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Zubin Ajmera
Zubin Ajmera • Jan 27, 2016

3 questions to determine if Industrial Engineering is the RIGHT major for you

You know the feeling – you select a major, take classes, complete semesters – only to realize later this is not what you like or want to do.

Not only it is frustrating, but then you are in different minds with all sorts of questions coming up. I especially see this a lot with industrial engineering students. The obvious reason for that is we really don’t know what IE is (and what’s out there for IEs) since it’s not counter-intuitive like other majors.

Some questions seem to pop up –

“Is IE worth majoring in?”

“What are the job prospects of IE?”

“What do IEs do on a daily basis?”

etc..

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It even becomes more challenging to differentiate industrial engineering with mechanical engineering or civil engineering since we believe they are same.

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To be honest, I had the same experience and I feel this was true 10 years back and this will be 10 years in future. Why ? Because industrial engineering, as we know, is so broad that it can take any form and we’ve perceived it that way –

Want to learn the ‘business’ side ? IE has classes
Want to ‘easily’ get jobs ? IE has so many jobs
Want to be non-technical ? No problem, IE can give you options
This is not to say that industrial engineers are ‘Jack of all trades, Master of none’. The critical point to understand is we need to set important criterias to determine if it is something worth majoring in, if it is something worth investing your time and money in.

After years of being in IE, surrounded with so many students, talking with senior professionals, I have come to realize what I believe are the most important questions you need to ask to decide if IE is the right major for you.

Let’s start by examining all 3 –

1.What’s your interest level in Coding/Programming ?

In my experience, industrial engineers code less than an average engineer. This is not to say that they do not code or are non-technical or they don’t work on programming softwares. Sure, they do. Or in many cases, they don’t.

I have seen people code programming languages like SQL, Python, VBA and I have also seen people working on basic softwares like Excel for data analysis. The main point to understand here is in the majority of cases, they will code really less than what an average computer or a software engineer does in their jobs.

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Some questions to keep asking yourself as you go through this process –

  • Can I see myself sitting in front of a computer and coding different languages ?
  • Will I enjoy working on production floors/facilities ?
  • Do I enjoy client-facing environment ( talking to people, working on their problems and coming up with solutions) on a daily basis ?
  • Do I like working with numbers – data sets, graphs, charts, visualization tools, etc. ?

2. Are you OKAY with more opportunities, but maybe less salary ?

I get a ton of responses when I ask people how much IEs are paid, and I receive lots of fascinating replies –

  • “IEs get equivalent to other majors”
  • “You shouldn’t worry about salary, getting a job is more important”
  • “It just depends”
Now, we know what these responses are telling us and to some extent they might be true. But, let’s be brutally honest. The salary of an average industrial engineer is comparatively lower than let’s say an electrical or a computer engineer.

In fact, if you Google and compare on reputable sites like Glassdoor, Payscale, you can get a good rough estimate on what an average industrial engineer makes.

This is not to say they can’t earn more –there will always be companies who will pay equivalent or higher

This is not to say they don’t have any skills or abilities or that they aren’t ‘real’ engineers — just like human beings, every major is different and unique. Stop comparing apples to oranges.

In fact, I myself did some analysis and here’s what I found –
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The point here is, salary is not a measure to what you know or what major you graduate from. But, IEs in salary rankings will almost come after any other engineering major.

On the other hand, industrial engineers get comparatively many of job opportunities. Don’t we all know this ? We are so broad and encompass various aspects of the industry like Logistics, Supply Chain, Manufacturing, etc.

This inevitable opens doors to jobs in almost every company. We’ll go over the job titles in future posts, but for now all you need to know is, industrial engineers indeed get more probability than other majors.


3. Are you interested in Consumer Goods Products as opposed to Software Products ?

Industrial engineering expands into various categories in the product chain. But, as a general rule of thumb, this is into consumer or manufacturing of goods.

This can mean anything you see around – Cars, Heaters, Mobiles, Laptops, Notebooks, Cosmetics, Clothing, Shoes, Construction, Watches, Bags, Perfumes, Furniture, etc. – in a nutshell – all Retail.

This does not conclude 2 things –

  • There are only manufacturing jobs in IE : Like we discussed before, IEs can take various job roles – Consultant, Analyst, Engineer, etc. It doesn’t necessarily have to be manufacturing
  • They can never go into non-consumer goods industry : There are hundreds and hundreds of software technology companies (Eg: Airwatch, Llamasoft,OM Partners) , consulting companies (Eg: Deloitte, E & Y) which hire industrial engineers for various roles
However, if you were to quickly assess, you’ll see the majority of companies hiring industrial engineers will be in this industry.

Conclusion:

There’s no formula to come up with the exact answer here. In fact, I believe answers to such type of IE questions are so vague out there that you’ll never know yourself if industrial engineering is the right major for you.

But, if you do the above outlined process systematically, you can greatly narrow and filter your options which eventually will bring you to a solid decision.

Let me know below in comments section how was this helpful.
Kaustubh Katdare
Kaustubh Katdare • Jan 27, 2016
Interesting article, @Zubin Ajmera . About a decade ago, almost everyone I knew who got into Industrial Engineering had a clear plan of opting for MBA after their engineering. Looking forward to more such posts 😀

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