A student emailed me asking about how to go about getting into the automotive engineering business. Here are my answers.
I stumbled across your blog through an internet search and found your writing to be very interesting. I am a 24-year-old Mechanical Engineering student, and I have plans to go into Automotive Engineering.Some advice on the best way to become an Automotive Engineer would be very helpful. I spent 6 years out of highchool as a diesel/auto technician before going back to school. Is this going to be a help for me as an engineer later on?
It depends. If you are going into part of the business that is service related, such as service and diagnostics (the guys who write service manuals, develop procedures, etc.) this is very valuable experience. And it is valuable in general if you are going to be involved in hands-on vehicle work.
Is there any drafting software I can get to experement with on my own time in order to put me ahead of the game later on?Again, it depends what you are going into. If you are going to be a designer, or a release engineer who releases parts that someone else has designed, CAD is very useful. If you aren't going to be dealing with part design as much, for example you are in the vehicle testing side of things, it is less useful. The concepts among different CAD programs are probably similar, so I wouldn't sweat it too much--it is the thinking in 3D, and the craft of drawing up designs which matters. You can get a cheap copy of TurboCAD and go to town.
And most importantly: I've almost finished up my basic courses and plan to transfer to a 4-year university to finish my education. What qualities do I need to look for in an engineering program?
Look for engineering programs that have relationships with industry. You want to get into an internship, or co-op type situation if you can. This will give you invaluable experience and may line you up for a job later, if they like you. Look for schools that have good placement records--how many students go on to get jobs in their field? Look for schools that offer hands-on activities such as Formula SAE or similar competitions. Look for schools that have lab facilities for engineers where they can actually build and test things.
How much does the university matter to prospective employers?
Some other advice. If you can hook up with an engineering professor who is running a lab and working on neat stuff, especially if it is grant funded neat stuff like military research, do so. Being on a project, doing real work, is always a plus.