Info Capture: Alumni Careers Pivot in a Decade

by Julie Barr on September 28, 2016 · 19 comments

in Alumni Life, Career, Engineering

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An infographic developed by the School of Engineering shows alumni career fields in 2006 vs 2016.

As 2016 graduates left campus to begin their careers, the Institute got a snapshot of occupations that MIT alums are starting today and School of Engineering decided to investigate how that compares to careers our alumni were starting 10 years ago. Spoiler alert, they’re very different.

In 2006, Google bought YouTube, Facebook had just gone global, iPods finally had a color display, and the iPhone was still one year away from being introduced. Contrast that with the status of technology and the world today, and it’s no surprise that the careers of recent MIT graduates are markedly different.

In order to do the comparison, the School of Engineering used data from Institutional Research surveys given to Class of 2016 graduates and similar data from 2006. They found that about half of graduating seniors in 2006 entering the workforce landed predominantly in finance or consulting, whereas today, our alums are entering a broader range of fields and naming IT as the dominant field, a category which was the lowest in 2006. The rise of IT and computing is significant and demonstrates just how much our economy is fueled by innovations in technology.

The School of Engineering can observe the effects of changing industry by fluctuations in popular courses of study. “Majors ebb and flow based upon various factors,” says Michael Rutter, Director of Media Relations, School of Engineering. “EECS/MechE in particular are very popular among students as a result of the rise of IT, 3D printing, and new types of manufacturing.” Observing these changes, says Rutter, also reinforces the support of a nationwide movement to offer more flexible or generalist degrees, which can allow for more customization and allow students to focus on topics of interest rather than specific degrees.

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Full career comparison data. Image: School of Engineering.

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Anu Sood September 28, 2016 at 10:05 am

How can there be such a huge shift from finance to IT? Maybe a lot of the IT jobs are in finance?

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Roderick Llewellyn October 15, 2016 at 12:13 pm

You raise a good question – it all depends on the polling methodology. Do these categories refer to the employer, or to the employee?

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Adam Miller October 6, 2016 at 12:01 pm

Anu — so funny you say that because I am in IT for a finance company (as you know).

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Anu Sood October 6, 2016 at 12:57 pm

LOL

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Anu Sood October 15, 2016 at 7:51 am

Why is everyone named Adam Miller? BTW, Abroad101 looks cool!

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Anu Sood October 15, 2016 at 7:52 am

Why is everyone named Adam Miller? BTW, Abroad101 looks cool!

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Hank Valcour October 15, 2016 at 7:13 am

I am an old timer class of 56
My degree was Naval Arch. and Marine Eng. Course 13
When US shipbuilding headed south early 1960’s, I moved into water desalting and treatment. Never regretted the move

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Josh October 15, 2016 at 7:17 am

I hate the term “IT” because it seems to be including a vast range of things. Data scientists, software engineers, tech product managers, etc. are all being lumped into “IT”, right?

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Tom Ostrand October 15, 2016 at 8:47 am

Are these data available for years earlier than 2006? It would be very interesting to compare the career choices from 1996, 1986, 1976, and 1966.
Also, the numbers are restricted to graduating seniors who immediately entered the workforce. How many seniors continued on to grad school, and what were their ultimate career choices?

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Harry Moser October 15, 2016 at 9:15 am

Two questions:
1. Are any of the IT jobs engineering jobs in IT? If so, the data is misleading. It looks like the survey mixed a professional field, “engineering,” with industries in forming its classifications. Would have been better to form a matrix with professional field as one variable and industry as the other.
2. How could any MIT media produce a chart that does not define the vertical axis? I could not find “percent” or “%” anywhere on the charts or in the surrounding text. Perhaps the chart was made by a Harvard liberal arts grad.

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Bruno October 15, 2016 at 10:08 am

Summing up 2006’s % the result is roughly 86%, while 2016’s % is roughly 72%. Where are the others for both years?

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Wilson Lamb October 15, 2016 at 10:08 am

From an older alum:
This is tragic, on several levels. Isn’t it sad that our best and brightest engineers are flocking to two of the most “useless” occupations on earth?
We already have more IT than we need, drowning almost everyone in more information than they can use and surrounding them with “technology” that consumes vast amounts of time for little good result. Our challenge now is to get what we have to more people and somehow induce them to use it for something worthwhile. I know the demand for IT is there, but I’m not sure it’s necessary that MIT pander to it. Maybe a degree in Overcoming Windows should be out next innovative idea?

Finance, what’s that, anyway, working out innovative ways to worsen our already poor distribution of wealth? Maybe a bright alum will figure out how to keep our government from continuing to sell the idea that everyone can do well, with minimal effort, if they will just pay more tax. What we need is some sociological
breakthrough that would make it possible to broaden our wealth curve and help the laborers idled by our incredible recent gains in productivity find something useful to do!

Why aren’t we reporting and celebrating those who are developing the next great analytical instrument that makes the next big leap in genetics possible? Who’s working on a way to scrub our atmosphere of CO2 (and other contaminates)? Who’s figuring out a way to scrub our waters of PCBs (and other contaminates our “great” industries have deposited for us)?

This comment has become a rant and used more bandwidth than it’s worth, but there is a point: I doubt that MIT will enhance its greatness by finding the next Zuckerberg, Gates, or Gross. It will become greater by cleaning up our mess, figuring out a way to reduce population, and finding a way to make us healthier before the medical establishment consumes all our incomes. Along the way, we will need “real” engineers to deal with infrastructure, power, climate, and housing problems of immense size and complexity!

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Sandi S October 31, 2016 at 6:54 pm

I love your “rant.” You brought up valuable points. My daughter is a sophomore at MIT, and I hope her future does not lead to IT.

I am a math teacher and the first in my family to go to college, so I am thrilled (and clueless sometimes) about what my daughter is accomplishing at MIT.

MIT alumni are so wonderful to share their thoughts and ideas to support students. After my daughter got accepted to MIT, we were invited to a party and welcomed by many alumni. I am so grateful to know that my daughter is continually supported by the MIT community.

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Ken R. '93 October 16, 2016 at 12:47 am

The shift from Finance to IT is easily understood in terms of two phrases:

1. “2008 Financial Crisis”
2. “Big Data”

In 2003-2007 there was a gold rush mentality for technical people on Wall Street and in finance generally. Computer-savvy “quants” (quantitative analysts) were becoming quick millionaires and making billions of dollars for high-stakes-gambling financial institutions who were enamored with the idea that the intersection of computing and electronic-trading (stocks, commodities, hedge funds, mortgage-backed securities, etc.) allowed them to make unprecedented profits with relative ease. Unfortunately much of that gold turned to dross in 2008 with the severe financial melt-down that cut across many market sectors and wiped out many financial institutions. New laws and regulations were put in place making it harder to exploit statistical risk-taking for quick profits (and potentially equally quick financial instability). More importantly than the actual regulations– which many USA financial experts lament are too weak to be actually effective– the *perception* among venture capitalists and speculative investors is that “the quant gold rush is over.” There is also a moral taint to finance now– the idea that statistical financial tinkering for pure greed brought the world’s economy to its knees, has given many young idealistic technical folks pause. For these reasons, jobs in that sector are harder to get, and pay less competitively in the post-2008 era relative to IT. At the same time, there is a new technology gold rush around the idea of “Big Data” –made possible in part by inventions like the Smart Phone and the Hadoop Cluster (500 terabyte+ fast database systems) which have created data streams with unprecedented detail and fact-processing power. Now all of the Fortune 500 companies involved in retail, sales, or marketing of any kind are currently in an arms race to implement Big Data Algorithms for more efficient customer identification, customer retention, cross-selling, supply-chain management, dynamic pricing, and wide variety of other market tasks that used to be the purview of specialized consulting companies. Run a Google search on “jobs PhD” in California or Massachusetts and you may be surprised to see that almost half of them are related to “Big Data” or “Data Mining” of some sort. This Bubble Too Shall Pop… when the low-hanging fruit has been picked, when every major retailer and marketer has fully armed itself with the best up-to-date tools in Big Data– the IT job market will reach a point of marginal returns and we will again see a new restructuring in the job market, with technical people finding (I have little doubt) some new technology gold rush to exploit that we have not yet imagined.

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Adam Miller October 18, 2016 at 4:31 pm

Great point. I would add that there is also a lot of hype (and some new value) around AI/Machine Learning, driving increased demand for high-level innovation within and around IT departments.

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Susan Brennan October 16, 2016 at 12:26 pm

Very interesting. I’d love to see these data broken down by gender.

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Gwen Shafer October 16, 2016 at 2:20 pm

How dependent are the numbers on your definition of the fields?

I am surprised so many were in finance. What types of jobs did they do? Were they inside or outside of Wall Street?

Working in IT seems a no-brainer, as that description covers such a broad area. An information boom in many fields means data storage is a limiting factor.

Getting meaningful information and guidance out of all the available data is the new horizon.

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Anu Sood October 17, 2016 at 3:11 pm

In the 80s there was something called Management Information Systems or MIS, and now there is something called Management Science. I wonder if these are related and how the generic “IT” category fits in.

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PT November 14, 2016 at 3:26 pm

People generally end up taking the jobs that are available at the time they graduate. In other words, they join the industries that have jobs available requiring their skill set (more or less). In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, many chemical engineers ended up in the oil industry (upstream and downstream), but those jobs dried up when oil prices collapsed in the mid-1980’s. The collapse in oil also had a negative impact on bulk chemicals. Those that found jobs in that time period largely ended up in the semiconductor industry, as I recall.

Similarly, cuts in federal research funding in the late 1980’s (under Reagan’s policies) led to a dearth of academic and industrial research positions, especially for those with PhDs, in the early 1990’s. I knew quite a few math and physics PhDs (with very impressive credentials) who struggled to find postdoc positions or any jobs at all. Many of those folks ended up on Wall Street, using their math skills to develop portfolio analysis tools and option pricing models. I recently learned that a friend who excelled academically as a physics major at MIT and later studied under Richard Feynman and earned his PhD at Caltech is now working on Wall Street. I’m sure that he is doing well (financially and otherwise), but his original career goal was to be a physicist. However, the economy and the job opportunities available sent his life in a different direction.

Interestingly, a lot of biology PhD’s (particularly those that earned their doctorates in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s) ended up as patent attorneys.

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