Engineering career advice from the 2016 Control Engineering salary survey

Many subscribers taking the 2016 Control Engineering salary survey provided write-in advice about engineering careers; education, workplace strategies, and project management are among engineering tips and reminders.

By Mark T. Hoske May 11, 2016

Control Engineering survey respondents provide plenty of career advice in write-in questions to the 2016 Control Engineering Salary and Career Survey, covering education, training, workplace strategies, attitude, communication, engineering tips, project management, and major concerns for the next 12 months.

For the concerns, the write-in responses were divided into eight categories and assigned one or more categories as appropriate, when the response covered more than one area.

40 Economy

19 Training, safety

15 Workload, throughput

14 Hiring, retention, wages, benefits

9 Technology transition, standards

6 Asset allocation, budget, energy costs

3 Politics

2 Mergers and acquisitions.

Divided into just three categories, socio-economic, personnel, and technology concerns were nearly evenly split between the first two, with technology concerns a distant third. Perhaps this is not surprising; engineers can figure out the technology.

The engineering career advice, similarly divided into categories, with some comments covering two or more topics, covered:

58 Education, training

42 Workplace strategies

21 Attitude

12 Communication

9 Engineering tips

3 Project management.

Respondents offered advice; some practical, some sarcastic, and some humorous, all of which appear in the online version of this article. A sampling follows. 

Education, training

Constant learning and certifications.

Continue learning and going to school.

Continue to learn.

Don’t be a one trick pony.

Get a Bachelor’s degree; don’t stop at an Associates like I did.

Get a PhD.

Get a career in accounting or finance.

Get all the experience and on-the-job-training you can get.

Get your degree.

Go for core engineering fields.

Keep abreast of the latest developments in your field.

Keep learning and gaining skills.

Keep learning new technologies!

Keep on learning!

Learn multiple disciplines and cross-discipline skills.

Learn whatever comes your way.

Machine expertise.

Need to be skilled in controls and networking.

Never stop learning.

Obtain a great education and get under a great mentoring process to build experience.

Read the f-ing manual.

Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are required.

Stay on top of emerging technology and trends to prevent your skills from becoming obsolete.


Get mechanical engineering degree.

Try to look out for what area is going to need your study of engineering the most after finishing school. The field is always changing.

Read books! Dale Carnegie, Jeff Olson, Martin Seligman, Shawn Achor, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Improving the person is worth 100 technical improvements.

Get your education in early rather than later on in life as it gets harder to justify later.

Take a good look at controls/automation engineering. There are not many coming into the field as it isn’t as well known as some other areas, but there are a lot of opportunities available.

Remember the first principles. Keep it simple stupid. If things appear to be defying logic, your assumptions are wrong.

Workplace strategies

Try to find a career niche in a discipline that would be difficult to offshore, if at all possible anymore.

Always be learning something and adding to your resume.

Do not focus on one industrial segment and develop skills that are transferable.

Don’t focus on a single proficiency.

Keep active in learning and follow your interests.

Keep your skills honed and up to date but don’t ignore your hands-on knowledge.

Get a good boss to mentor you.

Having knowledge in multiple engineering fields will open more doors than strictly following one field.

Be multi-faceted. Spending on engineering salaries seems to be decreasing in some cases, even while there is demand for engineers. An attractive quality is to have multiple skills.

Get an engineering degree and then spend time on the manufacturing floor to understand fully your business.

The younger people need to recognize the wealth of information that senior engineers have and should try and learn from their experiences.

Do not go into automotive.

Find something else.

Go where the work is interesting.

Look carefully your current area’s market.

Specialize in a niche.

Get some experience.

Manage your own career.

You need to work at multiple companies to enhance your salary and experience and become more marketable. Do not stay at one employer too long or you will become a "fixture."

Diversify: work in and with as many departments as possible to fully understand the impact you can make to improve their productivity.

Move to Europe. The U.S. economy will crash from a lifestyle of over consumption and $19 trillion in debt.

Find something you love to do and then find a job where you can do that. Keep looking until you do. Understand that engineering is a job that will ultimately require either a) travel or b) being on call. You need to decide which you prefer.


Admit what you do not know. Learn what you do not know.

Always look for learning opportunities.

Find something that you like and don’t be afraid of change.

Have well-rounded skills. Have a good work ethic.

Don’t be afraid to learn new things.

Be loyal to your company. Work as hard as possible to benefit your company. Keep your skills updated and keep open the possibility of getting a new position within or outside your company.

Always do your best. Give 100% to what you do and learn from the personnel who have been there the longest. You can never stop learning!

If you don’t love controls engineering, don’t bother with it and look for another field of income. Otherwise, you will hate life every day. If you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life.

Don’t guess and make judgments; calculate and gather info first; show initiative.

Enjoy what you’re doing now even though it isn’t your best-ever job. Enjoy the ride!

Take the unexpected challenge. Work as a team. Stand your ground if it’s the correct decision. Work in areas that you enjoy.

Do a job you enjoy for a salary that you are content with. Don’t be too concerned with other people’s pay levels.

Having a strong work ethic pays off in many ways. Believe in yourself but never be afraid to ask for help when needed. I (you) can do all things through Him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13.

Force yourself to be an extrovert.

Stay flexible.



Be mentored by someone skilled, work hard, and listen.

Work hard and long. Work to better your skills in all phases, technology, written and verbal.

Be able to sell your project and always strive to learn new things, whether it is software or the latest research.

Students in engineering should consider co-ops to see what is really needed in their chosen field. Engineers need to have broadened skillsets. In lean manufacturing, the person who can wear many hats and do each job well brings more value to the company. It is not necessary to be an expert in EVERY field but to communicate with the experts is critical. Our true job is communication, from the lowest line worker to top management. A genius who cannot share ingenious ideas may have less value than a janitor who mops a floor very, very well.

Learn continuously, seek the type of work you enjoy doing and then do it exceptionally well. Develop strong troubleshooting and problem solving skills, communicate well, and build your network. Keep margin in your life, time, and finances. Give back. Ask forward-focused questions.

Try to learn how to market your ideas effectively to management. They aren’t always knowledgeable about technical details and need to be educated about the importance of some ideas.

Need to stay focused and communicate well with all others (not just maintenance) and try to work with everyone to come up with the best solution.

Develop personal skills.

Master people skills and working with others.

Engineering tips

Be able to work as a team, try to get experience in a wide variety of processes and applications.

Learn across disciplines because nothing is purely mechanical, electrical, etc.

Automation and robotics.

Do, play, and learn. Get into the lab and experiment to test your concepts.

Respect the opinions of all you meet. Even the janitor can say something that helps you solve a problem. Also, when you see everyone chasing one theory, let them, and you look for what they are missing.

Engineering is simple. Dealing with nonengineers, many of whom are uneducable, is the real challenge.


Project management

If you have not learned how to use computers/technology to assist you in developing and presenting your engineering vision, do so immediately! If you have, continue to push and grow in that area.

Define the scope and keep targets clear.

It is nearly impossible to stem the tide of opinion once it has ascended to senior leadership. Collect your data early and analyze the results to help you understand the true issues. Spread the word of those findings quickly. There will be meetings of discovery rather than mandates from above that do not address the actual issues.

Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media,, with data from Amanda Pelliccione, CFE Media research director,

This longer online version contains more advice than appeared in print in the May 2016 North American edition.

Key concepts

  • Control Engineering salary survey respondents offer advice.
  • Lifelong learning, communication, and project management skills are important. 

Consider this

Do you take time to examine longer-term goals?

ONLINE extra

Advice from past salary surveys follow below.

2015 Salary and Career Survey 

2014 Salary and Career Survey 

2013 Salary and Career 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.