Now that we’ve all been working from home for over a year, we know that working remotely is a real possibility for most professions. And yet when it comes to engineering, we don’t see that many remote engineering job opportunities. Why is that? Is it because of practical reasons, you can only do the work on site? Or do we need to show and convince companies and engineers that you can work from home as an engineer? Like Sol is doing…
Sol Rosenbaum is an experienced independent mechanical engineer. Not only has he been working remotely for many years while building an impressive engineering career, he also shares career advice on his website The Engineering Mentor.
How did you get into engineering? And how did you become a freelance mechanical engineer?
I grew up surrounded by many engineers in my extended family, so it was no surprise that I decided to go to engineering school where I attained a BS and MS in mechanical engineering. My initial role was in the energy engineering world and I have remained in that world in various roles for the past 18+ years. Currently, I work primarily for one firm as head of the green & energy services department. However, due to Covid, I am not on a contractor status and have started to rebuild my prior consulting firm and take on additional clients.
What made you decide to start your website The Engineering Mentor?
The Engineering Mentor was born out of my desire to “pay it forward” and help the next generation of engineers in a manner that was afforded to me. I came to realize how lucky I was to have had such amazing mentors and that this was something many younger engineers were lacking. So I started The Engineering Mentor as a side project to help these engineers with some support and lead them towards success.
Why did you choose to work remotely as a mechanical engineer?
I’ve been working primarily remotely for about 14 years. There are times where I go onsite or meet with clients, but this has been a function of the work I’m performing and the work models of the companies for whom I have been working. At this point, it would be extremely difficult to return to an office on a daily basis as I am so happy to have no commute and never sit in traffic again.
“It would be extremely difficult to return to an office on a daily basis as I am so happy to have no commute and never sit in traffic again.”
Did you experience any challenges specific to mechanical engineers who would like to work from home? And what did you do to overcome them?
The hardest challenges for me were time management and missing face to face interactions. Time management is tough since there is no separation between your work environment and home environment. Plus if you work at a firm that also has office workers, you will always be fighting the stigma that those who work in home offices may be slacking off. To overcome this challenge, I became much more regimented with my schedule as well as placing my phone away from me at times when I was not working.
As for missing the face to face interactions, I replaced that with more local meetups with other friends that were working from home and also have used Zoom/Skype even before it became popular over the past year.
On your website you talk about how important it is to keep learning as an engineer. What are you personally doing to keep up to date and learn new skills?
I read a ton of book and articles as well as attend sessions at various conferences. Another skill I am passionate about is public speaking and I regularly attend Toastmasters club meetings to help improve that skill as well.
You’ve written about networking tips for introverted engineers. What made you decide to write about this topic?
Many engineers were having a tough time with their job search, but I saw that the subsection of introverted engineers were having a particularly tough time with the networking side of things. I came out with those tips geared towards that group to really help give them a boost as I never want to see any of them struggle to land a job. They’re such qualified engineers, but they were getting passed over since many did not feel comfortable promoting themselves and reaching out to people.
“Introverted qualified engineers were getting passed over since many did not feel comfortable promoting themselves and reaching out to people”
What would be your number one tip for introverted engineers who want to work on building their network?
Find a common hobby or interest and use that as a springboard to a deeper connection. It doesn’t have to be engineering related and I would actually recommend it not be engineering related. Use these avenues to get to know someone on a different level so that you feel comfortable opening up and asking for some guidance.
You’re also a mentor to other engineers. What are some of the topics that you see many engineers struggle with? And what is your advice to them?
Many younger engineers have a specific job or passion in mind. They become laser focused on that area and push away other opportunities. I like to tell younger engineers to be more open to new possibilities and instead focus on the role you’re performing and the skills you will gain along the way. Doing this will allow for much greater career mobility.
“Be more open to new possibilities, focus on the role you’re performing and the skills you will gain along the way. Doing this will allow for much greater career mobility”
Additionally, what many studies have shown is that passions are developed over time. When you start to enjoy your role and feel like you are making a difference, then you begin to have a passion for that arena. For example, I had literally no driving passion or specific interest for the area of energy efficiency which I entered right after engineering school. In fact, I took no energy efficiency or energy engineering classes in undergrad as technical electives because it simply was not on my radar. However, I began to love the field and honestly don’t see myself moving out of it at all.
As an independent engineer who works from home you have more work flexibility. How do you find a balance that works for you?
I think the fact that I have been working remotely for so many years has given me a decent amount of flexibility. My core hours of work are generally the same, but my start and finish times are different every day. As long as my work is getting done, nobody cares if I am in the office from 9-5.
“As long as my work is getting done, nobody cares if I am in the office from 9-5”