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.
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.
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.
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!