As I suspected, I was really asked the other day: “If you hated your engineering studies so much, why work as an engineer?”
Why I start off as an engineer?
Let’s not muck about and admit that we all work for the money. You might argue about job satisfaction, personal growth and all those shit, but first and foremost, it is always about the money. Whoever who disagrees, take his/her salary away and ask again. There was a manager who always tell his subordinates when it is time for the yearly focal: “我们不要讲钱，讲钱伤感情。We should not talk about money, talking about money will jeopardize our relationship.” His engineers left him en masse every 2 to 3 years.
In Malaysia, an engineer’s pay is one of the best, if not the best, in fresh graduate’s term. When I came back from the UK and began to job hunt, I actually explored many options. I applied for many engineering positions, but I also applied for many non-engineering positions. I soon discovered that in most jobs, the fresh graduate starting pay was RM 1800 or RM 2000. For fresh engineers, small companies pay RM 2200 and the bigger MNCs start at RM 2500. That few hundred bucks was a big deal for a fresh graduate!
Don’t get so excited to switch fields to engineering if you are a student though. An engineer’s pay might be great in the beginning, but the growth rate is the worst. Do you envy people who gets 3 months/6 months bonuses and 20% increments year over year? That won’t happen if you are an engineer, especially not in an MNC. I started with higher pay than some of my mates who went to banking/consulting, most of them are raking in almost double of my current pay now.
Why I become an engineer in Penang?
I started as a Supports Engineer in a small local company. To be honest, I did not like it one bit at all. The working hours were horrible. The official working hours were 9 AM to 5 PM, but the team lead arrives at 8.30 AM everyday and whoever arrives later than him frequently will instantly feel the pressure. And try clocking off at 6 PM, the seniors will immediately make remarks like: “Why go home so early? Mou yeah jou meh (No work to do)?” Within a week I realized that the “flexible working hours” that the hiring manager boasted about during the job interview actually meant “your go home time varies every day, from 2 hours late to 5 hours late, depending on the situation“.
Then I heard my friends working in the American companies talk about working till late night but checking into office after lunch the next day as compensation. This is the “flexible working hours” that I want! Back then, there were not many engineering MNC options in KL. Most of the American plants were (and still are) located in Penang. So I made a spontaneous decision to quit and job hunt in Penang, and have not looked back since.
Let me illustrate to you how my “flexible working hours” are like. I frequently work till late night and then work over the weekends for my first 3 years. I’m still doing this on and off, but not that frequent anymore. I once spent 40 hours in the production floor without sleep. And I am not the record holder, there was a crazier Malay guy who did a 53 hours! This debunks the myth that Malays are lazy by the way. What did my efforts earned me? Unlimited PTO (Paid Time Off). During less hectic times, my work day would be: check in to office at 8 AM, go for breakfast in the cafeteria until 9.30 AM, work until 11 AM, go to Red Box for lunch and come back at 2 PM, go for tea at 3.30 PM, and then go back to the office to pack up and leave at 5 PM. When I need to go to the bank/post office and tell the boss that I need to go out for 2 hours, he would reply: “Just take your bag and leave lah, 2 hours mana ada cukup (how can 2 hours be enough)?“. On the Fridays that I wanted to drive back to KL, I would just leave at lunch time. All without logging into the annual leave system.
Why did I last so long as an engineer?
To be honest, I did not expect myself to be an engineer for more than a few years. I thought I would just get the higher pay for a few years, save some money, and then explore other things.
But then, these happened:
- Traveling to Loveland for the first time (2010)
- Transiting in LA for the first time (2010)
- Transiting San Francisco for the second time (2011)
- Traveling to Loveland again (2011)
- Visiting Denver for the first time (2011)
- Transiting in LA again (2011)
- Transiting in San Francisco for the third time (2012)
- Traveling to Loveland for the third time (2012)
- Going on a beer sampling tour in Fort Collins (2012)
- Traveling to Loveland for the fourth time (2013)
- Traveling to Tokyo (2014)
Every time things like these happened, I get bonded for another year. And another year. And another year.
Remember about the “flexible working hours” thing I mentioned earlier? It gets better Stateside. The host manager once asked me if I will check in to work on Friday, and I asked him why. He said: “If you come in on Friday, you will be alone. We usually don’t work on Fridays. You should too. You work so hard from Mondays to Thursdays, so you should take Fridays off. It is your own responsibility to take care of your work life balance”. Spec-freakin-tacular.
What next? How long will I go on?
I honestly don’t know. Maybe another 2 months, maybe another 20 years. You’ll hear from me if and when something happens, I suppose.