Blog & Events

A Professional Engineer’s Day-to-Day…Explained in a Day!

March 11, 2013

By Meagan Wey, Sophomore Mechanical Engineering student

Picture of Meagan Wey smilingAlmost any UT student can tell you the importance of internships, internships, internships. We almost never stop hearing about how to get an internship or the experience it gives you. Without a doubt, they are a valuable addition to your engineering career. Real life experience for 2-3 months can expand your engineering knowledge to new bounds that you’ll never receive in a classroom. But change the job title’s prefix, and many students get confused. I’m here to clear that up: What’s an externship?

Externships allow students to tour an engineering company for a day (typically over Winter Break). ECAC (the Engineering Career Assistance Center) partners with firms across Texas for students to tour facilities, see engineering day-to-day, and ask questions about the company.

It’s a fabulous way to network, but more importantly, a way to get a feel for company culture without working there. Externships are something I try to take part in every year, but my first one was the best! Here’s a little more about what I got to do:

My first externship was at National Instruments (NI), and as a freshman, I was purely exploring. With no clue what I wanted to do as an engineer, I was looking for possibilities. And man…did they offer up opportunities. The day was filled with presentations, and we picked which ones to go to. In a group of maybe 10 students, I listened as different engineers explained the projects they were working on and what it’s like to work at NI. They have clients I couldn’t have imagined, and the company is working on some incredibly high-tech stuff. (I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.)

We also took a tour of the facilities, which happens to be on a nature reserve. Volleyball courts, hiking trails, and more – NI’s own “Olympic games” for employees was starting the next day! We also toured the offices and saw employees at work. NI has a unique new-hire group for kids just out of college, and they get their own floor for good reason. Almost every ceiling tile had a college football flag hanging from it, and our group was given “ammo” for the ongoing co-worker rubber band battle. In other areas of the building, experienced engineers may have toned it down a bit, but there was still so much creativity and excitement emanating from the engineers, and we got to see a good transition of new-hire to experienced engineer at the company.  In the middle was a lunch with NI employees where we got to informally ask questions, and the day ended with a presentation from Human Resources about what NI looks for in employees and how to apply. All in all, it was a great day.

What I learned: If you noticed, I spent more time talking about NI’s atmosphere than their work. That day, I saw exciting and cool projects, but my time as an engineering student has shown me that it’s probably not the field I want to pursue. Is that bad? NO WAY! Sometimes, process of elimination is just as important as pursuing what you think you want. One of the best things I learned from my NI externship is how to analyze company culture. Company Olympics or their community volunteer groups didn’t seem like a big deal – this was the first engineering company I’d ever seen! But when I had an internship for a company with cubicles labeled like a parking lot, I thought back to NI and questioned what kind of environment I wanted to work in. My NI externship made me question things I’d never thought of and analyze and prioritize what was important to me in a job.

Wow, I didn’t realize I could talk so much about a 6-hour experience! Altogether, externships are a great opportunity, and I learn more about companies and myself every year I participate. Next time someone is rambling on about internships, you can share a little bit on how cool externships are, too.

Meagan Wey is a sophomore Mechanical Engineering student.