What is a Field Service Engineer?

I’ve been working as a field service engineer for over a year now, but when I talk to people back home and while traveling, they generally have no idea what a field service engineer is (hint: it’s not a euphemism for “farmer”). People are used to hearing job titles such as “mechanical engineer”, “electrical engineer”, “chemical engineer” etc. Part of the reason I don’t have a “traditional” engineering job title, is that my job is very multidisciplinary and I have to do a bit of everything. I’m a bit of a jack-of-all-trades in many ways. Despite that, you can still gather a lot from what I do from day to day from my job title by breaking it down into three words:

Field. Service. Engineer.

OCD

I have packing down to an art. Literally.

Field refers not to the field of science, engineering or technology I work in, but to where I work. I work in the “field”, outside of e.g. my company’s plant (where plant engineers work) or the design office (where design engineers work). The field is essentially out there, somewhere – anywhere – in the rest of the world where the kind of engineering I specialise in is being done. Fieldwork requires being away from home much of the time, sometimes just a few days if the site is in the UK, or it could be a few months if the site is in a remote location on the other side of the world.

Life in the field isn’t glamorous, despite what people might think. Yes, I’ve been to some exotic locations – working in Myanmar (Burma) for example – and often I have many great experiences and make really good friendships, but it’s important to remember I’m primarily there to work. More often than not, fieldwork takes place off the beaten track. I go where I’m needed, not where I choose.

Engineering Shift

Called out to work at 4am in Myanmar. SAD FACE.

Service essentially means I do my work for someone else – the customer. They could represent any given industry that requires the service you offer. Strong communication skills are required to ensure you are giving them what they require, and that you manage their expectations on you realistically. You are also required to go the extra mile, do your best and make sure you give top quality service – even if you are tired, stressed and frustrated trying to fix a problem at 1am after a very long day’s work. When you leave, you leave when the job is done, or someone comes to relieve you from your duties. Usually you will be on call 24 hours a day, and any plans you make can suddenly go up in flames – this is one of the sacrifices of the job.

An engineer is not someone who fixes something that is broken (such as your internet connection) – those people don’t have a degree and should really be called a technician (there is currently a movement to ensure “engineer” becomes a protected title, like doctor and architect). An engineer is someone who applied science and technology to solving society’s problems. You are expected to be an expert at what you are doing, and understand how it relates to the greater industrial process going on. It also requires you to constantly learn new things, and adapt to new situations and conditions that might arise, whether on a day to day basis, or between different projects.

That’s what I do, but why do it? Well I’ve’ve covered it briefly before in this post, where I looked at the advantages and disadvantages of the lifestyle field service engineering brings. This life can be very rewarding in the long term if you actively make the most of it, and have long term vision of how you want your career to progress. Being some sort of professional techno-gypsy is definitely not for everyone, but for the right person it can give them the opportunity to travel purposefully, develop them personally and professionally, and provide long term vision for their life and career.

Mining in Mongolia

I’ve ran out of hard hat photos for now, so here’s some blasting at a mine in Mongolia. Exciting, yes?

So there’s your latest hard-hat fix. Hopefully that gives a little more clarity as to what I actually do with myself without overwhelming you with technobabble and jiggery-pokery. If you want to know a bit more about my job, or are considering living the life of a field service engineer then by all means get in touch!

About these ads

5 responses to “What is a Field Service Engineer?

  1. I’m liking reading your blog. I just accepted a job as an FSE (electrical services), but won’t be doing as much traveling. I’m in the US and will be traveling regionally for the most part with a company paid truck. The job feels just right for me, as long as when they promised I would be home most nights holds true. Some travel would be great, but I think my fiance would not approve. It is very nice to see that the job entails at least a certain amount of adventure, sitting in a cubicle all day was the one aspect of an engineering degree that I feared.

    • Hey Jason, I’m glad you are enjoying reading this blog. Yeah it’s definitely fun and with the right kind of support around you it can be a good job to have. Make sure you have good communication with your fiance and that they have realistic expectations of what life will be like, and you should do fine – I made those mistakes and it ended badly! You certainly won’t want to do it forever – that truck might very much turn into a cubicle on wheels! But for the time that it’s right for it’s definitely fun and rewarding.

  2. Pingback: How I Funded My Travel Intensive Lifestyle | Engineer on the Road·

  3. Hi Josh been really enjoying reading all of this information, currently trying to find myself a FSE job as i am finding working 12 hour shifts in the same place very boring! However i really do not agree with your statement above about and engineer having to have a degree. Although i am working towards one, many of the engineers that i have come into contact with and of which i have much respect do not have degrees but merely a great frame mind. An engineer to me is someone that can take on any project and assess its main functions and complete the task. Just my opinion anyway! You look like your having loads of fun and i hope i can join you soon! aha!

    • You’re right that a degree isn’t absolutely necessary to be an engineer; provided someone has an appropriate amount of relevant experience and training, of course they deserve the job title, but such examples are very rare. An engineer is someone who applies their knowledge and understanding (emphasis on understanding) of science and technology so provide effective solutions to society’s problems. The person that follows a recipe book of procedures to fix your internet, for example, is NOT an engineer. This is an issue in the UK where engineering is unregulated, and is not as respected as it should be as a result.

      Regarding 12 hour shifts in the same place – I’ve spent the last 6 months mostly doing 12 hour shifts in backwater India with nowhere to escape to. FSEs have to work really hard, which will keep you really busy, so at times you won’t have time to get bored, but you also will have moments when you are waiting around for something – sometimes even days, in a not very exciting location, which can get really boring if you don’t know how to keep yourself entertained or be proactive with work. It’s just something to bear in mind.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s