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Does Your Major Have to Define Your Career? One Artist’s Story

What can you do with a degree in electrical engineering? Artist and creative technologist Osman Koç shares his journey and lessons he's learned.

How an Electrical Engineer Became an Artist

Your major is important. But it does not define you. And it certainly doesn’t assign you an identity in your post-college life.

According to a 2013 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, only 27% of college grads living in large cities were in jobs that related closely to their majors. That means nearly three-quarters of graduates will redefine themselves after they leave school.

Take Osman Koç, who studied electrical engineering at Sabanci University in his native Turkey. Most electrical engineering majors go on to work for government agencies, consultancies, or companies in fields such as telecommunications, technology, construction, manufacturing, or transportation. Not Koç. After getting a master’s in mechatronics, he became an artist and creative technologist. Now based in San Francisco, Koç is a member of several artist collectives, dreaming up mind-blowing visual installations involving sound, music, and light. (Check out some of Koç’s work.)

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Here are a few lessons you can learn from Koç’s untraditional journey:

Take advantage of your educational environment

It’s great if you have an idea of what you want to study and you’re 100% into it. But don’t keep blinders on; you may never again have the opportunity to take classes in areas outside your course of study, and you’ll certainly never have such a huge buffet of options. MyMajors.com tracks 1,800 different majors, which means there’s a virtually infinite list of classes for you to sample. Koç, for instance, took art history classes while pursing his undergrad major of electronics engineering; this helped stoke his interest in art and technology. If you’ve got a passing interest in something else, take a class!

Don’t put too much pressure on your first job

That first job out of college is not always an indicator of how your career will unfold. Some people, like Koç, never apply for a traditional “first job.” Others don’t feel fulfilled by their first, second, or even third jobs. According to a 2016 report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, people aged 20–24 spend a median length of 16 months at their jobs. So soak up what you can at that first gig and remember that it’s not a life sentence. It’s healthy to assume a better fit will come along.

Follow your passion—as much as you can

With the last point in mind, if you’re not firing on all cylinders at your job and engaging in the things you’re most passionate about, it’s important to figure out a way to scratch that itch. Like to write? Blog, or pick up a freelance gig. Enjoy photography? Snap away and post to your Instagram. The trick is balancing that with your professional life. There’s no hard-and-fast rule on this, although some experts recommend limiting hobby spending to 10% of your take-home pay. It’s all about finding the right ratio for you.

Be ready to change

Koç says this one beautifully, like the artist he is: “Always leave some negative space to give you enough flexibility to redefine yourself.” It’s a near guarantee that who you are right now is not exactly who you’ll be in 5–10 years. Your interests will change as you gather experience. Be willing to adapt when possible, and listen to those inner voices challenging you to try new things, explore new opportunities, and, above all, be OK with the fact that you might end up in a different career than the one you had in mind.

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