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What is an Engineer?

An engineer uses science, technology and math to solve problems. We can see engineering everywhere in the world around us, improving the ways we work, travel, communicate, stay healthy, and entertain.

Today, the field of engineering offers more career choices than any other discipline. In the past, there were four major engineering branches: mechanical, chemical, civil and electrical. Today, the number of available engineering degrees have greatly increased. There are now six major branches of engineering: mechanical, chemical, civil, electrical, management, and geotechnical, and under each branch there are hundreds of different subcategories.

What does an Engineer do?

Engineers design machinery, build skyscrapers, and oversee public works, but they address society's needs and problems on so many other levels as well. At a molecular level, they work on drug delivery systems that work inside cells. At a macro level, they quantify the particle flow of pollutants through soil to clean up oil spills, abandoned industrial sites and other biohazards. At a galactic level, they are designing spacecraft for other-planet exploration. At an atomic level, they are developing data storage that focuses on the spin of electrons in atoms. Clean drinking water, safe food storage, and the protection of our environment are also under the domain of the engineer.

The following are various types of engineers. Click on each type to learn what they do.

Aerospace Engineer
- directs and coordinates the design, manufacture, and testing of aircraft and aerospace products
Agricultural Engineer
- analyzes agricultural operations and looks at new technologies and ways of doing things to improve land use, increase yields, and conserve resources
Biochemical Engineer
- develops new chemical products that can be used by a multitude of companies and individuals
Biofuel Manufacturing Research Engineer
- selects, tests, and recommends equipment and process improvements for the production of alternative fuel
Biomedical Engineer
- analyzes and designs solutions to problems in biology and medicine
Chemical Engineer
- conceptualizes and designs processes for producing, transforming and transporting materials
Civil Engineer
- designs and supervises large construction projects, including roads, buildings, airports, tunnels, dams, bridges, and systems for water supply and sewage treatment
Computer Hardware Engineer
- researches, designs, develops, and tests computer equipment such as chips, circuit boards, or routers
Computer Systems Engineer
- provides advice to clients regarding the appropriate hardware and/or software to ensure that their computer systems meet their needs
Electrical Engineer
- designs and develops new electrical equipment, solves problems and tests equipment
Environmental Engineer
- uses the principles of engineering, soil science, biology, and chemistry to develop solutions to environmental problems
Flight Engineer
- is responsible for ensuring that all components of the plane are in proper working order
Geotechnical Engineer
- is a specialization within civil engineering that involves investigating and understanding what is beneath the ground’s surface
Geothermal Engineer
- creates processes and equipment that convert thermal energy stored in the earth into electrical power
Industrial Engineer
- finds ways to eliminate wastefulness in production processes
Mechanical Engineer
- designs, develops, builds, and tests mechanical devices, including tools, engines and machines
Mechatronics Engineer
- create machines that are made up of several parts: the mechanical system, the sensing and actuation, the control systems, and the software
Mining and Geological Engineer
- designs mines for the safe and efficient removal of minerals, such as coal and metals, for manufacturing and utilities
Nanosystems Engineer
- investigates the microscopic interactions between various materials
Nanotechnology Engineer
- seeks to learn new things that can change the face of health, science, technology, and the environment on a molecular level
Nuclear Engineer
- researches and develops the processes, instruments, and systems used to get benefits from nuclear energy and radiation
Petroleum Engineer
- locates reservoirs of natural gas and crude oil beneath the earth's surface
Photonics Engineer
- creates and improves systems and products that use photonics—lasers, optics, fiber optics, and imaging
Power Engineer
- is responsible for the operation, maintenance, renovation and repair of boiler systems and other mechanical systems in a facility
Product Safety Engineer
- is responsible for developing and carrying out tests and experiments to gauge the safety levels of products
Robotics Engineer
- creates robots and robotic systems that are able to perform duties that humans are either unable or prefer not to complete
Sales Engineer
- sells complex scientific and technological products or services to businesses
Security Engineer
- is someone who analyzes computer networks, ensures they are running securely, and tries to foresee possible security issues that could arise in the future
Ship Engineer or Marine Engineer
- is involved in coordinating the activity in virtually any technical department aboard a commercial, research and military ship
Software Engineer
- is engaged in computer software development, and applies engineering principles to software creation
Software Quality Assurance Engineer
- monitors every phase of the software development process so as to ensure design quality
Water Engineer
- takes care of sewage and wastewater and makes sure that clean water is available to citizens
Wind Energy Engineer
- harnesses the power of wind to feed a power grid or other electrical power system by designing wind farms, or their components

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What is the workplace of an Engineer like?

The workplace of an engineer depends on the type of engineer, their actual job description and the company they work for. Many engineers work in an office environment, some work in the field overseeing their projects, and others, like a ship engineer, travel almost 100% of the time.

What is the best field of engineering to get into?

The 'best engineering degree' will, of course, be subjective, and be different for each person. The choice a student makes will be based on a couple of things - where his/her interests lie, and what field has the best outlook for the future.

If looking for an engineering field that is growing at a rapid pace and is linked to advancing almost every major industry in the future, then software engineering is at the top of the list. If higher pay is a top criteria, then petroleum engineering and chemical engineering are good fields to look into. The biomedical engineering field is expected to grow 62 percent by 2020 due to the aging baby-boomer generation and advances in medical technology. Environmental engineering is expected to grow by 22 percent by 2020, and civil engineering by 19 percent.

Again, it's good to remember that the best engineering degree (and ultimately the best job satisfaction) may be completely different than what it is for someone else. Opt for the field that will be the most rewarding and fulfilling for you as an individual, as there really isn't a 'bad' engineering field.

Do engineers make good product managers?

Sometimes an engineer will have a personal internal change during their career in which their professional path and interests start to veer from a product-thinking environment to a market-thinking environment (inward focus vs outward focus). It would be recommended to get certified in product management and even think about getting a master's of business administration degree if this is a path you'd like to pursue.

This can be a great career choice, as an engineer already has the technical background and understands the technology. It would be good to read books, blogs, and go to events pertaining to product management. Finding a mentor that has been a product manager for a few years would be excellent as well, as he/she can answer questions and help guide you through the process.

Is studying engineering and becoming an engineer worth it?

Engineering can be an excellent career choice for someone that has the aptitude, a keen interest, strong math skills, and a logical approach to problem solving. Engineering majors have the reputation for being very demanding, sometimes taking five years to complete. It might be difficult to go through all the math and science involved, and you may wonder if it's worth the amount of work involved (especially when seeing students in other programs having a lot more fun than you).

Remember that you must put in the hard work to achieve any type of success, and becoming an engineer is, in the end, a rewarding and satisfying career. It will enable you to create, test, and design things that solve the world's problems, and it will offer endless growth opportunities. If you pick your engineering field wisely and keep true to yourself and your strengths, it will definitely be worth your effort.

What is some good advice for engineering students?

It is important to find an engineering field where you are really interested in the core content. Just because some engineering fields are considered to be the fields to get into and everyone seems to be flocking in that direction, doesn't mean you have to as well. If something doesn't appeal to you, then it's not the right major for you, so avoid it.

Try and get into classes early on that you suspect are going to be your major. That way, you can discover if it's the right fit for you. Two good questions to ask yourself are, 'Am I really enjoying this?' and 'Do I have what it takes to truly excel in this field?' Also, try to avoid taking all the 'fluff' courses during your first couple of years. That will ultimately leave you with all the really hard ones during your final years, and you won't have anything to break up all the hard core engineering work.

What is it like being an engineer?

Many aspects of our lives have been visualized, designed, and developed by an engineer. To engineer literally means 'to make things happen'. Most of what engineers do on a daily basis can fall into four categories: communicating, problem solving, analyzing, and planning. Depending on an engineer's industry and role, their day will typically consist of a various mix of these functions.

Engineers take scientific knowledge and convert it into technology, and then take that technology and convert it into a working solution/innovation. There is a sense of pride and well-being that all engineers feel after having completed a difficult project successfully. It is a life-rewarding career: creating, designing and producing useful products and services for others.

Can Mathematicians become Engineers?

It wouldn’t be advisable for a person who wants to become an engineer to first major in mathematics with the view to deviating at a later date toward engineering. It is true that a lot of mathematic principles apply in the world of engineering, but engineering is far more practical and ‘hands-on’ and one could not major in mathematics and expect to secure employment right away as an engineer.

If, however, you have majored in mathematics and find yourself looking thereafter to pursue a career in engineering, you are certainly ahead of someone who has majored in something completely unrelated. There are some specialized areas of engineering in which a mathematician could work, but you will still have to undergo further training and obtain the relevant qualifications, or at the very least assume an internship or relevant work experience.

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