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Careers That Travel is an interview series where we feature people who get to travel for work. This post was created during National Engineers Week 2019, where we showcased five different engineers who travel as part of their jobs.
In this post, we speak to Ronald, who was a Senior Field Engineer in the 1990s. Ronald is actually my dad, so it was really neat to learn more about the job that he had while I was growing up. After our family moved to the United States while I was in elementary school, my dad’s travel schedule was reduced tremendously.
1. What was your job, and how did travel play into your role?
I was a Senior Field Engineer / Project Leader at a cellular equipment manufacturing firm. I was usually assigned to a Project/Customer Location. Being the most experienced on the site, I was required to manage many projects. This included selecting junior members and assigning specific tasks. This could be installing equipment or testing the equipment, as well as integrating to existing telephone networks. Traveling to customer sites was mandatory for this job.
2. What did you study in school, and what helped prepare you for this job?
I received a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering Technology. My major was Electronic Designing with a minor in Computer programming. I worked at a Radio Shack for the first 2 years, then I became a Faculty Assistant to the school. When a professor was unable to attend class, I proctored the class at a junior level. Having basic knowledge of electrical circuits was necessary to do my job later on.
3. What is the most exciting place that you have traveled to for work? Least exciting?
The most exciting place to me was Hong Kong and China. You never know what you would run into. Hotels and food were excellent there. I had two places I did not like: Pakistan and Nigeria. Both places had no good hotels and the food sucked. They were also very dangerous places.
4. What types of challenges did you face while on the road?
The biggest challenge was not knowing exactly when you would be going home. Some projects went for months at a time. When I went to Brazil, I spent 3 months straight while on site. Most projects let you go home for the weekend every 2nd or 3rd week. My only worry was about the type of hotel or food. In most cases it was fine. The biggest downside was you could not plan anything at home. You would never know if you would be home or traveling.
5. Did you get to travel with a team, or did you typically travel for work by yourself?
I traveled both alone and with a team. When traveling with a team, usually you did dinners together if you were not tired. A typical work day was 10-12 hours, which was very tiring. Sightseeing was minimal. If you had time at the end of the project, we might take an extra day to see the city. Most of the time you were busy, since you worked with customers and attended any functions for the new turn up of equipment.
6. How long was a typical work trip? Do you ever extend your stay for personal time?
We worked straight through, 10-12 hours per day. Projects usually ran 2 or 3 months, and we usually could take 3 or 4 days off every 2nd or 3rd week. Because we worked 60-80 hours per week, we were either paid overtime or the extra hours could be used for time off.
7. Did you have a home base, or were you completely remote?
I did have an office space/cubicle if I was not in the field. Most of the time it was used to store tools and test equipment. We had tool and test equipment people whose job was to ship out our equipment as needed. They also made sure the equipment was working and calibrated. I did work from home sometimes. We were able to call into customer equipment and make database changes without being on site.
8. How did the amount of travel change as you move up in this career?
Sadly, the more knowledge or experience you had, the more you traveled. I typically had 2 or more projects at the same time. On one, I would be the Project Leader, and then the other I was the installer / tester. I would travel back and forth as needed. If equipment broke down, usually you would have a break from the project and go home for extra time.
9. Did your company offer any benefits for being on the road?
The company did offer some benefits; depending on the country risk or hardship, we got bonus pay. When I was in Peru during its civil war, I got 70% of my salary as a bonus. China was typically 30% pay bonus. If we traveled internationally, we flew business class or first class. Domestic for us was Canada or US. Hotels were typically 5 Star.
10. What advice do you have for someone who has to start traveling for work?
Make sure the company takes care of you. Understand the rules they imposed. Don’t be afraid to ask any questions about what is expected. I was fortunate that I had mentors and we helped each other. It can be hard on spouse and the kids. The more you travel, you learn what to pack and not. Make sure you follow the country’s laws. If you don’t like new things or don’t like surprises, then traveling is not for you.
Do you travel for work? We’d love to interview you! If you are interested in being featured, please email email@example.com.
Read about other traveling engineers:
- Faizan the Management Trainee at a railroad company
- Michael the Cybersecurity Consulting Manager at a consulting firm
- Kaitlyn the Product Marketing Engineer at a semiconductor manufacturing company