Letter to a Young Engineer

Working in the 'real world' can be challenging

DEAR PROFESSOR VAN WIJS,
It’s hard to believe it’s been two years since graduating from Christian college! As I shared in a previous letter, I moved to the west coast where I am getting settled in my first job as a junior engineer at the ACME Corporation.

While I really enjoyed my time in Christian college, I am finding that working in the “real world” can be challenging. I sit in a large cubicle farm as part of a team that designs a part for a small sub-assembly that is used in larger products. Like the parts I design, I feel like a small cog in a giant machine. I am left feeling like the comic character “Dilbert.”

In college I was inspired by an exciting “every square inch” kingdom vision but, now that I am in the “real world,” my work seems inconsequential. How does my faith matter in a large corporate setting with little opportunity to make a difference?
I hope to be back on campus for alumni day in the spring, so perhaps we can meet over a coffee at the “Providential Bean” on campus.

Your former student,
Dan

Dear Dan,
What a delight to hear from you! I’m glad to hear you are settled into a new city and work. Your feelings are not uncommon when making the transition from college to work, and it’s easy to be discouraged at times, especially when our work may seem inconsequential.
I recall God’s words in Jeremiah to the Jewish exiles in Babylon who were longing for home. God tells them to “Build houses and settle down . . . seek the peace and prosperity of the city” (Jer. 29:5-7). Babylon was the high-tech centre of their day, and like those exiles, we may find ourselves like strangers in a strange land. And yet we are called to seek the peace and prosperity of our workplaces as well as the wider society. Your work designing useful tools contributes to unfolding the possibilities in creation and is a legitimate way of serving God and neighbour.

Thankfully, we are not responsible to bring about the kingdom on our own, but rather to be faithful in the places where we find ourselves. Pray for your workplace and for your co-workers; pray that God will use you to serve him. Do your work diligently, ask good questions, listen closely, show empathy to co-workers and customers. Remember that your engineering job is only one avenue in which you can serve. Our primary calling is to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, but we have multiple secondary callings  – not only our job, but also in our local church, friendships, neighbourhoods and volunteer opportunities.

Don’t forget the practice of regular Scripture reading and pray that God will equip you through his Holy Spirit. We cannot expect to be effective in the kingdom if we don’t maintain a relationship with the King! As you gain more experience, be attentive to God’s leading as new opportunities for work and service may present themselves.

There is much more that could be said, but let’s plan to meet in person over coffee when you are back on campus and we will continue the conversation!

May God continue to bless you and keep you in your work, and may he “equip you with everything good for doing his will” (Heb. 13:21).

Sincerely,
Dr. van Wijs, 

Author

  • Derek C. Schuurman is a Canadian currently living in Grand Rapids, Michigan where he is professor of computer science at Calvin University. Prior to arriving at Calvin, he worked as an engineer and taught for many years at Redeemer University. He is a fellow of the American Scientific Affiliation and an Associate Fellow of the Kirby Laing Center for Public Theology. Besides his technical interests he is interested in faith and technology issues. He is the author of Shaping a Digital World: Faith, Culture and Computer Technology (IVP, 2013) and a co-author of A Christian Field Guide to Technology for Engineers and Designers (IVP, 2022).

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