Design or Engineering?
The question of “Should I go for my passion or money?” will constantly float in one’s mind whether you are a secondary school student who has just taken your O levels or an existing professional handling your mid life crisis.
There will always be this side of your brain that asks you to go for your passion and the other that reminds you about the bills you need to pay.
However, is it really that straightforward in life, about choosing A or B?
Let's look at 2 different paths that one may have taken. Path A being that you have taken the path that your parents want you to take, got an IT Diploma and goes into the market as a fresh graduate trying to look for your first job.
Path B will be that you pursue something you like, landing yourself a design diploma, and see what may eventually happen if you choose to be a “rebel” in life.
PATH A: THE IT ENGINEER
After following your classmates to take up the highly popular information technology diploma, you eventually graduated and leaving the many years of doing program coding in school thinking that the happy ending is finally here.
You went to look for a job with your IT diploma and, yes, they will require you to do what you hated most again, coding. Nonetheless, you took up the job offer since that is what everybody is doing, working.
After 3 years of doing the same thing with not much improvement in salary, you decide to look for a better paying job. You managed to get a job with a higher pay and work there for another 4 years when you get promoted to the assistant manager position.
You don’t love your job but you don’t hate it either, it is just a way of life. When you are out with your friends, there is nothing interesting to talk about your job but it is okay.
Slowly over the years, you realized that although there is nothing much to complain about your life, there is nothing much to cheer about either.
You have not met the love of your life, not been poached by another department, eat at the same few places everyday and start to think if it is time to move on to another company to spice things up.
You started sending your cv to different companies but seldom received an interview request. When you have interviews, it is always the same issue; none can match your expected salary.
But why should you leave for another company if they cannot give you a “reasonable” 20% pay increment?
It is only when you went to a recruitment agency that the hard truth was revealed to you.
There is an oversupply of IT professionals in the market and thus it is not possible to have a substantial pay increment without being able to justify for it.
YES, the market is full of IT engineers from India in Singapore who will take a fraction of what you are being paid to do much more than what you are willing to. And YES again, they have similar skills and have more experience on different kinds of projects than what you have been done throughout your entire career.
You began to think hard about how to differentiate yourself from the rest of these foreign talents but can find no solution. You decided to take a part time degree which will eventually eat away your free time at night for the next 2 to 3 years.
Finally you got your degree after years of juggling work and night classes, and started looking for a job that pays higher for a degree graduate.
Unfortunately, this time you are also competing with the fresh graduates from local universities who are looking for the same role as you, but willing to settle for a lower pay to gain the experience first.
In your mid thirties, armed with a degree that doesn’t account for much and has totally no passion for what you are doing, you desperately need to decide if this is how you want to spend the rest of your life or should you do something very differently that may turn your normal way of living upside down.
PATH B: THE CREATIVE DIRECTOR
Your friends are not joining you because they do not think they can draw well, your mom asked you not to do it, your father challenged you on what kind of jobs you can get after you graduate; you decide to go for a design diploma anyway.
Drawing has always been what you enjoy doing and coming out with creative ideas, be it for your friend’s 15th birthday or what prank to pull on an April Fool’s Day, has always been your strength, so why not?
You go to a design school and realized it is not all about drawing but also on how to draw meaningful designs for a purpose, for advertisement or logo etc. There are nights you have to do projects overnight with your classmates but you enjoyed those times.
After a few years of constantly squeezing out your last bit of brain juice to try outwitting yourself time and time again, you graduated with a design diploma. It is now time to look for a job in the design industry and make your dreams come true.
To your dismay, there are not many interesting design companies around, they either do not pay much or are doing mediocre things like designing business cards, logos or website design etc.
You research a little and decided that actually a creative company is where you really want to be in, and there are tons of them in Singapore.
You took on a junior role in an advertising agency, offered a pay lower than what your engineer friends are getting but it is okay for you at this point in life since you do not have many commitments yet.
What you do daily is receiving briefs from your supervisor, coming up with creative ideas to impress the clients, getting rejected over and over again, rush for new creatives according to the client’s feedback and submit something you think is ugly.
You don’t understand why are the ugly designs or advertisements always the ones being chosen but you are too busy to care anyway.
Rushing for deadlines, knocking off later than 8pm and getting rejected on a daily basis has become part and parcel of your life for the next 600++ days.
You always have no short of stories to tell during your friends gathering, like how ABC company loves a stupid advertisement you have created or how the masterpiece you have created for EFG company was being branded as “irrelevant”, and totally enjoyed sharing them.
When a chance comes to switch to a client-facing department within your company, you applied for it immediately.
In this new department, you are part of the team who conceptualize marketing campaigns for your clients. You will need to think of which platform to use (tv, radio, social media etc.), how to outwit your client’s competitor and how to generate more revenue from a specific market for your client.
It is here however, after rounds and rounds of discussing with your clients, that you start to understand why were all your previous beautiful designs being rejected in the past.
Advertising is different from Art; you need to capture your target’s attention, they have to understand what you want to say and you must create a reason for them to buy your client’s product. Basically, a Mona Lisa will fail as an advertisement.
Over time, you instead began to feel frustrated at the junior designers in your company
(position you used to hold) who can’t seem to understand what you want and always sending crappy design for submission to your clients.
You thoroughly enjoy your time in this department, you get to meet celebrities whom you use for your campaigns, liaise with YouTube stars and bloggers to send messages for your clients, the ability to use all different media to achieve your objectives and get to meet all the like minded avant-garde people at advertising events by representing your agency.
Over the years, your pay increased, your title promoted but not that you really care since you don’t really see this as a job anyway. You totally enjoyed what you are doing but there is this side of you who misses your design side.
The chance came when an assistant creative director position became available. Naturally, with your experience with both departments, you easily got the job.
As an assistant creative director then eventually a creative director, you still come out with creative marketing campaigns for your clients, but this time you have more say on what is to appear on the platforms e.g. what should the DJ say on the radio, what angle should the bloggers write about your client, which artistes to use for the tv commercial.
There are times you have to work with your team until midnight, certain occasion when you are so busy you do not have time for lunch, but you are not complaining. Before you know it, you are in your early forties.
Life is of course not always a bed of roses. Your advertising agency loses a major client and needs to downsize.
After thinking hard, discussing with your family and considering the options you have, you decide to volunteer for the retrenchment. Not only to take it for the team but also for yourself.
Been working your whole life, you have decided that it is time to take things a little slower, have more time for your two kids and try to shake up the comfortable life a little.
In case you are wondering, the 2 different scenarios quoted are actually real accounts of people interviewed for this article.
Nicholas, the IT engineer, is now a sales engineer in a local software company in his 40s. “I have decided to become a sales because it is one of the few options which allows me to get out of doing programming.”
“It was not an easy decision then but I’m glad I made that choice” he continues, “At least now I do not have to compete for job with plane load of foreign workers.”
Steven, an engineer turned financial adviser, agrees, “Not that I like to do sales, in fact I hated it, but it seems like the only way when I lost my job during a recession.”
“But being able to meet people from different walks of life helps a little in the transition as that was how I met my wife!” he laughed.
Kim, the design graduate, has much different words for her work life, “it was the best time of my life” she said, “If I need to make the choice again, I will still go ahead and did what I have done.”
Currently the owner, creative director and finance manager of her own agency, Kim never looked back.
For the younger generation looking for a direction in life, she has this for them “if you do not enjoy what you are doing even when you are in school, you should just stop doing it when you realized it. Because life is short and every minute’s precious.”
When asked what advice Nicholas has for people not knowing which course to take up, he said: “Go for your passion. If I have a chance to turn back the hands of time, I will take up what I like to do for a living. My life will be in a much better situation than it is now, I am sure.”
If you are thinking of what course to take up, perhaps you should just go do something you enjoy doing.
Even if the end results may not be what you wished for, at least you would have enjoyed the process, which is going to be a much longer period of time to live through.
From the 2 life stories we come to realize one thing, the end results may not be what you wanted even if you make decisions against your will in the first place anyway. So why do something you don’t enjoy doing?
Ultimately if you do not have a passion for what you are doing, the possibility of you exceling in it is near to zero.
Credit: Article from blogger Seanbola’s website, first on