Why I Become Engineer

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:

  1. Traveling to Loveland for the first time (2010)
  2. Transiting in LA for the first time (2010)
  3. Transiting San Francisco for the second time (2011)
  4. Traveling to Loveland again (2011)
  5. Visiting Denver for the first time (2011)
  6. Transiting in LA again (2011)
  7. Transiting in San Francisco for the third time (2012)
  8. Traveling to Loveland for the third time (2012)
  9. Going on a beer sampling tour in Fort Collins (2012)
  10. Traveling to Loveland for the fourth time (2013)
  11. 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.

22 Comments

  1. I was an engineer too (civil) and worked as a construction manager. I admit I went into it because it was a good living. The hours were really crazy too (but I think really it depended on what kind of boss you have and how hard the project was), and it started at 6:30 am daily. It’s true that a lot of engineering companies in the States get every other Friday off, because we will work 9 hours everyday (or we work more, but still only get paid for 9 hours a day, heh). It sounds like you put in a lot of really hard hours, but your “non-hectic days” sound really nice, lol!

    • My host manager once told me over lunch, “the reason American companies set up shop in your backyard is because you guys are cheap and work harder than us. If you take those advantages away, then there is no reason for us to come.”
      He made it sound like he was kidding, but I believe it is the truth.

  2. The grass is always greener at the other side.

    For those who get 6-18months bonus..see is easy but the time they put in also a lot.

    In Malaysia most company so call Flexi hours but if you leave early there will be “noises” for you to hear. If to claim OT also will be said “calculative” ..must sacrifice for the company.

    In view of all ..the most ideal is to find something that ones loves to do.

  3. sounds more like “how” you become an engineer than “why” you become an engineer to me, but anyways, i think the reason is pretty clear there – for a living.. haha!! i guess most of us are working for a living and not many are actually doing something they like and dream of huh??

    so the bonding thing, wow, one year after another.. so looks like this is how your company keeps you??

  4. I also like flexi working hours, like if you come at 8am, you leave at 5pm, or if you come at 9am, leave at 6pm, but too bad, my current company is not practicing it.. My sister who works in a G*C company, is like you everyday – come to work at 9.45am, sometimes 10am (her work starts at 9am by right, but nobody says anything, not even her superior, coz her superior comes lates too), “snake” out in between to the bank/post office, then (long) lunch til 3pm (or 3.45pm), go for tea, then clock out before 5pm and go home.. Everyday.. Like you said, Friday? Almost no need to work.. Everyone comes in after 10am coz of some ” Friday briefing”, then everyone goes off to tea/brunch, come in and then time for lunch again, 12-4pm, then leave.. Oohh Lala..

    • wow..what a lifestyle….I feel like wanting to quit my job rite now when hearing all these ‘work balance luxury’…
      I m a true supporter of flexi hour….but my company is like those factory kinda environment, everyone must clock-in on time…
      luckily my boss is less strict coz he knows I mostly work till late evening…but again I still have to follow the majority to maintain the ‘reputation’ wor….what a rule?!!

  5. I never thought I would be a teacher either. Wanted to move to Kuching and stay on my own there – needed the money so took it up temporarily at a private school there…but I loved it so I went to college to get myself formally qualified.

    I’ve a friend – engineer for five years and then he quit, did not like it. I think he is a tuition school teacher now. Bet the money is not all that nice but as long as he’s happy…

    • My ex-principal’s daughter – so smart, scholarships all the way in England…up to PhD but when she came back, she told the father she could not imagine herself in a white coat working in a lab all day…and became an insurance agent. Whatever it is, one should do something that makes one happy. Last I heard, she lives in KL, drives a BMW – must be doing very well.

      • Well, that great for her! As long as she knows what she is doing, that’s excellent. Sometimes, that degree/masters/PhD that we get is not so much about what field we are qualified in, but the amount of education we go through and how our character is formed as a result.

    • Well, for my case, I actually love my job. I mean, I don’t even know what type of job I love, it is more that I love this flexible nature, and my teammates. And I got used to the work I’m doing so I do not hate it.

  6. Your boss sounds like a dream come true. Unfortunately I see the tendency of working over-hours increasing from year after year. Poland was one of the countries where if you started the job at 9 you finished at 5, but right now, since the economy is booming people work more and more and get less time for themselves. I always ask myself what is the point of it? This is definitely not a life that i want for myself

    • Well, that’s true, but it is worse for our American/European counterparts. Every time there is a global economy downturn, the American/European side are downsized and more responsibilities are transferred to us because we are cheaper and more workaholic. So whoever that remains now have to force themselves to work as hard as us to minimize the risk of being laid off next.
      For my case, I work over-hours in the beginning because I was inexperienced and spent a lot of time making mistakes and rectifying the mistakes before solving the actual problems. That happened really often. Then as my experience grew, the number of mistakes and the frequency of over-working is reduced. Nowadays the only time that I work long hours is when my projects is nearing the end and some unforeseen delay happens.

  7. You mean they really officially bond you with black and white? Or you mean bond as in you fell in love with the work trips to USA?

    Well at least you don’t hate the nature of your work until you really cannot tahan and wants to leave ASAP.

    • The first 2 trips, there’s really black and white. That’s what they are allowed to do legally. A company can bond an employee if they send the employee for “training” for 2 times, if more than 2 times then it is not considered training but work. You cannot bond an employee for traveling and doing work for you. That’s the guideline.

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