I went straight to university after school and got a degree in electrical and electronic engineering. I try to be a humble person and I often joke I've made a career out of knowing I don't know anything (and then finding out). I don't believe I do anything to put other people's backs up.

Since then I have had two jobs and the attitude in both was that I would never know as much, or do as much, or be worth as much as somebody who had worked their way up from the shop floor. I feel like this is a systematic issue in the UK as I have got this attitude from trainers and other people at offsite training courses as well. I have even mentioned this to my mother who proceeded to tell me that she was afraid it's true.

It has all came to a head recently and really started to knock my confidence. All the little comments here and there add up. Recently I had to visit our training school where I started a sentence with "Although I was a graduate-" and the head of the training school said "yeah well I did an apprenticeship and i got a degree and the company paid for it, bet you wish you did that now! ha ha ha" and pretty much the whole room was laughing at me.

I can brush off small comments here and there - I just remind myself of my achievements so far. And when I'm in a really bad mood, I remind myself of my achievements in relation to others. But the truth is I do feel very stupid. If I'm not silly because I don't know as much, I suppose I feel silly because I paid my way through a degree when I could have just found the right employer at 15.

Can I be a good engineer or am I doomed to be forever okay-at-best? What are the standard defences or pros to being a graduate?

  • How old are you? This is going to pass after a few years. – Stephan Branczyk Nov 15 '20 at 23:28
  • 6 years - that's why it's so annoying. Feels like the stain never comes off. – rvukwdvypd Nov 16 '20 at 11:50
  • If the biggest problem in life is that a few folks at work are dickheads - there's no problem in life. – Fattie Nov 17 '20 at 12:49
  • Anecdotally, I work in a sector where the vast majority of workers entered via practical experience rather than formal education. Those that were formally educated for it get ribbed from time to time (calling them "the professor" or pointing out their degree when they make a harmless mistake). It's all taken in good jest, in my experience. Your case seems a bit more on the nose, but is it possible that you are misreading jest as an active intention to exclude you in some way? I'm asking because you seem susceptible to self-doubt (no offense intended). – Flater Nov 20 '20 at 9:50

You can be as good and better than anyone else. Your misfortune is working with people who came up through a different path. If you worked with people who used the same path as you it would be the other way around.

You don't need to defend yourself, you're not doing anything wrong.

  • 2
    So true. I worked in a software development shop that had mostly people without a University education. They made my University of Houston (City University) sound like an Ivy League disconnected from reality, and would occasionally undermine ideas as "Ivory Tower" (Hilarious, as I earned my education rubbing elbows with middle to lower class people). I can't say how glad I am to not be working for them anymore; and, now that I'm working with people from a similar background, (but actually better than mine) the exact same things I'm doing gain praise and raises, instead of complaints. – Edwin Buck Nov 16 '20 at 1:27
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    @EdwinBuck I'm an engineer who came up totally self taught..... scares the crapola out of both sorts ;) But I've seen plenty in the OP's situation, and vice versa. – Kilisi Nov 16 '20 at 4:42
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    My Uncle was a pipe welder. My Aunt drove rigs. My Mom worked as a bartender, sales, and daycare; until she got a "professional" job. My brother fixed AC. My Grandpa built houses. I'm still aghast as to how that job thought me an "Ivory Tower" intellectual. Honestly that job was so toxic, it took me two years to come to grips with the two years of low level hazing. Love the engineers though, my first programming job was for a proper (power distribution) engineering shop. Much better than working with "software engineers", even if I count myself as a software engineer. – Edwin Buck Nov 16 '20 at 4:57
  • I guess this is the most true answer. I'll just keep on going. I do find being in an environment where it keeps getting brought up wearisome though, but I'm sure plenty of people would. – rvukwdvypd Nov 17 '20 at 8:52
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    Longer you work the more you'll realise that these sorts of things are irrelevant and not worth worrying about. – Kilisi Nov 17 '20 at 8:58
  1. People who need to make others feel bad about themselves usually have to do that because they have low self esteem, and quite often there's a good reason.

  2. You could ask the guy how many people started with an apprenticeship, and how many of them are graduates now, paid for by the company. I bet there are very, very few.

  3. You could ask him how old he is. Figure out how many years he is ahead of you. Then estimate how long it will take you to catch up with him and overtake him.

And you say "all you had to do was find the right employer at 15". That's a lot easier said than done. Because there are not that many. And there are not that many 15 year old's who are smart enough even with the right employer. Don't worry about it, you'll get ahead of him eventually.

  • And anyone who came up though a real apprentice scheme will now be rather old - Thatchers government and subsequent ones destroyed vocational training 3/4 decades ago – Neuromancer Nov 19 '20 at 21:20

I had this exact problem in my first job after graduating. Worse yet, my role was to be a Support Engineer - someone who would provide support and training to the rest of the company. I was also the company's first graduate engineer for many years.

From day one, I got grief from a bunch of engineers who'd come up through apprenticeships. Luckily, it was only a handful and a lot more of the engineers were friendly and supportive. To be honest, most of the griefers were actually pretty good blokes (and would help out when asked questions and such) - but there's a bit of a culture of ribbing and grief in engineering. There was only one guy I never could get on with - but he was difficult with everyone.

After a few months, most of the griefing passed - why? I'd earnt the other engineers respect. How? By:

  • being good at the jobs I'd been tasked with;
  • learning from the other engineers;
  • actively seeking their experience advice and help;
  • not refusing a task as not worthy of my education;
  • being willing to get my hands dirty.
  • My experience is very similar, though i actively went looking for their advice just to pet their ego, knowing that’d be the fastest way to show that i don’t think i know better than them....ofc they certainly had valuable knowledge, but some of it was equally bullshit and outdated, but the sheer attempt to ask their advice first, was a surefire way to get their respect. – morbo Nov 16 '20 at 13:32
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    Those answers would be helpful, but I've worked for 6 years. I know all of this stuff and I've done it, but it seems like in the companies where I've worked a lot of people never let it drop. – rvukwdvypd Nov 17 '20 at 8:53

Take a look at the Engineering Council's UK-SPEC documentation. You'll notice that there are some competences included in the standards for I.Eng. and C.Eng. that do not appear in the standard for Eng.Tech.. Those are the skills that an engineering degree is (assuming that the degree programme is accredited as meeting the educational requirements for I.Eng. or C.Eng.) more likely to help you develop than an engineering apprenticeship, i.e. the 'standard... pros to being a graduate'.

  • This is a good and interesting answer, however I'm not 100% sure it applies. Plenty of employers will pay for shop floor staff to get degrees so that they can move from maintenance into engineering. Some of the shop floor engineers are more highly educated then I am because they go for company funded MSc degrees after their BEng degrees. I came to my senses and dropped from an MEng to a BEng to save a year's tuition and feel no need for an MSc in anything right now. Of course, anybody with two brain cells can go through the degree mill, especially if it's at a local college... – rvukwdvypd Nov 17 '20 at 8:53
  • 'Plenty of employers will pay for shop floor staff to get degrees' Yes, such arrangements do exist, although overall, employers are only willing to pay the tuition for a tiny fraction of the number of graduates they want to employ. You're right that my answer doesn't apply to "degree mill" institutions: I've edited it to make clear that it only applies to accredited engineering degrees. – Daniel Hatton Nov 17 '20 at 15:30

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