On the path to engineering

Meant to be: childhood clues often predict a successful engineering career

Many of today’s engineers did not have opportunities as children to learn about the field. In some cases, they grew up not even knowing that it was a career they could choose until their freshman year of college. But if you look closer, the curiosity was there from the start: building things, taking them apart, a strong interest in how things work, excelling in math and science.

We salute the innovative people who make up our engineering teams at BAE Systems, and commit to providing more opportunities—such as MATHCOUNTS and FIRST Robotics—that help kids gain STEM experience. Not only could it awaken the next generation’s interest in an engineering career, but it can help prepare tomorrow’s workforce to change the world.

In honor of Engineering Week, we asked several of our engineers what clues from their childhood might have predicted their aptitude for engineering. Do any of them sound familiar?

When I was a child, I was very interested in toys that allowed you to construct different objects. One of my favorite set of toys was K’NEX® building sets. I played with those sets from kindergarten to 12th grade. I even used them in one of my senior capstone projects in my engineering magnet program in high school.
 

I built a map of all the bike trails in my hometown of Homer, Alaska, so that I could find the most efficient way to get from school, to the comic book store, to the gas station for snacks, and then home, in order to not raise suspicion. Possibly the most important map I’ve ever made.
 

My aunt gave me a roller coaster computer game when I was in elementary school and I decided to give it a try. I ended up loving it! I’d sit at the computer for hours coming up with different track configurations to keep the car from flying off the track. 

In fourth grade we had to develop a system that would allow a raw egg to survive a drop off the third story fire escape at my school. I spent hours outside of class experimenting with different designs and materials. I probably dropped more than 100 eggs out of the hayloft in my parents’ barn.
 

It all started when I was a little girl. I was always fascinated with LEGO® bricks, solving puzzles, and of course, my BARBIE® dolls. I always challenged myself by designing and building my BARBIE® doll a house with limited quantities of LEGO® bricks.

A clue from my childhood that I would someday become an engineer was my habit of building everything from parts, including my first bicycle, motorcycle, car, radio, TV, and computer.
 

I would disassemble every piece of electronic equipment in the house, including televisions, radios, VCR players, amplifiers, and cassette players, either to repair it or just to figure out how it worked.

I was a very curious and creative child, always intrigued to learn about how things worked. A lot of my toys had a common theme of building or problem solving. I helped my parents with work around the house, especially with things like building new furniture. Preparing for the science fair was my favorite time of year.
 

Any toy that broke down provided the perfect learning opportunity. Take it apart, figure out how it was supposed to work, fix it, and play on. As a matter of fact, the toy did not need to be broken; I had fun taking it apart anyway just to see how it worked!

I got a model rocket kit when I was about 10, and fell in love with the idea of flight and the machines designed to enable it. The challenge of building something to operate as a flight vehicle, first from a kit and then from scratch, eventually led to a career in the Air Force as an engineer.
 

I was intrigued by our VCR player as a child, so I took it apart, but failed to put it back together in working order. As I progressed through high school, I gravitated towards math and science classes. I took them as electives and also joined the after school engineering program. 

As a child I loved learning new things and trying to understand how stuff worked. I read a lot and participated in local math competitions and summer science camps. In high school I had a great chemistry teacher who showed me the impact that chemistry has on our daily lives. I ended up becoming a chemical engineer.
 

In my last year of elementary school, we had to build a balsa wood model plane. Everyone else started with a kit from a hobby store, but I took a different route. First, I designed the plane on paper, using pictures and other models for reference. Then I got generic pieces of balsa and built my model from scratch.

From the age of five or so, my brothers and I were constantly in our dad’s shop tinkering with different projects. What started with simple things, such as pinewood derby cars and small gifts for Christmas, grew into helping put up additions on our house or completely rebuilding cars.
 

Through my participation in several Engineering Design Teams and STEM programs in high school, I realized that I liked solving problems and working with others.

Many engineers when they’re younger really excel in math, and when I was a child I had a similar experience. I really enjoyed all the math subjects.
 

I enjoyed creating with LEGO® bricks, and building things with them other than what was on the box.
 

For more childhood clues as well as career advice, check out these short videos to get the perspective of several other BAE Systems engineers: