Career Advice

I don’t know i it’s a badge of honour or not, but for most of my professional life I did not receive any career advice, and the only time I did, I ignored it. Meaning that my decisions, half-cocked though they may have been at times, were mine, and if things didn’t quite work out as planned, I only had myself to blame.

The only time I received any career advice was in the last year of secondary school, when I wasn’t quite sure what path to engineering I wanted to take. I had already decided that, since I was good at maths and didn’t want to be a teacher, I’d plump for engineering studies. I also had (and still have) an interest in biology and geology, but I decided that I didn’t want my hobby potentially spoiled by studies in those subjects, so I’d settle for something that my studies thus far had prepared me for.

So when the career adviser saw me he must have picked up those vibes, not only of wanting to do engineering – I think I must have told him so much in words – but also of my doubts whether I was up to the job of doing a university degree. The latter may have transpired from my parents, since I was the first in the family to try and go to university (that was in the days when going to university was still a minority pursuit, and there were plenty of jobs where higher non-university degree could land you a decent job).

So his advice was to hedge my bets and go initially for technical engineer, which was a 3-year non-university degree, instead of the 5-year civil engineer university degree. Once you had that degree under your belt you could then try for the university degree, for which you would have to pass the entrance exam first and start in the second year of the university course. So in the end you would be studying for 7 years instead of 5, but you have the safety net of having a degree before you attempted for the one you really wanted.

What happened in the end was that I was being prepared, together with a few other prospective engineering students, by our maths teacher to pass the entrance exam for the university degree. My thinking on the subject was that if I passed I would start the 5-year university course, and if I didn’t I would start the 3-year non-university course.

In the end I did pass and apart from a stumble in the first year, never looked back. Who knows what twists and turns my life would have taken had I taken the career advice and settled for the lesser option? Would I ever have decided to go for the university degree, or would a prospective job have led me on a different path altogether ?


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