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Why Engineers Should Plan For Early Retirement

{ 71 comments }

Why Engineers Should Plan For Early RetirementAs many of you know, I used to be an engineer (computer hardware) before I quit my corporate job to become a stay at home dad/blogger. Many readers come to this blog, ossite, through the Why I gave up my engineering career post. It seems like there are quite a few engineers out there who are thinking about leaving their careers to do something else. I think engineers really should save up a freedom fund and keep their options open. Engineering is almost like a sports career where not many people can handle a 30-year engineering career. Let’s take a look at why engineers should plan for early retirement (or at least, a career change).

Of course, quitting engineering should be one of the last options you consider. Some less drastic measures include transferring to a different department, changing engineering jobs, or even finding a new company to work for. Some companies also let you try new roles such as marketing or sales which might be a better fit. Of course, if you tried some of these moves already and you’re still tired of engineering, then it’s probably time to move on.

Sunk cost

I invested a lot of time and effort in my engineering career. I spent 5 years in college to get my BS and MS. My university had a great 5-year MS program and I took advantage of it by taking some MS level classes in my senior year to speed things up. Then I became a computer hardware engineer for exactly 16 years, building up my salary over that time. I started with less than $50,000 and eventually made a little over 6 figures. I also became an expert in my field and it felt good to be the go to guy.

Quitting engineering threw all that out the window since I can’t make a similar salary in other fields without a lot of training and experience. Was it worth it? The last 2 years have been one of the best periods in my adult life and it’s still great. We’ll see in the long run, but I’m pretty sure it was the right decision for me.

Plan for a short career

I enjoyed being an engineer when I first started my job, but now I think an engineer should plan for a relatively short career of 15 to 20 years. Many engineers start out loving their jobs, but you don’t know how things will be after a decade or two. It’s better to plan for a reduced income from the start so you’ll be prepared in case your career turns sour after a while. Saving and investing early is a great idea in any case.

High stress

Being an engineer can be pretty stressful. There are always deadlines to meet and if you’re the one holding up the product, the heat will turn up. Every company needs to get their product to the market as soon as possible because any delay means a loss of profit. Product cycles also seem to get shorter and shorter so engineers have much less down time.

High time commitment

At many companies, engineers are expected to work 50-70 hours/week with no overtime pay. This is fine when you’re young and single because you want to get ahead. I spent a lot of time at work when I first started and I didn’t mind at all. If you work late, the company usually provides dinner and snacks, so it can be pretty convenient for a single guy. Once you have a family, then you really don’t want to spend a lot of time at the office anymore. Although, these days it’s pretty easy to work from home so that’s what many engineers do.

When a product is pushing the deadline, then the managers would demand more output. If you refuse to work late, then you can be sure that will show up in your next annual review somehow.

Replacement

There are thousands of young engineers graduating every year. They are younger, smarter, cheaper, and probably better looking than you. It’s easy to replace an engineer. Life will go on as usual even if the most crucial engineer leaves the project. Your ego will tell you that they can’t replace you that easily, but for most people, that’s not true.

Seniority

Seniority is a two edged sword. You get paid more because you know more, but the company will also demand more from you. I knew many older engineers who got laid off because they got promoted to a higher grade and then their level of output no longer matched their pay. Companies need more from their senior level engineers. When you get to a certain level, you need to become a “multiplier.” That means you need to work through others and contribute more that way. Many engineers like tinkering with their code/hardware/products which is why they got into engineering in the first place. When you become a multiplier, you don’t get to work on what you like as much anymore.

Leadership

As you become more senior, the company will expect you to take on more leadership roles. One career path is to become a manager. Some engineers are good at project management, but it seems most aren’t very good at managing people (that’s me.) This also takes you completely out of engineering, so it’s pretty much a career change. The other path is to become a senior engineer. This path will let you do some engineering stuff, but you’ll still spend a ton of time in meetings. From my experience, taking on more leadership roles will reduce your time to work as an engineer. (I’d like to hear from other engineers on this subject, though.)

Financial Freedom

Engineers get compensated pretty well and they have an opportunity to attain financial freedom earlier than many other careers. I started saving with my first regular paycheck and I was able to quit engineering after 16 years. We’re not quite financially independent yet, but we are getting there. If you are an engineer who follows the 8 essential things to do to retire early article, then it should be possible.

Early Retirement

I’m sure there are other careers that have similar issues, but I think an engineer career really can’t last a life time anymore. This is especially true if you like doing the engineering work because as you progress up the career ladder, you won’t get to do much of it anymore. I guess you can try to go back to lower level positions, but then you’d have a lower salary and also you’d need to compete with younger workers even more.

What’s your career and does it have similar issues?

Related posts:

Why I gave up my engineering career

Should I go into engineering?

{ 71 comments… add one }
  • Clarisse @ Make Money Your Way May 5, 2014, 12:51 am

    My husband is a Software Engineer and he just started his work a few years ago. And now he is planning about his retirement, he wants to have his own business and manage some people.

    • retirebyforty May 6, 2014, 10:36 am

      That’s great! It’s best to start planning early.

  • Petra May 5, 2014, 4:44 am

    Sunk costs… One problem I have as well. I worked on a PhD thesis in a field that I was interested in, but during the PhD period my interests have shifted. Now it’s been two years since I worked on the thesis fulltime. It still isn’t finished, even though I worked on it irregularly over the last two years (in my spare time). The resulting title has become pretty meaningless careerwise since I am working in a different career now, anyway.

    It’s hard to make the decision: quit now, or continue working for who-knows how much longer, to get a title I’m not very interested in anymore (but to also make my family proud, sigh…).

    • retirebyforty May 6, 2014, 10:37 am

      My brother was in a PhD program for 5 years and didn’t make much progress in the last few years. He eventually quit the program and found a job. It was tough to walk away, but he just wasn’t going to finish anyway. I guess you need the right subject and professor to make headway. That’s tough.

    • Soon to be Ex Engr February 16, 2015, 11:33 am

      Hi, I think if you can finish your PhD without too much trouble, I mean if you can really pull it off, it may be worthwhile as an early retirement option. By this I mean, you will be able to have a lifestyle retirement by going in to teaching or a work for a NGO that is not a corporate setting. I am leaving my engineering career for a career in education. I actually cannot think of staying at home doing nothing, I tried for two years! It is not fun for me. So, I am finishing up a PhD in education now, so I can have a intellectual environment and a smaller pay compared against senior engineering positions. I wonder if you would like to purse something along those lines. A PhD, although a painful process, it can open up non-corporate jobs in many ways…

      • sonu April 15, 2017, 3:06 pm

        HI, I’m in the same boat. Would like some tips from you. Can u please share ur email ID? thanks

  • As an actor there’s a high rate of burnout. I’m not even 30 yet and I’m feeling it. It’s hard to live a life of constant uncertainty and underemployment. My advice for anyone looking to get into the field is to develop a practical skill set along with your career, that way you always have something to fall back on- like web coding or tailoring or carpentry.

    • retirebyforty May 6, 2014, 10:38 am

      Thanks for sharing. I guess you can’t last long in acting unless you can make it big. There is always new talents coming up… It’s best to go for it when you’re young. Good luck with your career.

  • EL @ Moneywatch101 May 5, 2014, 6:06 am

    I believe anyone working for others should begin saving for retirement. I also believe we all should build some sort of skill set to teach others if all else fails. Ive been working for 12 years now, financial services first and now compliance. The work is not as stressful as engineers, but from time to time, we get a lay off shake up. For this reason alone you should begin saving.

  • kim May 5, 2014, 6:38 am

    I totally agree. I am a middle manager and the road ahead looks bleak…more responsibility and more stress. I am hopeful that I can downshift but not sure if i can get a job that people will think I am overqualified for.

    • retirebyforty May 6, 2014, 10:39 am

      Sorry to hear that. I hope you can find a good compromise and figure out how to deal with management.

  • freebird May 5, 2014, 7:25 am

    Joe, I’ve been an engineer for over 25 years at one of your ex-employers’ competitors in silicon valley, and I’d say your article is dead nuts on. I was in a similar position as you, I hit my number before my 40th birthday, but obviously unlike you I didn’t take the road less traveled. But I will say that being financially ready to exit has made all the difference– if I needed my paycheck to cover a mortgage my job and life would not be nearly as pleasant and stress-free as it is now.

    I had two strokes of luck that maybe you didn’t: one I hired into a job that I disliked intensely early on (reverse honeymoon), and two my hiring director told me in a private meeting what to expect out of my career– and what he said was pretty much a copy of your article. His phrasing was a bit different than yours– he called engineering “akin to a sports career: fun and great money when you’re young, but a tough slog as you get older”. He also pointed out that unlike other lucrative fields like law and medicine, engineering wages rise rapidly early into your tenure, you don’t have to wait, but then don’t expect the sunshine to last for long. His message: bank and invest those early gains, and by all means don’t extrapolate them into the distant future.

    Learning this was kind of a surprise to me, but given the first problem, it was obvious what I had to do, so I did it. One of the little secrets about living and working in silicon valley is that wages can be very high but cost of living doesn’t have to be– cheap rents are out there if you look. So I was doing a very high savings rate early on and was ready to jump after 15 years (I beat you by a year!).

    Where you and I diverged was on your points about seniority and leadership– what you say is true in general where I work, but we also have a “specialists” path where, yes, the meeting schedule increases, but then so does your freedom of action. Being the expert means you’re the axe, so you get to define the rules, and some new hire kid gets stuck with executing your design. I was never much into supervision either but I carved out a niche in my own specialty where my leadership is basically making new discoveries and creating software tools that are widely used (and tweaked). Unlike where you used to work, my company recognizes the value of this kind of informal contribution– and this is why I stayed on, pretty much as a full time in-house consultant in my area.

    One thing I learned in technology, unpredictable stuff happens at unpredictable times, so my happy era certainly won’t last forever, or perhaps even for much longer, but I’ve stayed prepared for this. I carry my undated resignation letter in my jacket, ready to whip out at the first sign of trouble. Just a matter of time before our paths converge.

    • retirebyforty May 6, 2014, 10:43 am

      Thanks for sharing your story. You were really lucky that your manager gave it to you straight. Not many people have that advantage. It’s also great that you were able to carve out a specialist niche. My area was too general and it was easy to retrain someone to take over. If you’re going to make a long technical career, you definitely need to find a niche.

    • theFIREstarter May 7, 2014, 9:30 am

      My experience echoes a bit of both here. Although I’m not old enough yet to know exactly where I’m heading, but I’m not sure my life will get more stressful with more seniority, unless I jump ship to another company and take on loads of responsibility. At my current place things seem to be chilling out a bit and I will definitely be trying to carve out a niche as free bird has done. On the other hand the sh#t could hit the fan at any time and I could be straight back into the fire!

      Either way I still want to be out of there in approx 4 years if I can, as the commute is slowly killing me!

      • First gen American May 10, 2014, 3:10 am

        My path is like free birds. I am 40 and just being debt free for a while changed my mindset about work. Knowing that I could walk away at any time helped me ignore the stupid stuff that used to get me all riled up. My husband was a senior manager and engineer. He actually went to work for a smaller company at less pay so he could be home more. Our quality of life has improved immensely.

        Not all engineering jobs are made equally. Also, In my field, my job actually gets easier over time because I have knowledge about stuff in my head from past experiences that I can use to get to answers people need quicker. I am way more efficient than I was 10 years ago because I already know many of the answers people ask of me without having to dig or research anymore. I am now becoming the “go to ” gal on lots of stuff instead of the other way around. Although I work WAY less than I did in my 20’s, it also takes me Way less time to complete my job so I still ranked a top performer on my team.

        • retirebyforty May 10, 2014, 9:27 pm

          Hi Sandy, it’s great to hear from you. It’s really nice that it’s working out well in your field. I think being senior is more problematic in the computer engineering field. It seems like there aren’t a lot of stuff you can really specialize in. Circuit is one, but that’s pretty difficult.

  • [email protected] May 5, 2014, 7:26 am

    I agree with most of what you said, Engineering is tough in your 20’s and 30’s, but I have felt it becoming easier at 40. Maybe I’m more confident, and engineering is very traditional in giving more respect the more gray hair you have, but I also feel that most engineers in my industry are much older than me or much younger, so employers are pretty eager to hang on (or try to headhunt) us midlifers.

  • SavvyFinancialLatina May 5, 2014, 8:51 am

    Odd that our life expectancy is increasing but our career spans are decreasing at the same time. I work for an engineering company and unlike other companies we have a lot more older folks than younger folks. I’m in sourcing and don’t think I will be doing this for the next 30 years. Although there are people in my department who have been in this field for 20+yrs. Can you imagine??? We just congratulated a person on his 40 yr tenure with company.
    We are preparing to not have the same job with the company for the rest of our lives. I don’t ever want to stop working, I enjoy it. But I think the definition of working will morph.

  • Anon E. Mouse May 5, 2014, 9:03 am

    I work at your ex-employer in Portland as well.

    To be honest, I think a lot of your points apply to all careers, not just engineering. I’ve got friends at more ‘blue-collar’ jobs, and I can’t even imagine the stresses they face. Not only do they put in long hours, but they deal with management that is absolutely atrocious. While corporate politics can sometimes be frustrating, at least we don’t have to worry about being fired or verbally abused because the manager is having a bad day.

    The advantage we engineers have (as you mentioned) is that we tend to be highly compensated even right out of college, so it’s far easier to plan for early retirement (if you’re smart about living frugally). I wonder if being at ease with numbers and abstraction perhaps translates to being a bit better with our finances as well?

    But I think your advice applies to all careers. The stresses we face are trivial compared to many.

    • retirebyforty May 6, 2014, 10:44 am

      Blue collar jobs are probably tough too. At least you can change job pretty easily, right?

  • Kay May 5, 2014, 11:56 am

    I’m an engineer as well (10 years and counting) and have worked with a lot of men in their 50’s who are planning on retiring at 62. Maybe it’s the type of engineering I do, control systems engineering but I haven’t met many young people in my field. When I talk to my coworkers it’s a shock to them that I plan on being out of the field by at least the age of 50 if not sooner. Granted they are over 50 and probably can’t afford to retire so that’s why they don’t understand my logic.

    • retirebyforty May 6, 2014, 10:44 am

      Good luck with your retirement plan. It will be good to get out at 50 and find something more fun to do.

  • Sam May 5, 2014, 1:29 pm

    It’s funny, b/c at least 50% of my classmates at Haas for business school were engineers. They always get the highest scores, and the best grades, and wanted OUT of being an engineer. They wanted to get more into management.

    • retirebyforty May 6, 2014, 10:45 am

      Management sounds good in theory, but it’s not for everyone. Some people are really suited for more technical works. I’m terrible at managing people.

  • Mom @ Three is Plenty May 5, 2014, 2:18 pm

    Your advice is dead on – even for “fringe engineers” – other tech jobs like IT and security. I’ve moved more into project management, but not people management (thank god!). But you reach a dead end pretty quickly unless you want to move into management. My husband is struggling with this in his job (software engineer). Officially, their company has a “technical” track for advancement, but it doesn’t exist in practice. He’s at the top of what he’ll be paid, and he’s only 37. We’ve still got ~10 years before we’ll be financially independent, but we’re not expecting any salary increases between now and then, so we do what we can.

    • retirebyforty May 6, 2014, 10:46 am

      Good luck with your husband. Hopefully he can find a way to keep going for 10 more years.

    • theFIREstarter May 7, 2014, 9:42 am

      I get the feeling I’ve reached the ceiling at age 33 barring moving into management type role or moving company, which would involve pretty much the same deal. The thing is the utility of any extra salary is getting lower and lower, and it’s time to look at cutting expenses at this stage, as I’m sure you are Mom 🙂
      This is especially true in the UK where the 40% tax rate kicks in at just ~£42k

  • Wilson May 5, 2014, 2:24 pm

    I’ve got to say you’re article fits attorneys to a T, but for the fact we start our careers 3 years later and with additional debt. Although I’m not sure as many start out actually loving the work but are more enthralled with the status and trappings.

    As you get more experienced you often get to hand off more work to new/ junior attorneys, but being the leader means you’re expected to take on more projects, so you’re not really cutting your work level back but probably taking on more. And you’re expected to spend more time trying to bring in new business, so the result of your success is getting to work harder than ever, generally right at the time you’re starting your family and would like to transition away from the office.

    So yeah, burnout.

    • retirebyforty May 6, 2014, 10:48 am

      Thanks for sharing. Any career that require a lot of office time sounds tough these days. I’d rather spend time with the family than the office. I guess that’s a big change from the past.

  • Harry @ PF Pro May 5, 2014, 2:31 pm

    Hmm, I have similar views but have had a very different experience. I got my BS in 5 years in AE and have worked for last 5-6 years, life has been good. Never put in much OT, low-stress, gotten a couple raises, etc. Found the Bogleheads forum early on and started maxing out my 401k, HSA, and Roth right out of school. In 3-4 years, I will honestly be able to do whatever I want with my career.

    I think what really motivated me was when I discovered what the career salary arc was like for engineers. Good pay to start(1-10 years), but after that everyone else starts catching up to you. Figured I might as well save and invest as much as possible in those first 10 years.

    • retirebyforty May 6, 2014, 10:49 am

      I with I found the career salary arc early on too. That would be eye opening. Engineers’ pay ramp up early on and then level out. Young engineers shouldn’t expect their salary to rise forever.

  • Brian @ Luke1428 May 5, 2014, 3:36 pm

    “…work 50-70 hours/week with no overtime pay…” I simply could not do this. My family time is too precious to me. I only have my kids for a short amount of time and the time I spend with them is more valuable than any job. Plus, not to be paid overtime? That seems improper. Employees should be compensated properly for the amount of work they put in. Of course, this comes from a teacher who also doesn’t get compensated for the extra hours he puts in. 🙂

  • Zee @ Work-To-Not-Work May 5, 2014, 7:41 pm

    I’ve always planned for an early retirement, but that’s just because I always knew I wanted to own my own time and not spend it doing things I didn’t really care about. I’m an engineer too, I think that because I started out at 2 different startups with hectic crazy work schedules and bosses from hell, my new job seems like a walk in the park. Some of the other engineers complain about the work loads but honestly, at most they put in a few extra hours a week. I think they just expect things to be handed to them. Because of their laziness I have been noticed much quicker as a high performer and I don’t really complain about workloads so I’m guessing that works in my favor too.

    But after working for a while I’ve always had the thought in the back of my head that as I got more experience I would be able to be replaced by a cheaper younger engineer eventually. Does someone who has 25 years of experience really perform that much better than someone with 15 years of experience?

    I know if I were an employer and I had the option between the 2, if one of them costed 30% less then that would definitely be something I would consider.

    I’m hoping to ossite, but the more honest goal is perhaps 42, we’ll see as I get closer but right now I’m trying to not focus solely on retirement as I don’t want to miss out on the years until them.

    • retirebyforty May 6, 2014, 10:52 am

      Good luck with your retirement plan. Do you have a family? It’s a lot more difficult to put in more hours when you have a family. I didn’t mind spending time in the office when I first started and that was when I was a high performer. The last few years on the job, I didn’t put in a lot of OT at all. I avoided it as much as possible because I’d rather be home with the family. Also, by that time I didn’t like the job much anymore. 🙂

      • Zee @ Work-To-Not-Work May 6, 2014, 8:30 pm

        I don’t have a family at the moment, but I know that would change things a lot. I actually don’t put in a lot of overtime at my job now, only a few hours a week. It’s just that I don’t complain about it like a lot of the younger engineers that have never experienced a lot of other companies with crazier deadlines. I guess in a way grateful for having worked at places that demand more so I truly appreciate my current situation.

        But I still don’t want to be working there past 40 🙂

  • Frugal pediatrician May 5, 2014, 10:12 pm

    This is very interesting. I had talked to a few engineering friends about their frustrations. Should make us physicians grateful. Any premed knows those engineering students worked much harder than we ever did, but perhaps residency and fellowship even things out. Good luck to all the engineers out there!

  • Jay Cup May 6, 2014, 6:46 am

    I am a young engineer (graduated ~2 years ago) and I’ve found that in the Houston area in Oil & Gas there is a large gap in personnel between new grads and much older experienced engineers which may bode well for us younger folk. But I can see how you could burnout in this career, though I hope to go into project management which could extend my career life expectancy. Still, my goal is to retire by 50 and I should be on track to do so!

    • retirebyforty May 6, 2014, 10:53 am

      Good luck with your career and retirement plan. Save as much as you can while you’re young.

  • Josh May 7, 2014, 7:59 am

    Good blog and congrats in retiring. I’m an occasional reader and first time commenter. Your description applies to any in demand profession and not just in engineering. High pay typically comes with more stress. I would say that if one’s main interest is making a lot of money and having an exit plan within two decades, then finance is a much better choice. Someone working on Wall Street as a trader, investment banker, or in private equity at one of the major firms can accumulate several millions fairly easily compare to an engineer. Only way for an engineer to make over several millions in a decade and half is probably hit the IPO jackpot, move up very high in management, or is such a rock star individual employee that he’s compensated at much higher pay.

    • retirebyforty May 7, 2014, 11:24 pm

      I think finance is a much better choice as well. When you’re young, you usually don’t think about making a lot of money and then exit in 20 years. Usually, you’re looking for a career doing something you like and making good money along the way.

  • 1stuhave2findthetunnelb4ucthelight May 14, 2014, 10:54 pm

    I know some engineers, and it seems they are happy with their careers. Or at least that’s the impression. Maybe they are, but then again, maybe it’s socially not typical to voice if you really don’t enjoy your profession. Probably not in your best interests to admit that “outloud” in many professions that are really small communities when it comes to job prospects (who’d want to hire you if you admit that? – imagine you trying to get a job back at your last place of employment now after your blog!)

    I do think the grass is always greener in other’s professions. Also suspect often times it comes down to one’s employer, work atmosphere, ability to have some control, etc. Maybe that’s why some in a given profession love their jobs, and other’s hate theirs. Maybe there in the same profession, but they are just lucky enough to have a lower stressed work environment/employer.

    For example, I suspect those outside of healthcare may think that healthcare professions are highly desirable careers, but studies show that there is a great deal of burnout in the healthcare professions. I suspect many providers I know won’t admit “outloud” they are burnt out on the grind of patient care after say 15 years, give or take.

    Maybe in life, about 15 years in any one profession is enough. However, the salary level change (typically less), and the time/money put in training is the ball/chain that makes it hard to change careers. I’m sure many people would never have thought they’d get burn’t out when they were starting their new/exciting/well paying career 15 yrs earlier.

    As a lawyer posted, the higher the degree requirement, the more school one must complete, the more lost income while getting that education/training. With higher paying jobs, comes stress in various forms, often specific to the profession/work environment.

    An interesting question that I’m asking various financially successful or career successful people, “Are you hoping your kid(s) will follow in your footsteps for careers?” I’m asking honestly, as a parent, I’m hoping to steer my child (in about 10 yrs) towards an education for an occupation/career that will hopefully put long-term enjoyment over prestige/salary considerations alone. High stress will affect other areas of your life/health in less than positive ways so I suspect when it comes to work, it’s like the tortoise vs. the hare for long term finance success in many situations.

    I do think that the smart parents/kids will put costs of college options into better prospective than the old traditional thought of sending one’s kid to an expensive, but prestigious college over on-line/community college options that may be more cost effective given one’s future career may be filled with burnout years later. Easier to change careers when you haven’t invested huge sums of money/time.

    The other questions I’m asking many professionals, “What college did you go to, how expensive it was it, what major, and do you think it had any real bearing on your choice of profession or getting into graduate school?”

    Ironically, one of the main reasons I started reading your blog was that it was nice to see someone admitting/blogging how much they didn’t enjoy their chosen career anymore. Not that I’d admit “outloud” feeling the same. One thing I can say, I wouldn’t be steering my son towards a career with the ongoing grind of direct patient care, day in and day out for the rest of his working life. Love him too much to do that . . . .

    • retirebyforty May 15, 2014, 11:38 am

      My brother is an ER physician and I can see that it is quite stressful on him. Healthcare is a tough career. The training takes so much time and the job can be very stressful.
      I know many engineers that are pretty happy with their job. The ones that weren’t happy moved on. There are a few disgruntled people left over, but I think that’s the minority.
      If my kid likes science and engineering, I would encourage him to follow that path. It might work out better for him. I’d also tell him to have an exit strategy just in case.

    • Billy June 29, 2014, 4:56 am

      I worked as a CPA in corporate accounting for 30 years. My last position was Accounting Manager with a staff of 30 accountants for a major defense contractor for 11 years. All was well until the company merged with another and existing executive management was overtaken by the other. Suddenly I found myself working for the most unethical and down right mean people I have ever known. Although my stress was always high in accounting, this ‘new’ company ran my stress out the roof and that is exactly what they intended. After a few years they began massive layoffs and after a couple of years they laid me off too at age 51 only 2 years from being eligible for full retirement pension benefits. Ironically, the stress was so high being laid off was probably a life saver. I have remained unemployed and not sure what I will do next or where I will do it, but I have enjoyed the down time none the less. Now if I can find a way to access my 401k without penalty by the time I’m 55, a year and half from now, I’ll be able to survive while finally stopping to ‘smell the roses.’

      • retirebyforty June 30, 2014, 12:17 am

        Thanks for sharing. It sounds like quite a few corporate jobs are very stressful. It’s ridiculous that they were able to lay you off with only 2 years left until full pension.
        You should try to get a job with a 401k. Roll over your old 401k to the new 401k. Then you can retire when you turn 55 and withdraw from the 401k without the 10% penalty. Check with your adviser.

  • 1stuhave2findthetunnelb4ucthelight May 15, 2014, 8:26 pm

    Here’s a link to a large survey. Good food for thought at the minimum and you’re brother may find the #1 specialty listed interesting.

    http://medscape.com/viewarticle/781161

    Do engineers have a similar study? Lawyers? etc

    • retirebyforty May 16, 2014, 8:46 am

      Thanks for the link. I sent it to my brother.
      I haven’t seen anything for engineers.

  • Leisure Freak Tommy June 17, 2014, 3:47 pm

    I am a little late to this post but I just have to comment because it’s almost like an exact mirror of my own engineering career experience. Freaky! I did retire early at the age of 51 from a telecommunication lead engineer position at a Regional Bell Operating Company. I think my issue was being the go-getter that I was and the one responsible for the final answer for high profile situations just wore me out. If I had stayed a lower level engineer and just kept my head down without trying to make a difference and climb their technical ladder I may have lasted longer. Even though I retired from that engineering career, I still have pursued other passions that my engineering skills crossed over to. I was able to transition to an I.T. Sr. Systems Analyst role at a major cable company working in one of their video teams that actually paid better than my engineering career so it is possible to retire from your engineering career and still make decent money. The thing is you retire and then pursue your passions or positions of interest on your own terms. It is all gravy going forward, both financially and personally as you now are the one learning new things rather than always having to have the final answer for everyone else. I did that for a few years and I am now on retirement number 2. Looking forward to whatever happens next. It is an adventure.

    • retirebyforty June 18, 2014, 9:39 am

      Thanks for sharing your experience. It’s great that you were able to leverage your knowledge into a new career. I just got tired of the whole engineering field. Good luck on your next adventure!

  • Eric June 27, 2014, 12:33 pm

    Share a similar story. Engineer, long hours, no problem. Then kids came (which I enjoy very much), realized the long hours working did not balance well with home life. At age 37, applied for public sector engineering job. The pay is less but the hours are very reasonable. I think not having a lot of debt (other than mortgage) gave me the flexibility to take a lesser paying job.

    My work life balance is great. The job is challenging, but only for 40 hours a week. I am home every night for dinner with the kids and I can work from home sometimes. I now have 5 kids and enjoy life and work very much. I looking forward to retiring as soon as I hit my minimum retirement age (for health insurance purposes).

  • Billy June 29, 2014, 4:39 am

    You could interchange Accountant for Engineer on this article because the similarities are remarkably similar if not identical.

  • Yasser July 4, 2014, 11:02 pm

    RB40 your blog is a golden nugget. So many people have shared their experience. My engineering career lasted 14 years including a couple of years part-time while waiting for a green card and doing an MS degree in computer engineering. I wasn’t into management and I am a curious tinkerer who likes too many fields for my own good. I quit to do my own thing which is work on a PhD degree. Ten years later during which I got an MS in Electrical Engineering and an MA in math at a top-5 university, had a family and raised a 4-year old, made a tidy sum in real estate investments (but hated being a landlord!), started research then stopped for a couple of years, I am wondering whether this path is really going to work for me. I have enough to retire now at 50 with my last engineer’s salary as income in a conservative investment portfolio with a paid-off house. It might sound great to retire at 40 or 50. Doing your thing may mean you are the only one doing it, though. If you are trying acting at 40 or doing scientific research at 45 or starting your own technology company at 50, if you weren’t on that path already my experience is that it can be very difficult personally. Researchers in their early thirties who stay up in their department all day and night to get tenure won’t find it amusing that you have 2 year-old you want to spend time with. A venture capitalist or younger engineers won’t want to work with you if you have gray hair and you expect a work-life balance. I’m not talking about the superstar engineer who at 60 becomes head of engineering at Google. I am a typical engineer who likes the work but not enough to get divorced or ignore my kid or ruin my health for it. So frankly I am finding myself being nicely nudged into staying at home, watching my stocks, bonds and real estate do well and walking down to the beach to surf every day. The snag is that retirement isn’t another 14 or 15 years; life expectancy is pushing 85. I can’t imagine living like that for another 35 years. I tried hobbies like playing music or collecting stuff but I really love engineering and find myself wanting to work through Knuth’s TAOCP or rewriting a C compiler or the memory paging in Linux but all these are lonely, pointless pursuits. I would really like to be part of a meaningful engineering project with time for my little family and without hurting my 50 year-old body with stress, but this so far for me has been an illusion. It seems our workplaces have either become wastelands of unmotivated slackers making minimum wage or those hungry cats that work 50-70 hours a week as young 20-something engineers or 30-something lawyers or 40-something doctors. Managers last longer but the shake-up axe is always one or two years away. While retiring at 50 sounds good for someone who is striving for it, it can be a very lonely place. And what does your kid tell her peers at school about what you do for a living? I couldn’t be hired if I paid a company for it, because I firmly believe no one can be productive more than 5 hours in a day and therefore am not willing to go through chaotic product development cycles that require you to cram 100+ hours in a week every other month instead of every other year. If Beethoven could get more than 5 hours out of his day he certainly would have done it. He in fact worked roughly from 8 am to 2 pm then walked a long way down to the local bar and drank until dinner time. How is being away from home at an office for 15 hours a day (including lunch) and an hour at least of commute time going to make a better product than the best ever made?
    All this to say, you had better have a concrete plan on what to do during the 40+ years you will likely live if you do retire at 40. That plan needs to include doable goals, peer recognition, achievement in an area of competence, some monetization to the achievement – if only to give it a financial value – and a reasonable exit plan if that doesn’t work, i.e. a retirement plan B. The reality is that even in non-profits where you volunteer to work for free, inserting yourself in a 24/7 work culture when you don’t want to do that is going to shut you off. And 24/7 is what we have now or are tending to have, whether we need it, it is good for us or not.

  • Tom July 5, 2014, 2:46 pm

    Advice: Don’t think the university experience has anything to do with the work experience.
    This description of the engineering profession sounds awfully familiar to the architectural field. Long hours are expected, and so on. Very stressful and the construction industry and clients have pushed more and more liability on the architect. Starting salaries for intern architects are notoriously low. Here’s a survey from 2013:
    http://architectmagazine.com/business/2013-aia-compensation-report.aspx
    Here I am at 55, weighing options and wishing I would have changed earlier!

  • Hannah January 26, 2015, 6:18 pm

    RB40, I’m researching Engineering as a possible career option and am wondering now if I should jump in at all. I’m 31 and have a BS, but not related to Engineering at all. After consulting an advisor, it looks like I would be essentially starting over, would take 4 yrs for Bachelor’s, 5 Masters. I have a family and ABSOLUTELY want a 40-hr-week job, maybe even Part-time later on. Should I look at Associate’s degrees or certification instead?
    What could I train to become in 2 years’ time that would be Engineering-adjacent?
    CAD?

    • retirebyforty January 27, 2015, 9:20 am

      Do you like engineering? I recommend you find a few people who are working in the field and talk to them. Sorry, I’m not much help. It’s a good career, but it depends on the job. In my old job, you would have to compete with young new college grads who spend 60-80 hours/week at work. Older folks with family don’t want to do that. I don’t know anything about the Associate’s degree, sorry.
      Good luck.

  • Chris February 6, 2015, 5:33 am

    I’m a UI engineer – 35 years old – and currently working on an exit strategy. What are the main things I need in order to exit? What amount should I have in savings and retirement before I can say bye-bye? I know cash flow is the most important thing to have and I’m working on that by becoming an independent contractor.

    My dream is to be a full time travel writer/photographer. Right now I’m contracting 9 months each year as a UI engineer, then the travel blog for the other 3. I should be able to hit the following goals by working 9 months:

    1) Max out Roth IRA – $5,500. Currently have around $15,000 invested.
    2) Save $8,000 for travel
    3) Save $5,000 in emergency savings account

    Is that enough? Any suggestions or advice?

    • retirebyforty February 6, 2015, 11:02 am

      Are you making enough money from your other gig to support yourself?
      I would get the passive income rolling so it will cover part of your expense. Then figure out how much money you can make from travel writing/photography. Once those two number reach your expense, then you’re golden. Of course, it’d be much easier if you cut expense as much as possible.
      You probably need more in emergency saving account so you can give it a year to switch career. What’s your annual expense?

      • Chris February 6, 2015, 5:08 pm

        I make $0 from blogging. Not sure how to do it. I do that primarily for fun. My UI engineering contracting affords me the ability to do that on the side. So I work 9 months, then travel for 3. I would like to figure out a way to make some passive income from travel blogging/photography, but just not sure how to do that yet.

        And yes my emergency savings is only $22,000 right now but my goal for this year is to have that around $30,000. By the end of 2016 I want to have that at $40K.

        My expenses is roughly $4,000/month or $48,000/year. So I would need to figure out a way to make $4,000/month off of travel blogging? Boy. That would be the day!

  • engineer X May 27, 2015, 3:32 pm

    Just out of curiousity, @retirebyforty, how much$ did you have in the bank roughly and what’s your expected annual income & duration?

    I find that $1M would only net after accounting for standard risk (S&P500) and realistic inflation (3%)….3% which is only $30k. Even with house paid off, real estate tax in any decent school district would be $5~10,000 and private healthcare would take the rest of the income, so you have no money for anything else. I’m thinking $3M + house paid off to sustain middle class living, but how many engineers accumulate $3M prior to 40 with exception of rare IPO luck?

    • retirebyforty May 27, 2015, 5:00 pm

      Our net worth was a little over $1M when I quit. That won’t generate much income, but my plan isn’t to live off the investment income. I’m still working part time and we won’t take distribution for 20+ years. That should give our $1M plenty of time to grow.
      It really depends on your cost of living. Check out Root of Good. Justin accumulated about $2M and he is only spending about $2,000/month in North Carolina.

  • NonEngineer July 22, 2015, 9:43 am

    I decided to not become an engineer. Instead, I joined the military as an officer. I left the service last year after only 3 years to be a project manager. I’m 30. I currently manage a team of engineers. I only have a BA in history, PMP cert., MS in applied engineering, and a MBA. My current salary is 125k. I work about 50-60k a week and do some light traveling (a lot of those 50-60 hour weeks is me telling other people what to do and when it needs to get done). It doesn’t take a lot to successfully retire early. I literally drank and partied my way through college while my engineer friends spent years pulling their hairs out.

    • sonu April 15, 2017, 3:10 pm

      HI, I know I may sound naive,but u did two masters and that too not highly correlated? An MS and MBA. Can u pls explain how does that work? And how many years u spent for this combo? And also how did u get hired for the project mgr job assuming u hd no expereince beforehand? Please do reply, thanks.

  • Deirdre - Austintec.com September 22, 2015, 11:09 pm

    Yeah. That is happened to me too. An engineer had always been in a deadline. You might take a day off sometimes, but the next day, you might not get any chances to sleep. Like you said, and I agree, this job suits more to a younger lad. Senior engineers should have seen themselves as consultant experts rather than doing the labor themselves. Leave that kind of work to a younger engineer as they will learn a lot from that detailed work as well. Win win.

  • William Hays January 5, 2016, 1:05 am

    Civil engineer here. Started at a metropolitan planning organization in transportation planning after grad school, turning down top 200 A/E firm. After five years switched to a mid-size city public works department, becoming director by 35. Spent a total of 25 years in local government and “retired” at 48 with pension. At that point I started with a solid regional A/E firm that still had “family values.” Recently retired after a total of 41 years in engineering. Lessons learned: 1) I was not very good at managing people, even though I had a staff of 55 in public works, 2) I was really good at technical stuff, even at 64, 3) the public sector can be as demanding as the private sector, and 4) you will reach a point at which others will not listen to you no matter how technical solid and logical your presentation. That is your clue to get out, whether from that specific job or from your career. Now I operate a model railroad and explore the implications of resource depletion. No one listening still, but the trains run on time!

  • livelovelaugh October 15, 2016, 11:32 pm

    Software engineer too. I subscribed your blog. Love it. I have been thinking about leaving this career very often now. I took one computer class when I was in college back in my country. I hate it. I have no idea about it after one semester. I chose this career in 1996 only because it could change my life for the better quickly as an immigrant. I started to like software engineering shortly after and landed a very good first job in 1998 after graduated with M.S. degree. I think partly because the pay was very good and it’s very promising. I never seriously thought about saving for early retirement besides “normal retirement” until five years ago. I thought I could work until 60. I have plenty of time. I wish I knew better and earlier. I am 48 now. Thanks God that the housing market is good. The equity in two houses gives me some comfort. My current company is a fast growing startup with little over 500 people. It’s a very stressful environment. I am working with a team of very talented young people. I could be their mother. My mind is actually still good to work on cutting age technologies. It’s just that I don’t want to put the effort anymore at this age. My health is more important than anything else now. Glad I am still very healthy. I remind myself everyday it’s OK to be laid off someday. Don’t stress yourself. It’s not worth it. I hope I could still keep this career for another 3 years until my daughter goes to college. Then I will leave MA and move to Orlando to continue in this field until she graduates. My dream is to work as a greeter or similar job for Disney, the happiest place on earth and the closest place to heaven. I am sure that day will come. I can’t wait to greet you “Welcome home”.

    • retirebyforty October 17, 2016, 9:56 am

      Good luck on your journey to early retirement. It sounds like you have a good plan.

  • Chicky software engineer October 20, 2016, 1:27 pm

    So glad I found this blog Joe. I stumbled upon your blog from other blogs and I really enjoy reading your blog! I am a Software engineer too. But I might offer a different point of view. I think the problem with software engineering with me right now is technology changes so fast and you have to constantly immerse yourself in new ones every day. I used to, and still love doing this, for the most part. I chose this because I really loved it, and get well paid for it. This lasted until I decided to slow down and became a permanent employee. Then politics and bureaucracy creep in and I am hating it. Once I get my bonus, I am heading out the door, either to independent contracting again, or stay home to raise our kids. I thought about working part time too, but it’s virtually impossible to do in this field; you are either in, or you are out. Independent contracting still doesn’t solve the time investment though.
    My husband and I achieved financial independence without realizing it until recently. But he couldn’t quite adapt to the FIRE style yet, but I am fully on board. I hope by reading your blog, we can transition our family into the FIRE lifestyle by having sustainable cash flow.

    • retirebyforty October 21, 2016, 8:58 am

      I’m glad you found us! I think that’s the problem with any tech companies. You have to keep learning new things and new employees can learn just as fast as you. They are cheaper too so it makes sense for the company to rotate senior people out. Good luck on your journey!

  • Stevie November 20, 2016, 12:52 pm

    Sorry to say, I have to agree with early exit planning. When I started developing software 35 years ago, no worries about offshoring, unchecked guest worker visa abuse, endless restructuring, or goofy bureaucratic management fads. Skills were more transferable between jobs and companies.

    On the other hand, career progression in tech is so much faster now. I’m amazed at the salaries kids get right out of college, and how fast salaries ramp up. Yet baffled that just 10 years qualifies as a “senior” developer or manager. Maybe why software is still so buggy, or why so many projects go awry. There was good reason senior managers used to have a few grey hairs.

    Careers seem to be peaking at least 10 years earlier in general, even more in tech. Can vouch that keeping up gets harder, not so much by creeping laziness, but the burning desire to know and do everything wanes, replaced by non-professional interests and goals.

    And of course, the corporate world became nastier. Lean and mean isn’t just a cliche. Not that it was great, but usually at least tolerable, and considerably more supportive. Now it all seems to be sink or swim.

    The STEM field in general suffers shocking attrition. About half of STEM workers bail after 10 years, and about half of new degree holders don’t go into a STEM job. Not surprising why: no jobs, low pay compared to alternatives, or poor working conditions. So a plan B is crucial.

  • account user June 23, 2017, 2:43 pm

    If you are smart enough to be an engineer
    —that is the very reason you should not become one.

    Think about it—If your IQ is top 0.25 %
    –in (Design) Engineering you are just a nobody
    –just like everyone else.

    BUT—you can go into Medicine–and be a doctor–and Be Somebody !!!
    —or go into Finance–and be considered the genius —“the Engineer !!!”.
    but in engineering you will continue to be a nobody
    because you will be no smarter than the rest of your peers.

    If you are smart enough to be an Engineer
    –that is the very reason you should NOT become one.

  • account user June 23, 2017, 3:10 pm

    Many very high IQ high school students who are talented in Math and Physics
    –automatically assume they must become an Engineer.

    WRONG !!!—Big mistake. This might be the right decision if you are a Geek with no personality and no social skills: then by all means: Become an Engineer 🙁

    But if you are not a Geek–and if you DO have personality and some class
    –then become a doctor or a finance person or an accountant or an actuary.

    Who, — not a geek –, would want to become an “engineer”
    when he(she) can become
    a doctor or a finance person or an accountant or an actuary?

  • account user June 23, 2017, 3:23 pm

    I am an engineer, a Staff Scientist MSEE and a musician and talented in languages.
    Both my sons did not go into engineering because neither is a geek.
    One is in medicine and the other is a trial attorney.

    Hasn’t anyone ever wondered why every US president has to make a special pitch
    for High IQ American teens to go into STEM???
    Hasn’t anyone ever wondered about that???

    In Europe engineers are treated the way doctors are treated in the USA.
    Europe cherishes its engineers.
    In the USA–our Congress awards contracts and then cancels them
    throwing thousands of engineers out of work.
    Engineers are treated like dirt–and smart kids know that.

    Of course—some poor guy struggling in India doesn’t mind being thrown out of work
    –so to him being an engineer is great–so he will come to the USA and take the job that
    the smart American teen wants no part of it.

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