An Interview with Craig Janus, Electrical Engineer

by Cathy Sivak
Tool removing a piece of a computer board

Craig Janus freely admits he's addicted to learning... so far he has earned a bachelor's in electrical engineering from Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., a master's in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, and recently began to earn a Master's in Business Administration from Washington University in St. Louis, Mo. “School is very easy for some people, I guess,” he tells EngineeringSchools.com.

As a two-year veteran of the nation's largest defense contractor, Boeing-McDonnell Douglas in St. Louis, Craig works in the flight controls lab. He has aspirations to move up in the company, or to potentially move on to other business executive opportunities. For Craig's take on the field of engineering and the opportunities available to future engineering college graduates, read on.

Education Information & Advice

How did you initially decide to study engineering? How did you find a school?

I was good at math and physics, so I figured engineering was a combination of both. I chose Bradley because I knew I'd do better at a medium-sized school. I went for a visit, and they sold me on the school and on the engineering program. I went on to the U of I for my master's in electrical engineering to make myself more marketable in the field.

How did you decide to pursue your MBA?

I'm kind of addicted to classes and learning anyway, plus it's free because my employer pays for it. I recently figured out that 22 people in my MBA class are Boeing employees, so every year, they are paying out $1.7 million on tuition just for Boeing employees to go to Washington University for MBA programs; that doesn't include those they send back for other degrees.

They make the investment because at Boeing in St. Louis, the employees are fairly immobile. They grew up here, they go away to school, they come back and they stay here for life.

I decided to take the MBA, for a couple of reasons: one side was so I could make more money, and the other was to make it easier to get into the other side of the house, a promotion to management side. I wanted more experience for my job. I'm intrigued by the business side of the field. If you look at the profiles of business executives, roughly 80% of them have MBAs.

How can prospective engineering students assess their skill and aptitude?

If they have the capacity to understand complex things such as math and physics, they might want to pursue something in the engineering field. Their interests will decide what area of engineering to get into. If they like to tinker, they'd make good electrical or mechanical engineers; if they like construction, they might make a good civil engineer; and if they can't get off the computer five minutes a day, they might want to get into computer engineering.

What factors should prospective students consider when choosing an engineering school?

If you seem to want go to a professor for more guidance, show up for the office hours, or like to work in groups, the smaller size school is for you; if you're a loner, you'll probably do just fine at a larger school.

Based on what you hear in the industry, what do you think are the most respected and prestigious schools, departments or programs?

U of I is highly ranked, and of course I like Bradley, but I went there. They aren't particularly highly ranked, but you can get decent job out of there.

Does graduating from a prestigious school make a difference in landing a good job?

I guess. Boeing probably would have hired me without the masters, they needed a lot of people. I didn't have the experience of anyone saying, “Oooh, you graduated from a top-ranked school.” They recruited me, and I figured if I sat around and waited for a job for a couple months, all that opportunity-cost was moving away. I figured I'd take the job, and move on at some point.

What can students applying to engineering schools do to increase their chances of being accepted?

You need to apply to schools that are kind of in line with your numbers: GPA, test scores. If your ACT score is 22 or 21, you don't want to apply to MIT. If your ACT score is higher, then you've got other choices. Visit the schools before you apply to them. Pick a place you're going to be living the next four years, forget how great the school is. You can find a number of great schools, some of which you're likely to get into, some of which you might not get into.

What is right and wrong with today's engineering educational offerings?

Some people graduate from Electrical Engineering programs at the bigger schools and might not even know what an integrated circuit board looks like. They do a lot of theory, but not a lot of practical experience.

You & Your Career

Tell us about your career thus far in the field of engineering. How do you envision your career unfolding?

I've been with Boeing about two years. It's OK. The atmosphere at Boeing-McDonnell Douglas, the military side, you can't get fired unless you do something extremely terrible. There's not a lot of incentive to excel. Of course, if you are a model employee, and work your butt off for 20 years, then you'll have a salary at $120,000 and your own parking space. If you're there for 20 years, and everyone knows you're a slacker who can do one thing, and you are only marginally good at it, well, you'll still probably be there, but you'll only be at the $80,000-$90,000 marker. Which is still a decent living, not bad for a slacker. They basically have your average salary, 3.5 % to 4.5% raise based on bonus and such. It sometimes seems like a breeding ground for mediocre engineers... There are people in the company who have been in the technical field for a quite long time who are admirable, who I wouldn't mind emulating, but there are others that I would not want to follow in the path of. I wouldn't mind being one of the highly-respected, admirable engineering types. Right now, I'm in the flight controls lab, and I want to be a flight controls designer, which is a field where I might actually be pretty happy. With flight controls, you have the flight stabilators, where you make the wings move - swivel up & down, that makes your plane move, pitch up and down, roll left and right (clockwise or counter-clockwise); rudders to control lateral -side to side- movement. Those are your control surfaces. Not the electrical controls, the actual mechanisms that control the plane. I may get my MBA and move on. I hear IBM and Ford have become top recruiters of MBAs. I might go the straight business route. Some of them take you in, they want the science analyst and put you in a three-year extensive training program. There are a lot of possibilities, I could take a 15% increase in pay by moving into consulting in Chicagoland, then maybe jump back down here. I don't plan to have kids, so it helps the career to be to very mobile.

Describe your dream job and your nightmare job.

My dream job would be to own a wakeboarding school and be a wakeboarding instructor. I'm sure there might be engineering jobs I could like as much as wakeboarding, I just haven't found them yet.

The nightmare job would be the job where you literally do nothing all day long. I know people like this: they have no assignments, they go to their boss and say, “I have no assignments,” and are told, “I know, but you can't go home.” It would be OK for a couple weeks, but pretty boring after that.

What steps did you take as a student to launch your career?

I did an internship with Andrew Corp., which makes antennas and satellite dishes, who're headquartered in Orland Park, I was a radio frequency engineer intern in their Addison, Ill., offices.

Another internship I did was with McDonald's Kitchen Equipment Systems. They do the fryers, apple pie timers, shake machines, basically everything covered in the kitchen of a McDonald's is covered by the equipment system engineers.

Do you feel that is important for someone to be passionate about engineering in order to be successful in the field?

No. You don't need be passionate. It's not like being an artist.

What specialized computer programs do engineering professionals typically use?

It depends on the field you're going into. Matlab®, short for Matrix Laboratory, is big in most of the schools; anyone in control theory uses Matlab for modeling and simulation. P-Spice simulates electrical components. There's Logicwork that lays out circuit boards. If you're a mechanical engineer, SolidWorks is a big program for 3-D layout and design.

What are the hottest engineering specialties? What other kinds of job tracks are available to graduating engineering students?

Nuclear has historically been really big. I don't know if computer and software engineer may have passed up electrical engineering in terms of salary range. At Boeing, if you go to school like U of I for aerospace engineering, there's not very many who go into it and being a very specialized degree, almost guarantees a job in the aircraft industry.

As far as the U.S. job market in the regular engineering field, a lot of people tend toward becoming a systems integrator as opposed to those who go into design work. It depends on what kind of job you get, and with whom.

Editor's Note: If you would like to contact Craig Janus directly to learn more about educational and career opportunities in engineering, click here.

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