Becoming an engineer without a degree is possible, but rare. Here are a few reasons why it’s hard to become an engineer without a degree:
- It takes a long time. Most of the methods to become an engineer without a degree involve working your way up from an entry-level position. This can take years. You might be better off working towards an engineering degree while working. It may take longer than 4 years, but it would still probably be equivalent if not shorter to the time it would take you to become an engineer without a degree.
- HR Requirements. As unfortunate as it is, sometimes HR at companies will set degree requirements for positions. This means that even if a hiring manager saw your resume and thought you would be perfect for an engineering role, they wouldn’t be able to give it to you because of HR guidelines. It might never even make it to them since HR/recruiters typically screen resumes before sending them to hiring managers.
- Coursework. Lack of coursework is a barrier to entry for getting an engineering job without a degree, especially in design and R&D. You can learn most engineering skills on the job. However, it’s hard to design complex things when you lack the courses that cover mechanics of materials, heat transfer, and other core concepts that other engineers learned.
However, where there’s a will, there’s a way. Here are 5 ways to become an engineer without a degree:
- Work your way up the manufacturing line
- Start as a technician
- Go into a less technical side of engineering
- Focus on your strengths
- Learn to code
1. Work your way up the manufacturing line
Manufacturing roles are great because they provide lots of opportunities for promotions. The most entry-level job you can get in manufacturing is an operator. Operators are the employees that physically put together the products on the manufacturing line. From there, you can become the line lead, meaning you are the head operator of your line. Then you can become a supervisor, which entails managing a line of operators without being an operator yourself. From there, you can get into supply chain planning and potentially work your way up to a manufacturing engineering position.
Every company has its “janitor to CEO” stories. In engineering, the majority of these stories occur in the manufacturing realm. There is a lot of opportunity for growth in manufacturing.
2. Start as a technician
Another way to become an engineer without a degree is by starting as a technician. Technicians are responsible for building and fixing products and machines within the company. It’s a very technical and hands-on job. This is a great choice if you love the hands-on nature of engineering.
Technicians work very closely with engineers, and it’s even common for technicians to provide design input. Depending on the role, it’s not uncommon for technicians to be making six-figure salaries and they are generally highly regarded. Becoming a technician is the fastest way to get extremely familiar with the company’s products and start working with engineers.
If you start as a technician, you can generally work your way up from an entry-level technician to a more advanced position. The more experience you have as a technician, the more likely you are to be working closely with engineers. Through networking with engineers in this position, it’s possible to become an engineer yourself.
3. Go into a less technical side of engineering
It’s hard to become a design engineer without a degree. Getting hands-on experience can be done, but learning the fundamental concepts taught in engineering school is hard to do on your own. It would be difficult to become a design engineer without the advanced knowledge of mechanics of materials, thermodynamics, fluid dynamics, controls, and other core classes taught in college.
Luckily, there are a lot of branches of engineering outside of design. Manufacturing, quality, and supply chain are all less technical jobs that rely less on theory and more on concepts that can be learned on the job.
Many of these positions still involve design work and critical thinking. For example, upstream manufacturing takes a product from R&D to commercialization. This involves setting up and optimizing brand new lines, designing tooling and fixtures, and training operators. It’s so design-oriented that it’s one of the most common jumping points for people transitioning to R&D.
Read How to Become a Design Engineer: 5 Tips for advice on switching into R&D.
4. Focus on your strengths
Make sure you play up your strengths in your resume. Figure out what is appealing to you about engineering. Do you like to design things? Do you like to build things? Are you a problem solver? Find your strengths and focus on implementing them into your current job and highlighting that on your resume.
Jobs like technicians and field workers are super hands-on and require a lot of critical thinking and problem-solving. You can still work in engineering-related fields without directly being an engineer.
5. Learn to code
Software engineering is a field that can be broken into without a college degree. Learning to code online is easier than ever. You can be completely self-taught or pay for a course or boot camp.
Either way, start by self-teaching. Harvard’s beginner coding course, CS50: Introduction to Computer Science is completely free and available to everyone. This is a great place to start if you’ve ever wanted to learn to code but didn’t know where to begin. It’s also a great base knowledge course to have if you decide to pay for a boot camp. Coding Bootcamps claim you can start with no previous knowledge, but it’s really better if you start with some knowledge.
Doing Harvard’s course or another free online one (there are tons) is also a great way to get your feet wet and decide if it’s something you’re really interested in.
When it comes to getting a coding job without a degree, what you really need to do is build a portfolio. Develop a portfolio of coding projects and put them on GitHub. Employers need to see that you have the coding knowledge necessary to be successful in the role.
Read How to Get a Software Engineering Job with No Experience: 3 Tips for more information.