A Skeptical Engineer
Engineering: The Key to Untold Riches?

Engineering: The Key to Untold Riches?

MillionaireMore people in the list of the world’s 100 richest people hold engineering degrees than any other degree, according to a study by Approved Index, a business-to-business buying platform. Engineering grads make up a little more than 20% of that top 100 list and average $25.8 billion in wealth. In fact, the person at the top of the list, Carlos Slim, is also an engineer (a civil engineer) and he has amassed almost $50 billion.

The next most common college major for those on the list is finance, and about 10% of them have earned that degree. They “only” managed to accumulate $22.5 billion. It also seems odd that those without any college degrees average $24 billion in wealth, one-and-a-half billion dollars more than those who studied finance.

These statistics on an incredibly small portion of engineers and other professionals provide fine fodder for discussions after work or over lunch. But some media outlets, including CNBC and the U.K.’s Daily Mail and The Telegraph, are using the statistics to urge more youngsters to pursue an engineering degree—as if the only thing standing between a high-school grad and a billion-dollar nest egg is an engineering degree.

It is inconceivable that any of those extremely well-off engineers who made it into that list did so by working for Ford or even Apple as an engineer. Mr. Slim, for example, took his degree in civil engineering and immediately started his own brokerage firm, then went on to invest in construction, restaurants, and real estate.

I doubt any of those billionaire engineers reaped their windfalls from an invention or technological advancement. Like Mr. Slim, they more likely earned their wealth in the business of wheeling and dealing. Still, that’s not to say their engineering education didn’t play a role in their wealth gathering activities.

There are few college disciplines better than engineering at giving a person a comprehensive background on the physical world, along with the mathematical skills and experience to analyze trends and other streams of data. It’s a solid foundation for a host of careers outside engineering and intelligent employers know this. But it’s not good choice if you’re overriding goal is to amass a fortune.

Hopefully, articles and studies like this will not fool gullible and naïve (and greedy) high-school juniors and seniors when they are choosing their college majors. But if they have the requisite aptitude and attitude for engineering, as well as a sincere interest in science and technology, it’s a great choice. And although you probably won’t end up a billionaire, you will likely have a financially comfortable career. 

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