If you want to rise into management, you will need to make diagonal jumps to other companies.

Be professional.

Be visible both upwards and downwards.

Do not bank on any U.S. company to last forever.

Do not get comfortable with the status quo from your employer. Search for opportunities that may be available within or external to your present organization.

Don’t follow my path. My last promotion was 20 years ago.

Don’t make fast, on-the-spot decisions; think before you act.

Don’t specialize; seek as broad a knowledge base as possible.

Existing staff is retiring, leaving big gaps in the local government, with an expected 30% turnover in the next five years.

Experience, learning how to work with others.

Find a job that makes you happy.

Gain as much experience as you can. Become flexible in what you will do.

Get results; keep good relationships.

Health care facilities offer a wide range of opportunities to work on multiple systems and construction projects, and talented personnel are always in demand.

If you like the profession, migrate to greener pastures.

It’s not a high profile career but very rewarding in gratitude from your plant-operators.

Just join the field. If you work hard you’ll always be secure.

Keep looking for better opportunities always. Keep quality and science high.

Keep your mouth shut when you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Keep your options open.

Learn your job and learn to work with others.

Move around and take different positions.


Save your money. Jump around to new jobs before it’s too late.

Specialize but retain depth of ability. 

Education: Online extra

1. Engineering skill 2. Training and sharing

Chemical engineering opens lots of doors.

Control systems and automation engineering.

Do it for the long haul and get involved with the end users.


The best engineers have plenty of do-it-yourself experience.

Always be a good learner and teacher. Treat others with respect and recognitions.

Always keep your technical skills sharp.

Be a leader; find the good leaders.

Be diverse and knowledgeable in multiple fields.

Be prepared to enter any field.

Change into high finance, computer apps, or medical.

Choose your career based on what you like. Don’t choose because of money.

Continue education.

Continue to do as much training and learning as you can.

Diverse training.

Diversification of practical abilities and knowledge.

Do not pick an engineering career.

Don’t be an engineer; no future; all the jobs are going out of U.S.

Dual degree.


Engineering is a great career if you like engineering (the technical stuff), and you work in a good organization. If you don’t like engineering, go do something else. Don’t be miserable just because it pays well. If you are working in a "toxic" organization, find a job with decent management that respects individuals.

Further your education.

Get a graduate degree in engineering/accounting/MBA.

Get as much formal education as you can and then get even more field experience to apply that education in the real world.

It’s important to have a good mentor/leader/supervisor when starting out. And it’s also important to be a good mentor for those with less experience than you have. We all need guidance to grow and being able to establish a good working relationship with others is important for professional and personal development and growth.

Keep current.

Keep learning and improving your skills and talent.

Keep learning. No one can ever take your knowledge away.

Keep up-to-date with technology and advancements.

Keep up with new technology.

Learn all you can and never stop learning.

Learn as much as you can, stay current and informed.

Learn from the experience of others and stay flexible.

Learn Russian, Chinese, and get into management.

Make sure to stay on top of what is new in the industry and be able to teach what you know to the younger or newer engineers.

Math, math, math.

Never stop learning.

Obviously, it depends on individuals, but if they have inquisitive minds, absolutely steer them toward engineering and technical classes for possible careers.

Skilled trades are better than white collar jobs.

Stay current with technology.

Stay informed and updated on latest technologies.

Stay up-to-date on your skill set.

Develop engineering skills early in life.

Attitude: Online extra

Diligence is the key to success.

Do not be afraid to do work outside of your expertise. If you are not uncomfortable, you are not growing and learning!

Don’t give up, and don’t sweat the small stuff.

Find a company that appreciates you and gives you opportunity. Stick to it and try to be happy if not content. Making your best effort will pay off if you give it time.

Get used to wearing many hats.

Have an interest in everything.

Have a positive attitude.

Improve and change.

It is one of the best, most challenging jobs.

Learn how to deal with office politics and favoritism.

Learn how to keep perspective. Don’t settle for mediocrity.

Love your job.

Personal integrity will get you further than any technical skill or capability.

Simply, to find your niche, find something you love to do and pursue that path.

Study hard and do what you like to do.

Take every opportunity to advance your knowledge; not only in your field, but also in surrounding fields.

The chance to advance begins with you, not your employer.

Think positively; think safe.

Communication: Online extra

Acquire and/or practice communication skills.

Beyond any technical ability, engineers (electrical especially) need to drop the pious, self-righteous attitude and learn how to interact and communicate. It is simply ridiculous how much engineers love to self-inflate their egos. I don’t care how much intelligence someone has, what their grades were, or what institution they attended; if they can’t create good working relationships and effectively communicate, they are worthless in the business environment. Above all, I would say humility and communication serve the engineer best, and technical prowess, while important, should not be the zenith.

Develop social skills.

Do anything with concentration and don’t accept anything only because someone is doing it. Always think about the right things; always ask questions.

Learn all you can and learn how to communicate your ideas and improvement plans.

Make sure you are paid what you are worth.

Stay connected.

You are responsible for your advancement. Network and toot your own horn. You have to have people skills to go with your technical skills.

Automation may reduce head count. [Editor’s note: Those involved can help communicate and work with management to retrain workers in new areas to retain needed skills and experience. Without automation efficiency the plant may close and everyone loses.]

Project management: Online extra

Get as much multidepartmental experience as you can so that you can understand where those you work with are coming from.

Learn project management.

Should always do the work as a procedure; cannot have mistakes.

Strongly research your major and go for a master’s. Add people skills and project management as available.

Take care of your customers and know who those customers are.

Know your process from ground zero. Read and understand the work instructions. Go to customers and see how they are using and testing your product.

Pay attention to all the details; don’t ignore anything.

You need to create in your surveys an area for process controls technicians. On the site where I work, some control technicians who do not have the big college degrees are doing most of the controls work, troubleshooting, and brainstorming. I am doing programmable logic controller (PLC) programming, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) development, AutoCAD prints, integration, instrument calibration, and troubleshooting. The engineers at my plant are very nice people, but they just tell you what projects they would like you to do then just walk away and check on your progress a week later.

This is one of the very reasons why this industry has a shortage of skilled technical workers in this country. On top of that, there are no on-the-job training programs for engineers or technicians. I have not seen good training in over 15 years. I like my job, but sometimes I just shake my head and say to myself, "13 more years to go."

Engineering tips: Online extra

Don’t stop learning. The introduction of new technology is happening at a break-neck pace. One needs to keep up. A really good general engineer is typically more valuable than a specialist.

Electrical and instrumentation.

Electronics experience.

Energy/engineering has been very good to me, but you have to make it while you can and save. Be ready for unexpected down swings in work. Be flexible and willing to travel.

Get as much education as you can. I believe that biomedical engineering and industrial engineering are two areas that will have the most job security.

Get your engineering degree.

Go into engineering, it provides the most flexible and interesting options of any career path.

If you get an engineering degree you will never be rich, but you will never be poor.

Oil and gas and energy are best sectors for a career.

Oil and gas processing.

Study networking, communications, and databases.

Study new and rising technologies and be prepared to deal with those changes.

Study programming because it is key in engineering.

Get a BS in electrical engineering.

Online extras links follow below including a link to the 2015 Career and Salary Survey.

Author Bio: Mark Hoske has been Control Engineering editor/content manager since 1994 and in a leadership role since 1999, covering all major areas: control systems, networking and information systems, control equipment and energy, and system integration, everything that comprises or facilitates the control loop. He has been writing about technology since 1987, writing professionally since 1982, and has a Bachelor of Science in Journalism degree from UW-Madison.