Advice for Young Design Engineer

Hi everyone,

While most people on this board are industrial designers I’d like to get your input in my search for a job as a mechanical design engineer - I suppose most of you work with them and might even have a say in their hire in some cases.

The long and short of it, I graduated in mechanical engineering 2 years ago. I was a research assistant while in school. I even had the chance to publish a few articles. I took almost a year off after graduating to work on some personal projects (finish an album, work on an interactive art installation) and traveled a bit. Last summer, I worked in a small design consultancy doing some mechanical design work as well as developing some proof of concept electronics/embedded systems. Since then I’ve had some on and off part time work both with that consultancy and other clients. I’m also currently doing an online certificate in embedded systems engineering. And lastly, I have a passion for industrial design - taking on some personal projects from time to time.

I’m currently in Ottawa, Canada, a city of 1 million with sadly not a whole lot going on in terms of mechanical/industrial design. For the past 6-7 months, I’ve been trying to find a job - either as junior mechanical/design engineer or an internship for a similar position. I’ve been applying a lot in the San Francisco bay area as I’d like to work in CE. I’ve also applied a bit in Montreal and on every local opportunity. I’ve had a few interviews but only one teleconference interview with a company in SF. Could it be that I’m getting cut early as I’m not in the US and possibly not worth the hassle for an internship candidate? Though I’m covered by NAFTA…

Here is my current CV and portfolio I attach for companies that will accept it.

I figure I probably have to change my strategy if the current one isn’t panning out. I think my cv is too long and tedious. From all the interviews I’ve had, the interviewer had barely read it. Having school projects in there at this point just shines light on the fact that I haven’t had a permanent full time engineering job since then. I’m thinking of axing it down to one page and keeping descriptions brief.

As for my portfolio, I think it just might be confusing to employers. At best it’s a mediocre industrial design portfolio and doesn’t do a whole lot to highlight my mechanical engineering skills. I’m probably stating the obvious but I think some modelling, FEA, CFD work would sell me better. Paired with the fact that I’m pursuing a certificate in embedded systems probably makes for a candidate that doesn’t seem to know where’s he’s going - mechanical engineer applying for a mechanical engineering job but shows a portfolio closer to ID and is studying something else…

Thanks for reading this babble for those that did :smiley: . At least by writing this I had the chance to do an honest review of my material. I look forward to read any comments, tips, insight, possible employment leads you might have.

This is exactly it. I look at your portfolio and think to my self what could you help at consultancy?

Your honestly not showing any ID/form/CAD style development. So you cant help out on that. And you mechanical engineering side doesn’t come through at all.

What exactly do you think you could contribute to a studio? And showcase that.

Even doing something a simple as making a custom case for a Raspberry Pi in Solidworks and showing that you know how to make bosses, reveals, snaps, draft, build in proper tolerances would do more to show your Engineering background, and most likely what you could help with in a studio environment. Something like this. Me and the RaspberryPi /2 | MarcoAlici

If you wanna work in CE, you need to show how you can help with a CE project.

Basheer is a bit more on the EE side, but still shows how you can cross both engineering and ID into a good portfolio piece.

Oh man, Louis, I feel you man. I’ve asked myself those same questions so many times. It’s not easy.

What you’re looking for, your ME side, and how you integrate into a studio really doesn’t come across at all, outside of this post. I definitely agree with E that you should try and showcase it better. But I’d even go one further and make it textually explicit as well. Having a short description of who I am, what I do, and how I fit in has been insanely valuable for me. Especially in a world where you’re non-traditionally connecting the dots.

Also, if you can, try and put this all in a website. If you’re really strapped for time, just throw the pages as images into a Cargo, Squarespace, or Behance, but it’ll give you the opportunity to include links, gifs, videos, and any other type of motion. Plus, it’ll give you space for an “about” page which are surprisingly clicked-through and allow people to non-linearly browse your work.

Hey Louis,

Are you looking mostly for in-house or consultancy in SF? Either way I would highlight your engineering side a lot more in your portfolio. Unless you’re going to go back to school for ID, the environment is so competitive down there, that I think you’re better off presenting yourself as an engineer who can also contribute creatively rather than a designer that can also engineer.

For CE, I think you’re going to need a plastics project in there. I think approaching manufacturing is likely what’s going to cause an in-house company to want to look for a design engineer, and it’ll be plastics 80-90% of the time. I know you specified maple/tyvek for the light panel, maybe just CAD up a plastics version? I would also include stuff like why you chose the plastic over others, and choose it down to the grade. Include these important stuff in the images so they are the first things to be noticed. I would reduce the amount of text quite a lot.

As far as your TN visa… I never got it figured out, but had my best success by putting “no sponsorship required” somewhere in the cover letter. That at least got me to an interview, though I can’t say if it was coincidence or not. Have you looked much here in Vancouver? Not a ton of hardware happening, but the tech scene is moving more than I saw out east at least.

Can you not include your process on the apparatus for reliably blowing soap bubbles? I think it’s a cool problem to solve, and a lot of hiring designers/engineers would be interested in it as much as some awesome renderings.

I wouldn’t worry about including student projects in there, but I did notice that since Prototype D is typically low volume, those projects come off as personal ones, and you don’t have a lot showing that you know how to do mass production. Could you do something along the lines of “here’s the low volume version, and I also designed a high volume version, people can choose to make or purchase” or “we provide these mass produced parts in a kit for the maker because it makes it cheaper/easier/faster”. I know you mentioned a final version of the watch in the portfolio, perhaps some injection molded mounting is needed when a circuit board is used?

Thanks for the response everyone. I didn’t get feedback from the applications I was sending. It’s easy to fall into self-doubt when dealing with lots of rejection - readign this has been a nice little booster!

Yeah, I feel like a wasted so much time trying to get a job with it, now that I’m looking back. Pretty basic really, I should be showing that I can perform the tasks of a design engineer…

I’ve been alluding to that in most of my cover letters, but I’ll try to connecting the dots more clearly going forward.

I currently have a website at But it’s a pain to update. As I’ll be rebuilding my portfolio, I’ll have a look at Squarespace for something easier to keep up to date. I’ll keep the about me page in mind. I’ve also been thinking of having a development blog - it would force me to keep better documentation that could then be used in the portfolio. I’m not sure potential employers would take the time to go through it but it could give them an idea of how I actually work.

Hey Michael!

I’d consider both in-house and consultancy work. I just want to get my foot in the door somewhere that’s producing quality work, I could make a meaningful contribution and learn a lot.

Again yes, I need to redo my portfolio. The core needs to be mechanical engineering and design. I also agree with you that more images would be best.

I hadn’t really thought or looked for much in Vancouver, but I’d certainly consider it.

I think I was stuck trying to showcase my non existant ID skills to even think of including the soap bubble research - that was a cool piece of creative problem solving. I was digging through my archives and I think I’ve found enough material to put together a decent story. The Discovery Channel had even shot a piece about it in our lab from which I could pull some images - the watermark makes for some added credibility. :laughing:

I think I’ll add at least one school project, while there’s more mechanical they do show some decent analysis and problem solving. All the work currently in my portfolio is personal work. None of the projects I’ve worked on with Prototype D have been released and they’re all NDA’ed at the moment.

I do have another freelance gig going on where’s I’m modelling in Solidworks some electronics for rendering purposes and that will be shipping quite soon. Further analysis of the product is a bit outside of the current scope but could be interesting to do and add as a portfolio piece as the device is subjected to impacts.

Again, thanks to you all for taking the time to go through my material and post your thoughts. I’ve already cut down my CV down to a single page. I’ll be redoing my portfolio, putting the focus on engineering and mechanical design and swapping out projects where I can’t make that shine. I’m trying to figure out what my next project will be. Something where I can have a combination of interesting 3D modelling, plastics design, FEA and possibly motion analysis.

I can strongly recommend learning FEA or CFD. FEM is a numerical technique that allows simulation of solid and fluid behavior. FEM is generally not often used in fluid simulation since the method can result in unstable solutions due to the presence of convective terms. FEM is more commonly used for simulation of structural (or solid) behavior. For fluid simulations, Finite Volume Method or Finite Different Method is more often employed.

These days there are also several MOOC courses that help learning them online. In addition, one does not have to pay anymore to obtain these softwares. There are several open-source CFD and FEA softwares that one can use to learn these.

Pre-requisites for FEM can be:

  • Tensor calculus
  • Strength of materials
  • Basic solid mechanics

For a general knowledge of FEM including basic to detailed discussion, I can suggest the three-volume FEM book by O C Zienkiewicz & R L Taylor.
Volume 01: The Finite Element Method: Its Basis and Fundamentals
Volume 02: The Finite Element Method For Solid and Structural Mechanics
Volume 03: The Finite Element Method for Fluid Dynamics

If you are looking at Nonlinear Finite Element Method, I can strongly recommend the book “Nonlinear Finite Element Methods” by Peter Wriggers.

For books on computational contact mechanics, I can strongly recommend
Introductory text: Introduction to Computational Contact Mechanics: A Geometrical Approach by Alexander Konyukhov, Ridvan Izi
More advanced text: Computational Contact Mechanics by Peter Wriggers

Most of these books also address the required pre-requisites.

Alongside above, I can suggest getting hands-on experience. I can suggest simulation software like SimScale which is cloud-based and can be accessed through a browser. They presently allow for solid, fluid and particle simulations. They also offer a free version where one can get upto 3000 hours for computing. For the free version, the projects created are publicly available. However, if one would like to keep your project private, a professional version is also available. There is also a two-week free trial for the professional version of the platform. The SimScale tutorials and materials provides easy to understand materials to help with usage of SimScale platform. In addition, you can explore the public projects database, where there are loads of projects already available. You can also write on their forum for help and assistance and they are quite active there too.

Learning one software can come in extremely handy. Shifting between platforms is just a matter of adaptability. I myself know several people who had written that they know FEA on their CVs and were asked about that in the interview. Doing well on these ensured a good job!