While living and working in Australia I experienced some of the greatest times of my life. But I went through a period where I didn’t love working as an engineer. Since I switched disciplines from plant engineering to reservoir engineering (a role in which my only previous experience was a three-month rotation), I had a steep learning curve and my new job wasn’t exactly what I expected.

I was working in reservoir simulation, which involved coding and waiting many hours for a simulation to run. The long simulation run-time resulted in working long hours to meet tight deadlines. The job was completely office and desk based, and I would notice that unless I had to get up to use the restroom or eat I wouldn’t move from my desk all day. There was no hands-on aspect to my job, and the concepts were very abstract because we were discussing the size of the reservoir containing the gas underground that we couldn’t see. I also often felt like I was competing with my co-workers since many of us were doing a similar job at the same pay grade, and I didn’t like that aspect of the job. I found myself very unhappy at work and wondering if I wanted to spend my whole career as an engineer.

I did some soul searching on what my interests were and what might make me happy. I like pretty things, creating, working hands-on, challenging and independent work. I allowed myself to envision any dream job, and one that really stood out to me was designing and creating greeting cards and t-shirts. I found a graphic design course that was part-time in the evenings that I could complete in a year. I thought, why not give it a shot? So I signed up during my second year living in Australia. I spent all my free time that year working on my graphic design course work and I loved every minute of it. I was so inspired because one of my teachers owned a letter press studio that made the most beautiful cards I had ever seen.

At the end of the year, I was proud of my finished portfolio. I’d worked hard and created some beautiful work. But I wasn’t an artist. I could put together nice typography and images, but I couldn’t create original illustrations. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do greeting cards with just typography.

So I put graphic design on the back burner and focused again on engineering. I told myself that when and if I have children, and if I wanted to stay at home with them, then I could work on my graphic designs again during their nap times. And my dream has become true, but not exactly how I originally envisioned it. Now that I am a mom (but still working as an engineer) I’ve used my graphic design education many times. I’ve designed my son’s birth announcement card, my family’s Christmas cards, a Valentine’s Day card from my son, my son’s first birthday card, a logo for my sister, and the logo and website color theme and tips graphic for this blog.

In my third year at work in Australia after I completed my graphic design course, I moved to a new role focused on reserves. This job was more suited to my work interests and skills. I had defined deliverables, so it wasn’t as abstract as the simulation work. I found myself slowly liking my job again as the year went on. I was doing work that was important, valued, high profile, detail oriented, and challenging.

During that third year living and working in Australia I was ready to start a family. I wondered if it would be hard to raise children on the other side of the world from our families. Also, my husband and I each only had one year left on our work visas which allowed us to live and work in Australia. So, we decided to start looking for job openings within our company, knowing it could take awhile to find positions for both of us. Shortly after we started looking I became pregnant and we found two job openings in the US, only one state away from our home state. One opening was for a production engineer and the other was for a reservoir engineer. It felt like a sign that this was our time to move back, so we applied.

We did video interviews for the jobs since we couldn’t be there in person. Everything went well and we were both offered the jobs. We couldn’t believe it – we were moving back to the US! It was a very bittersweet time. I just found out I was pregnant, so I was happy to be moving closer to our families in the US, but we had loved living in Australia. Our lifestyle there was unbeatable and we’d made some wonderful friends who we would miss dearly.

To this day I still miss so much about our lives in Australia: walking to work and the store, going to the beach almost every weekend, the beautiful city we lived in, traveling as often as possible to new and exciting places, the laid-back and friendly Aussies and their culture… But I wouldn’t change a single choice we’ve made. I was happy to come back to the US before my son was born and my current job has been one of my favorite engineering jobs so far in my career. I will talk about adjusting to life back in the US in my next post.

Have you ever considered leaving engineering? Did you go through with it (why or why not)?

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