Engineering vs. James Bond

by Judge Josh on February 14, 2011

Lots of students who write me have a career-choice dilemma on their hands, but none quite like that of RDX. Which is the writer’s name, btw. I like it.

I think if I was going to have a three-letter moniker, I’d definitely have the last letter be X. JDX. How’s that sound? Anyway, here’s RDX’s dilemma:

Hello Judge Josh,

I read your blog all the time and it is very informative and entertaining.

Thanks, and thanks!!

I’m currently studying in my second year in mechanical engineering. Earlier I had a plan of pursuing my bachelors in mechanical engineering and then my masters in aerospace engineering, but now I’m sort of confused whether I should continue with my current plan or go for my other interest i.e government armed forces.

James Bond

James Bond Lesson 1: Get that finger off the trigger when the barrel is resting on your face.


Well, a master’s in aerospace engineering is not poorly suited to the Armed Forces, since they crank out the most sophisticated aircraft in the world. Or, you know, they contract it out to places like Lockheed Martin, but still, they’re right up in there with some serious aerospace engineering.

I always had a passion of being a detective (of course James bond movies have attracted me, even though real detectives are not like james bond).

True, at least from what I see on “The First 48.” Mostly they’re just workaday Joes who get precious little sleep and no time with their family because they’re too busy solving murders. (Exception: Detroit. Those guys never seem to solve anything.)

I’m interested in being a detective, but at the same time I am also interested in being an engineer. I’m very technical and possess skills of both areas.

Well, that sounds great so far. Being skilled in multiple areas rarely, rarely hurts a guy.

Though my brother is offering me a job as an operations manager in his business after I graduate, however his business has nothing to do with engineering and is all based on service product selling. If I continue with engineering or my brothers business I will make enough money for a livelihood but usually detectives are one of the lowest paid people.

Well, I agree — engineering itself and the sales of engineering services are both probably going to turn out a helluva lot more lucrative than being a detective. Not to mention, you’ve got some built-in hurdles if you want to be a detective for an actual law enforcement agency.

You need to first have some law enforcement training, the amount of which varies from place to place. Some places you have to have a college degree just to join the force. In the smallest of small towns, you can get on board with a high school diploma and a clean drug test. In those towns everyone’s a detective, but the volume of action is pretty low.

In a larger police force, though, you can’t just be a detective right off — you’ve got to grind out several years at other lower-end posts before you can make detective.

The quickest route to becoming a detective for you is probably to become a private detective, which is a lot more unregulated and therefore faster. I’d point you in the right direction of a good place to start for some private-dick education, but that’s well beyond my sphere of knowledge, I’m afraid.

I looked into Embry Riddle, which is offering both a masters in aerospace engineering and masters in global logistics (i.e. related to detective stuff).

I believe that’s gonna be much toward the engineering side and not so much the detective stuff. A disclaimer here, my dad is an Embry-Riddle grad and I wrote a separate post about Embry-Riddle way back when. It’s a great aerospace school, but you’re not going to learn to be a detective there.

In the future I can go there and pursue a masters in both, but the problem that kicks in is where will I get the money because I am not an american citizen/resident, and I want to do my masters within 5 years of my bachelor degree, and the confusion still stands as what should I choose as my career path between the two because I’m interested in both but if I have to choose one so pursuing a masters in both would be kind of foolish.

Well, I’m not sure exactly what you’re thinking in terms of being a detective, but if you want someone else to pay you to do that, you’re probably going to have to do it on your own as a private detective. The pay there is low as well, but at least you’ll be your own boss, and also, you can wear tuxedos, drink martinis and charm ladies at your complete discretion.

Then there’s always the CIA, of course, if you’re looking for more excitement than chasing around cheating spouses and investigating insurance fraud (although I suspect that CIA spying probably isn’t quite the adrenaline rush that all the Bourne movies make it out to be, either). However, it’s definitely international espionage, right? And they’re always looking for people.

James Bond would be proud of you, RDX.

Thanks for your help,
RDX

You bet.

What about you all? Any aspiring or current James Bond types out there with advice for RDX? Let us know in the comments below.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Cassidy February 14, 2011 at 2:33 pm

I think you could definitely do both. I mean thee is a huge government market for engineering majors who also want to help protect the homeland. I would also suggest looking into the Department of Homeland Security. (or your respective home countries likewise agency-ditto with the CIA, you have to be a US citizen).

I am assuming that whatever country you are from would also have a similar need as the US.

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marg February 14, 2011 at 2:51 pm

He could always try the FBI… they always need Special Agents and whatnot. You do need a college degree and have to go to their special training school. Its highly competitive and physically demanding, but you learn a lot and will have an exciting career.

Or you could be a part of the professional staff. the FBI always needs IT, engineering, and other applied science majors for them, especially for counter-terrorism, bio-terrorism, and surveillance for homeland security.

There are some college honors student programs and internships available.

Here are some links. You should contact your local FBI office for more info! Good luck!

http://www.fbijobs.gov/college/
http://www.fbijobs.gov/2.asp
http://www.fbijobs.gov/1.asp

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sliceoflife89 February 14, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Hey rdx, just a heads up, if you want to be a U.S. Detective/Agent/Investigator in ANY government capacity you need to be a full U.S. Citizen. It’s one of the fundamental criteria. My boyfriend is currently pursuing a degree in criminal justice and has been learning about the requirements necessary to be even a candidate, let alone having the right education for the job.

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AZ Product Design February 14, 2011 at 2:57 pm

The nice thing about engineering is you can open up your own consulting firm after a few years, which gives you quite a bit of freedom in terms of your time and schedule. More difficult to do that with government armed forces.

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grinwithin February 14, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Definitely. You have opportunties within all of the defense and security federal industries.

You need to have good credit, keep out of trouble, and eliminate questionable relationships (such as a friend or family member that has arrest records, drug/alcohol related issues, etc.)

These industries will require a security clearance and you WILL be scrutinized. The higher the GPA, the better your chances. I would go for military service to get veteran’s hiring preference. If you do not want full time military service, you can go part time serving one weekend a month and 2 weeks in the summer. As an added bonus, they will pay off some of your student loans…

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Ninjitsu February 14, 2011 at 3:57 pm

You could certainly do private investigation work on the side, or if you were undercover, engineering would be an excellent (though unusual) cover. If you were in manufacturing, you could travel quite a bit, even out of country, particularly since you’re on the mechanical track.

I’m not sure about other spec-ops type groups, but I do know that the US Army Special Forces commandos are cleared to the Top Secret level, which significantly cuts down on how much socializing you can do.

Quoting sliceoflife89 “if you want to be a U.S. Detective/Agent/Investigator in ANY government capacity you need to be a full U.S. Citizen. It’s one of the fundamental criteria.” There it depends on what it is. If you are working on a secondary level, such as being subcontracted, than not quite so strictly. I would say that not being a U.S. Citizen or resident, while not an asset in itself, probably also means that you are at least bi-lingual. This is a tremendous asset if you are going into that line of work. When I talked to the FBI about 6 years ago, the languages they needed then were Spanish, Arabic, and Chinese primarily, with others having more limited application. My guess is that it hasn’t changed much since then.

Oh, and Josh— RDX is a kind of high explosive. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RDX 😀

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kiwinc February 14, 2011 at 7:50 pm

At this time, you may not work in any area of the US government in any capacity that requires a clearance if you are not a US citizen. Doesn’t matter if you are a contractor or a GS hire. This is something I’ve looked at pretty carefully, and I had the pleasure of talking with a couple of CIA reps about this last fall during a recruiting event at my school. If you need a clearance to do the job, citizenship is required.

If you want to be a detective, there are other avenues to follow, but I would recommend a minor in criminal justice or forensic engineering. And for some field experience, knock on the doors of any lawyer’s offices in your area to see if they would be willing to take on a trainee investigator. Worst they can do is say ‘no,’ right? If they say yes, it may help fund your master’s degree, as well.

Good luck! As a working scientist, you’ll be involved in a type of detective work anyway – so you’re in a win-win situation. Check out the forensic stuff, though. Sounds like a great way to apply your theoretical knowledge every day.

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Rachel February 14, 2011 at 8:33 pm

RDX,

It feels like you’re more passionate about the idea of being a detective than actually being a detective. When you talk about engineering, though, it’s obvious just in how you write about your plans that you’re extremely passionate about being an engineer. If I were you, would go for the aerospace engineering and, if it doesn’t work out, look at getting a detective’s license.

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Eileen February 15, 2011 at 9:24 am

RDX,

I hope you complete your education in engineering.

In most cases, holding a science degree, such as engineering, allows one to pursue many career avenues that do not have to be related engineering. (i.e.: My daughter holds a scientific degree, but is a senior executive in a multi-billion dollar property management company and LOVES it.) Having a scientific degree, especially in engineering, says “Hire me – I’m SMART!”

You don’t need to work for a low paying government job to be a detective/spy. I have a little low-level experience in the private sector in this area. I suggest that you research and find a “security” company that offers Industrial Espionage services and find out what it takes to intern there. There is often a BIG demand with good pay for engineers in security work with the right talents: You must be a people person, disarming, and one whom people trust immediately while not sticking out from others.

In an event, offer to intern there for free, even if your job will only be to fetch coffee. In this economy, it’s hard for anyone to turn down free labor. (My engineering undergrad son did this and ended up getting paid to work on security-level NASA and Homeland Security projects with a letter of recommendation from the CEO.) Once they get to know you and like you, you’ll likely get gradual access to some of the lower-level ‘fun stuff’. Also, you might discover whether you really like this work and life-style. For example, I many people with law degrees that discovered after that huge time/money investment that they hated practicing law! It’s not like TV.

That said, I can say that in my twenties, it was fun jumping on planes multiple times per week. But after a few years it got old, especially when one is a (single) parent and often has to miss school plays, etc. And then there was the time I got fired from one company because I had to take my son to the hospital for a life threatening illness.

It’s a selfish business too: Perfect for a single person not interested in settling down. You’re on duty 24/7. Be prepared to do anything from white collar office work while turning in ‘friends’ to be prosecuted (who had a moment of weakness due to financial problems due to an ill child) — to working as a car porter/washer in the freezing cold at an auto dealership – maybe at the same time.

One more thing: People really do get killed in this business. Having one’s life threatened may seem exciting in the movies, but having to rush your crying toddler to a plane into the hands of a stranger (flight attendant) in the middle of the night while you take a flight to a different destination is quite another.

As far as being a police detective, my husband just retired from police work. I can tell you it’s pretty boring most of the time, full of politics, and one can get shot for no apparent reason. In addition, no matter how honest and good you are, you get little support from the public or your own management. We discouraged all our children from this profession.

In closing, if you don’t end up loving the life-style or only want to do it for a little while, you always have engineering to fall back on. Not too shabby! It often pays well, offers exciting job opportunities all over the globe, and the opportunity to have real relationships.

Best regards!

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Grey_GirlPTK February 15, 2011 at 12:01 pm

I suggest getting a minor in criminal justice or forensic engineering. It will give you both credintials in that feild and a chance to see if you actually like the work, or just the romanticized idea of the work.

Next, if you plan on working in the US government then you must be a citizen. So look into what you need to do to become one if that is your goal. If not check with your own country and see what the qualifications they have for working there. Unfortunately, in this age of terrorism it increases governments being careful who they hire, and makes it necessary to hire people. So citizenship is probably goiong to be required of you by any government you want to work for, so you might as well stater the paperwork now.

Being an engineer does give you the opportunity for global travel. So if it is the travel part of being an agent that appeals to you, you are on the right track. It also pays better then most government or police work. This means you could also travel on your own dime.

You do write about engineering as if it were your passion, and agent as if it is a nice dream fuel by movies. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but I think part of you is leaning towards the stablity of engineering. There is corporate espingoge that goes in in engineering circles and it may feed your need for spy type work. It would pay better and being a citizen, depending on GPA and recommendations, probably would not be as big a deal. Companies that need quality engineers are all over the world. So it could be that exicting life you invision as a secret agent is a type of engineering job.

Good luck:)

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C007 February 16, 2011 at 9:06 pm

RDX, email me ASAP, I got something you might want to see.

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RDX March 21, 2011 at 12:43 pm

@C007 my email is popfraudi@gmail.com, just write C007 in the subject line, i’ll know who it is. It better not be a virus :p

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Kaco February 19, 2011 at 11:20 pm

RDX –

The best advice: Find out for yourself!

Go, work for a year or two, learn what you like and don’t like. Make changes and switch roles when you need to, while gaining skills and transferable experiences. If get you get to a point where you learn what you want to do, AND you learn that you need to go back to school for more education to do what you want, THEN its time to look for school!

I’m currently a grad student and worked for 7 years before going back – and what I want to do now versus what I thought then is very different and much more clear! (btw I’m an engineer too)

-K

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Carly February 21, 2011 at 8:33 pm

I think a combination of Engineering and CIA would be a perfect combination. A good engineer is crucial to the acquisition of info and conducting of espionage, although these days maybe a computer hacker might be better. Still, if that’s what you’re interested in, you’ll probably want to start beefing up the military intelligence skills by learning some languages, studying world politics and news, studying military history, getting to know the laws of the U.S. better, etc., in your spare time.

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RDX February 24, 2011 at 5:47 pm

Hey everyone I read all the comments and all of them are full of knowledge.

@ Judge Josh, JDX is pretty cool, but Ninjitsu mentioned that its and explosive, which is why I put RDX. Your input has opened new doors, and the advice is brilliant, thank you very much

@sliceoflife89 thanks, I now know I need a US citizenship to work in the “Detective/Agent/Investigator” area.

@Cassidy thanks for telling me about the department of homeland security, i’ll look into it.

@marg the links are very helpful, thanks!

@AZ Product Design the engineering consulting firm is a good idea, I heard it’s big money.

@grinwithin I have a clear record, I’ve never smoked or had alcohol, not even Hookah, but the millitary just sends you to Iraq and Afghanistan and they don’t do much of surveillance and agent work, as the CIA has their own agents in those countries to do that kind of stuff, so i’ll have to join the CIA first.

@Ninjitsu, being a commando is intense training and physical work, however they are only called in for very delicate situations, so most of the time they are in hiding and training rigorously, and I do have a benefit as I am multi-lingual, thanks!

@kiwinc forensic engineering sounds interesting, i’ll look into it, and the ideas of being an investigator for a lawyer, is a good idea, I also know a lot of lawyers because I was planning to be one when I was in high school, thanks a lot!

@Rachel, you may be right, but as to when I visited engineering firms and companies, the job of aerospace engineers would mostly be sitting and designing parts and components on the computer which is quite different from surveillance and field work.

@Eileen, yes I am a people person, and thanks for telling me about Industrial Espionage, I had never heard about it before, and trust me, what your son got is pretty sick! It’s definitely my dream job. I feel sorry for you loosing your job, even though you had a very strong reason of your child’s illness. I know it’s hard for single parents, but you’re right I’m not interested in settling down, because I don’t want a family to be left crying after me, so I’d rather spoil my own life then spoil someone else’s. I know your husband’s job is really risky as the department does not provide enough necessities for body Armour and weapons, and even though you are undercover you are still wearing the uniform and driving the same car with a different paint, which makes no sense to me, and yes engineering is kind of my back up. Thanks a lot, your information is very helpful.

@Grey_GirlPTK, I am starting the paperwork this summer, thanks for informing me! Engineering usually is working in the same company on the same desk, even though I can travel on my own expense, but I’d rather have someone else to pay for my travel (who wouldn’t?) and corporate espionage is definitely my type, i’ll be researching it soon, thanks for you help!

@C007 my email is popfraudi@gmail.com, just write C007 in the subject line, i’ll know who it is. It better not be a virus :p

@kaco I might just go with what you said, its better to experience it than to hear it, thanks!

@Carly that’s good tips you mentioned above, i’ll certainly do researching in my spare time, thanks!

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Rue March 23, 2011 at 5:00 pm

yep you surely can be. to me the personality and character of an aerospace engineer and a secret agent are no different. so if you love it why dont you go for it. see aerospace engineers are not always confined in the office. so you can resourcefully use the field trips for survellaince etc. Moreover, you will need a break from the office. If you really enjoy the investigating thing, am sure you will cope with both and it will be fun

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