When thinking about the field of mechanical engineering, it's easy to forget that a key to succeeding is getting along with those who get you the results. One of those important people is the mechanical engineering technician, potentially a great alternative career path for an engineer based on their local job market.
Mark Obermeyer, who graduated with a mechanical engineering technology degree from Purdue University, works as a technician for an automotive manufacturing company. "A technician follows the lab work and does the work from the engineer's test plan," he says. "We run it to find the results. Sometimes it's the unknown and we're just giving them the data to figure out the next step. Other times it's dealing in a known [quantity] and we're just trying to find out if a part failed."
But it's all too common for a test not to go right the first time because of a lack of communication. Though this can be the technician's fault on occasion, Obermeyer says some engineers have a less than stellar communication style. "There are those that are great and have everything spelled out for you but some know what they want but just don't try to convey it," he says. "Even just making the technician feel that they can ask questions can help. Confusion can really slow down the process."
When the situation was reversed and he worked as a sustaining engineer, he found it vital to take the time to get to know his technicians. "From their personality, you can figure out how they work and what they respond to," he says. "You have to find out what's going to make it simple for them and it's always different depending on the person. You're managing personalities."
Even when working together seems like second nature, Obermeyer says if you want a technician's opinion on where to take the plan next, then it may be on the engineer to facilitate it. "It's frowned upon for us to give a suggestion on what we think you should do," he says. "There are definitely technicians who have a lot of knowledge but we're not going to feel comfortable offering it on our own."
Some engineers might truly find being a technician is a good fit depending on the local job market. Though Obermeyer keeps an open mind about getting back to being an engineer, he actually prefers this position to his previous one, realizing that the engineering he wants to do is the hands-on kind, not surprising for a guy who's worked on several cars in his spare time. "I've really enjoyed being able to get in there and work with engines," he says. "I just learned I don't want to be sitting behind a desk. My engineering job had me doing that."
And his time machining at Purdue paid off as well, especially when he realized that not every engineer knows how to expertly utilize CNC machinery, yet needs its results. In other words, engineers, always be nice to your technician.
Eric Butterman is an independent writer.
I’ve really enjoyed being able to get in there and work with engines. I just learned I don’t want to be sitting behind a desk.
Mark Obermeyer, engineering technician