EPIC Systems Blog

So you want to be an engineer? …but you’re not good at math? Get Over It!

want to be an engineer

I hear a lot of kids say, “I don’t think I could be an engineer because I’m not good at math.” Yet these same kids have built go carts, figured out how to make things go boom, and have found ways to launch potatoes with incredible force. What they don’t realize is that it took a fair amount of engineering ingenuity to accomplish these tasks. More than the fear of crashing or blowing off a finger, they are afraid of the “math” that it takes to become an engineer.

Granted, a small percentage of graduate engineers will work in a R&D setting that will require high level math. However, the reality is that the vast majority of engineers that graduate will work in industry. If you look at what they do, day in and day out, you will find that they need to be very good at algebra.  You know, y = mx + b kind of stuff.  Engineers get giddy with excitement the handful of times they get to use the TAN key on their HP-85 scientific calculator.  Kind of makes me want to brandish my K+E slide rule with 22 scales.

“Wait…  Did you say algebra?! So you’re telling me that the majority of math that
engineers do every day is the same stuff that I learned from Brother “Jumpin’ Joe” O’Meara my junior year of high school?”


That is exactly right. Engineering is not so much being good at math but more about having a passion for understanding how things work and interact. Let’s take a parabola as an example… y = x2.  Boring, right? Why should you care?


use-this-oneWhat if your teacher asked “Do you have Dish TV?”… Then went on to explain that your dish collects radio waves from outer space. No matter where those radio waves hit the surface of the dish, they all bounce to the same point (the focus).  That point has an amplifier that can take those very weak signals and present a signal that allows you to watch the Rams beat the Bears on national TV.  Congratulations!  You just learned a practical reason to care about parabolas!


Thomas Edison did poorly in his math classes in school, but went on to patent over 1000 inventions. In engineering, what matters more than love of math is being a person that wants to understand how things work, likes to take things apart, and likes to put things together to make the world a better place. If you look around your garage and think “I can make an automated robot that takes the trash out from these miscellaneous pieces and parts,” you might make a great engineer. Don’t let the fact that you don’t see the redeeming social value of calculus get in the way of becoming an engineer!

Yes, in engineering school the math sequence can be intense. Some of the classes will kick your butt. Suck it up!  Every one of us have taken classes in which we “toughed it out.”  For me, one of those classes was Financial Accounting. I still couldn’t tell you a credit from a debit, and I have an MBA. Loved Finance. Hated Financial Accounting. Still had to pass it to cross finish line. Like anything in life, there will be things you just have to survive to achieve the goals you have for yourself.  Don’t let a couple of pesky math classes stop you from being a great engineer!

John Schott

By: John R. Schott, P.E.

John is a Principal Electrical Engineer and the President of EPIC Systems, Inc. As a young boy, he too had a passion for understanding how things work. Today, his engineering and fabrication firm builds pilot plants and modular process systems, integrates automated packaging systems and machine vision systems, and builds custom machinery for manufacturers around the world.


Written in collaboration with Eric Coale.

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34 Responses to So you want to be an engineer? …but you’re not good at math? Get Over It!

  1. Jared Rice October 17, 2013 at 1:24 pm #

    Great blog, John – Giving young kids confidence that they can achieve something great is key. You don’t have to be the best at everything to achieve your goals; you need confidence, discipline and perseverance.

  2. Chris October 17, 2013 at 4:27 pm #

    Very true. Most engineers will never touch high level math unless they are in an R&D setting. Also, good engineers are generally logical thinkers.

  3. Jim October 18, 2013 at 8:00 pm #

    Great blog, I am going to have my son peeps read it.
    I thought your true calling was to be a M.D, but now i
    am thinking teacher. P.S. I have worked with John on
    engineering projects from Rocket sleds for Boeing to
    designing a factory to make chili,and the clients have
    always been thrilled with results. JL

  4. Jefferson November 4, 2013 at 7:07 am #

    I couldn’t agree any much more. I love to take apart electronics like my Xbox, built model jets as a hobby when I was younger, go to an Aviation technician school while still in high school, and my one Calculus class has me in that rock in a hard place. It’s tough. I’m starting to doubt myself that I’m capable of even handling higher mathematics just to be awarded that golden diploma that says you’re qualified to build and think. Reading up on these articles I’ve been given a new sense of hope, maybe I may not be good at math now, maybe not tomorrow, but for sure I can the day after tomorrow if I just work hard enough. I suppose it’s one of those things you have to conquer in order to do what you love. Heck, I felt like I was on top of the world when I use to get mathematics correctly and ace all my quizzes, home works, and tests. Calculus is a struggle but maybe it’s because I have too much on my plate right now. The time to just sit down and clear my mind isn’t there anymore. Stress is becoming a major factor in my life right now. Honestly, I do need more soul searching to see if Engineering is for me and I would love to shadow an Aeronautical Engineer just to make sure this is what I want. I think I need time and patience. That and money because college is expensive, haha. Thank you John R. Schott, your words of wisdom and knowledge are uplifting.

  5. John Schott November 4, 2013 at 12:19 pm #


    You sound like you should be an engineer. Maybe to get through the calc sequence in college, you will need to take a little lighter load. Or, take it during the summer when you can concentrate on one class.

    I recommend you find a GOOD tutor. Find someone who can explain things to you in a way that you can understand. If someone ever explains something to you that you don’t understand, ask them to explain it again. You’ll be able to tell pretty quickly if you have the right tutor. If not, politely thank them and look for a new tutor.

    Bottom line… MAKE IT HAPPEN, DUDE !!! You da man!

    Call me if you need some encouragement.


  6. David DeWitt November 4, 2013 at 4:44 pm #

    The issue of math comes up often with employers, students and educators. Mr. Schott is right on target. There is no doubt that algebra is the key. I’ve always felt that it is as much about the equal (=) sign as it is about the actual numbers. Once students start to think about how one set of circumstances are dependent and related (=) to another set of circumstances they are more than “half way home”. The other subject I am super supportive of is Physics. Physics is all about how things around you really work. Physics can also be even taught without numbers to get young folks interested. You can always add the numbers later.

    I’d enjoy speaking with you or Mr. Schott further on any of these topics. I am usually at the office number most days from 9-3.

  7. Anushree Bagwe April 19, 2014 at 8:52 pm #

    Thank you Mr. John. This article gave me some confidence. I flunked at maths and I am still not sucking it up, I guess I will have to start soon. I suck at calculus and now I have started hating it. Your article gives me a renewed hope in myself. Thanks again!
    P.S.-I am a student from India.

  8. Abraham Martinez May 13, 2014 at 4:01 am #

    Im very interested in majoring in electrical engineering but yes my only thing stopping me is the whole math part it puts me down knowing im not so great at math …. Im recently a senior in highschool and about to graduate but im so confused wether or not to pursue my dream of been an engineer what do you think?

  9. urfli May 17, 2014 at 3:37 am #

    I sucked at math. This is true story.I even sucked at fractions, it takes weeks for me to find the LCD.
    I took a removal exam in Integral Calculus 3times. Almost failed Diff Calculus as well.


    I’m a software engineer at Lexis Nexis.

  10. Carissa October 8, 2014 at 10:53 am #

    I was an A student in high school, but was horrible in advanced algebra even though I applied myself. I went into the service and have been away from classes for four+ years. So it was something that concerned me greatly in an aeronautical field where I’d like to eventually become an industrial engineer, to think that I might not be able to manage the mathematical course studies. I may very well give it a shot due to this and similar input I’ve received.

  11. Benjamin Nechmad October 23, 2014 at 3:50 am #

    I just wanted to say that I am a senior in high school and I’m considering majoring in Civil/ Environmental engineering. I’ve done a lot of thinking and realized that I’ve always loved building things and the only thing that’s in my is my “okay” math skills. I’m very nervous for the Calculus and other math I will have to take in college but this article certainly gives me confidence that I will be able to succeed.

    Thank you

  12. sharwari March 24, 2015 at 5:19 am #

    it was really fantastic!!! first i decided to drop the engineering idea, but your speech is soo influential.
    thank u soooooo much.

  13. Joseph Redfearn May 12, 2015 at 7:30 am #

    This was very encouraging to hear. I never had patience for an education as a teen but when I was a sophomore I found a passion in an electrical trades class my high school offered. I’ve been working in the trade since I graduated three years later. I’m now 25, working as a maintenance electrician with an obsession for automated machinery. I’ve been considering going back for some kind of electro-mechanical engineering degree but my fear of math has shunned my dream of giving more to society and also myself. After reading this, I’m inspired to enroll asap and one day achieve the title of an EE. and hopefully not have to sit behind a desk adding numbers all day…

  14. sharkman June 17, 2015 at 6:01 am #

    I am very interested in building things right since I was a little boy, but the problem is I find It difficult to understand logic or theory oriented subjects (physics, maths and chemistry) . I struggle with it in secondary school, and I’m currently studying computer engineering in a polytechnic. My friends always encourage me to be an engineer cuz I help built , troubleshoot a lot of things that even experts are unable to do. I always spend a lot of time reading but I always feel like I’m missing something so I decided to take some personality tests and the results is always INFP. But I couldn’t afford to live my life without creating things with my hands cuz I really luv it. Please I need help.

  15. jemimah June 26, 2015 at 9:31 am #

    Hi im jemimah sawdagar , I want to be an engineer but my doubt was im not even great and good in math my cousins said that im stupid to be a engineer there always said to me you suck it up , you dream will fool you ,

    You’re a genius anyway , that was my cousins always said to be but im not affected so much im just afraid if I can be a engineer someday thank you it inspired me ..

  16. jemimah June 26, 2015 at 9:36 am #

    I will be an engineer someday that my lifetime dream I know i’m weak not genius and smart not talented but
    I will study hard to be successful in my dream ,, i hope someday there not even saying to me that im study I want encouragement not a advice that will full me down
    Dont be afraid dream high .

  17. Hassan July 12, 2015 at 10:58 am #

    All these comments are so helpful, thank you all. I’ve always wanted to do engineering, but the math in it seemed so intimidating, but, now thanks to you guys I’m giving it a shot.

  18. Jaquin July 13, 2015 at 11:28 am #

    i love technology and it is my passion to invent but i suck at math. I wont give up on becoming my dream.

  19. Conor August 16, 2015 at 2:39 pm #

    I am reading this two days before I am about to resit a first year calculus exam for mech eng. I have poured so much time into studying for this exam and I still feel woefully unprepared. Your article and all these comments, particularly Jefferson’s are a great comfort to me because I know I’m supposed to be an engineer as I have great mechanical aptitude and a natural ability for figuring out what makes stuff tick but I have an inherent fear of maths, which hopefully I will be able to overcome someday in order to pursue my dream

  20. Eric September 28, 2015 at 9:17 am #

    This was such a confidence booster! I am a non-traditional student and am taking college algebra right now. I just failed my first test in algebra. I was a terrible high school student that ended up dropping out of high school. Now I am 35 and on a mission to become an engineer. I have been told by several instructors that my knowledge is sufficient to be able to succeed, but it seems like such a daunting task. Any other words of encouragement would be greatly appreciated. By the way I did good on my portion of the test dealing with distance and slope. y=mx+b, formula for finding slope and y-intercept. I am a very hard worker but it just seems like all of the info in Algebra seems to get jumbled together by test time. Any advice would be excellent. Thanks!

  21. sasha October 2, 2015 at 12:19 pm #

    I thank you for shearing this information with us, anytime I pull things apart or go in depth in explaining how a particular thing works I get overly excited. During high school I was always the top in my mechanical engineering class, I even won an award for Mechanical Engineering Student of the year. The problem is I despise math, I try my best to understand but it gets frustrating at times. Right now I am finishing up my diploma in Mechanical Maintenance where I will further my studies in the U.S as a mechanical engineer, but all I am hearing is MATH, MATH,MATH. I am at the point of choosing a different field of study, I don’t want to give up on my dream that easily.

  22. Jon October 12, 2015 at 1:21 pm #

    Thank you so much for this article. I get A’s in all my classes….except for math. I bust my ass and get c’s and a fair share of d’s. I know I can be an engineer but the math piece makes me want to quit. Thanks you for this encouragement!!!

    • Maan November 16, 2015 at 4:02 pm #

      Yeah I know how u feel…I have the same problem

  23. Brian October 23, 2015 at 1:02 am #

    Yeah, surely, go into engineering if your math skills are not very good. Who cares if all the classes u will be taking are math based? Graduate with a 2.5 gpa and join the army of recent graduates that are desperately looking for at least some kind of job. Why would someone hire a sucker like you if they can hire a more successful student for the same money?

    • EPIC Systems November 13, 2015 at 3:12 pm #

      Brian –

      We have actually hired engineering graduates with lower GPA’s. If you have a lower GPA but can demonstrate a lot of hands-on experience, sometimes the experience outweighs the book smarts. Math is taught in school, yes, and engineering theory, but some of the intuitive skills required to make a great design or build a machine to solve a unique problem, are not taught by a book.

      You should still do all you can to gain the math skills, but just because you aren’t as talented in math as you are at electronics, or understanding mechanics, or one of many other aspects of engineering, doesn’t mean you can’t be an engineer.

      You have to demonstrate a passion and a talent for some areas that apply to engineering, but you don’t have to be highly talented in ALL the areas.

  24. Karlie November 6, 2015 at 5:01 pm #

    I thank you so much for writing this article because I am 14 and have really been interested in engineering and I can put together computers and I really want to become an engineer but I hate math…
    This article has inspired me though.

  25. Maan November 16, 2015 at 4:01 pm #

    This article just saved me from hating myself

  26. jaquin November 20, 2015 at 1:08 pm #

    i already have so much stuff that i want to build from a flying car (not that stupid thing of the UK), a hoverboard using air pressure, holographic projectors and tablets and i have everything planned out but people say i cant do it

  27. Anna December 14, 2015 at 9:15 pm #

    I’m barely an eighth grader and I don’t know if I should actually be an engineer but people say you need to be really great at math. And that kind of scared me because I suck at math… Im average to always getting a “b” on my math grade. Not so quick, I still believe I can do better in math, But this article has definitely given me some encouragement.

  28. Hasvinei January 7, 2016 at 7:11 am #


    Thanks for the encouraging words,
    at least lm not alone in this world. My dream is to be a recognized engineeer.
    I failed mathematics but l have more than 6 years experience in supervisory within laboratory field.can anyone out there help me to study engineering without considering my Mathematics grade at O-LEVEL?
    All lm asking is a chance.


  29. Ilyas Shrifi February 2, 2016 at 9:11 pm #

    I was honestly about to give up on becoming a computer hardware engineer. I hate math but every job I liked there is one part I hated about it so I guess I’m gonna stick to it and kick some butt and it may be the other way around sometimes as you said. Thank you for the confidence and if it helped me it helped others. I am in 10th grade already taking a cert test for web design and other thing later this year. I love creating things especially with a team cause I like combining peoples amazing ideas into one unimaginable one . I can’t wait to create what one day will be in everyone’s computers all over the world. Believe it.

  30. Kyle k February 27, 2016 at 3:07 pm #

    I was terrible at math in high school. After I graduated I became a pilot and started competing in long range shooting. At that point I became pretty good at it. After I was furloughed I decided to try going to school for engineering. As long as I was teaching myself I found math very straight forward and logical but the way everyone teaches it is so unintuitive that the instruction was useless. I think a lot of people only struggle with math due to the way it’s tuaght, memorization over intuition does not make a good mathematician.

  31. Vinicius March 1, 2016 at 6:00 pm #

    When I read it, wanna hug you so strong! Because all is true, BUT, look my life example, today I’m 23years old. Since 2012 work and study engineer, I don’t very good with math, all jobs I ever say a solition for problens, make a lot of products, I have a lot of good thinks, but i neever cam calculate if one suspension car will resist or not, but I can graduate and keep drawing with Solidworks my inventions.

    Sorry my bad english.

  32. David Cortes March 13, 2016 at 10:00 am #

    Math is the whole reason I choose political science over mechanical engineering. I like science but I just can’t process math. Failed introductory algebra 3 times before giving up. Now I’m working on getting into law school.

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