Why engineers shouldn't be afraid to quit their IT careers to pursue a different field

A year ago, I went for an interview. It was for journalism school. The night before the interview I sat with my roommate and prepped for the dreaded face-off. She started with the regular slew of questioning. Where are you from? What are your educational qualifications? Why do you want to study in this school? I rehearsed: I am from Gujarat, I am an engineer and I want to become a writer. She pre-empted my interviewer's follow-up questions and asked me, so why did you quit engineering to become a journalist?

We fumbled all night to come up with a politically correct, balanced answer that would project me as a worldly person not afraid to take risks. In the end we came up with a half-lie which was strategically worded to mask my insecurity of becoming an engineer-cum-journalist, because here is the truth — society perceives half-breeds like us as pariahs who could not make up their mind about a career choice and ended up giving up on a lucrative career option.

So next day when I stepped into the interviewers room and babbled my answer, the interviewer was immediately wise to my words. He read between the lines and gave me the real reason why I became an engineer — my parents. His exact words were, "Most parents think that their kids are incapable of taking care of themselves in this big bad world and they think a safe job like an engineer or a doctor, is going to ensure their happiness."

I stared at him agog. Two things went through my mind — first, I definitely think that was going through my parents mind when they first held me in their arms and second, I will do them injustice if I were to blame my choices on them.

It has taken me a lot of time to come to terms with the fact that even though engineering was my parents idea, it has made me a better person. To most (including the interviewer who thought that most parents but him are stupid) this is a cliched answer, but this is the reality, and here is why.

India's educational system has been neatly divided into silos. In that, if one have had to make a career choice after 12th grade, options like — engineering, medicine, CA, MBA, economics, designing, literature, etc, come to mind. However there is no option to accommodate and combine interests like medicine and designing, or engineering and literature. India lacks the idea of inter-disciplinary studies.


So why is inter-disciplinary education important?

If you have watched the movie 'A Single Man' you will marvel at the pure genius that is Tom Ford (director of the film). Tom started his career as an architect. He went on to study fashion, work in the fashion industry and gaining fame as the creative director of the fashion label Gucci. Today he has an Oscar-nominated film like 'A Single Man' under his belt. To many, he is an inspiration. And he never limited himself to one field.

Inter-disciplinary education, which is rather prevalent in other countries like the United States, gives students the choice to study medicine and literature. It does not limit students to one subject and one field.

When in school, most of us are good at various subjects like Mathematics, English, Economis, History, etc. Once after you are done with higher secondary and are faced with the daunting question of choosing that special one, leaving everything else behind, most people feel a pinch.

So when faced with the question, "How has your engineering helped you become a journalist?", I say: My education uplifted me, that was its role and it did that. One can never have too much education and if millennials decide to take the path of acquiring more than one skill-sets that should be lauded as a great thing.

Today the world has famous role-models who have achieved excellence in fields which were not necessarily their college degrees. As this Firstpost article points out there are many who started out as engineers and then went ahead to pursue their dreams and made it big.

So this Engineer's Day, I want to congratulate all those who are passionate about this field, after all they are going to build our 'futuristic' world. But I would also like to wish those engineers who are achieving excellence in other fields and pursuing education with a fervour.

Updated Date: Sep 16, 2016 15:12 PM

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