What is an Engineer?
Table of Contents
- What is an Engineer?
- What does an Engineer do?
- What is the workplace of an Engineer like?
- What is the best field of engineering to get into?
- Do engineers make good product managers?
- Is studying engineering and becoming an engineer worth it?
- What is some good advice for engineering students?
- What is it like being an engineer?
- Can Mathematicians become Engineers?
- What does it mean to design and build a connected world?
- What are 10 major engineering challenges of the next decade?
- What are the top 50 dream employers of engineers?
- Similar Careers
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.
- directs and coordinates the design, manufacture, and testing of aircraft and aerospace products
- analyzes agricultural operations and looks at new technologies and ways of doing things to improve land use, increase yields, and conserve resources
- 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
- analyzes and designs solutions to problems in biology and medicine
- conceptualizes and designs processes for producing, transforming and transporting materials
- 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
- designs and develops new electrical equipment, solves problems and tests equipment
- uses the principles of engineering, soil science, biology, and chemistry to develop solutions to environmental problems
- is responsible for ensuring that all components of the plane are in proper working order
- is a specialization within civil engineering that involves investigating and understanding what is beneath the ground’s surface
- creates processes and equipment that convert thermal energy stored in the earth into electrical power
- finds ways to eliminate wastefulness in production processes
- designs, develops, builds, and tests mechanical devices, including tools, engines and machines
- 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
- investigates the microscopic interactions between various materials
- seeks to learn new things that can change the face of health, science, technology, and the environment on a molecular level
- researches and develops the processes, instruments, and systems used to get benefits from nuclear energy and radiation
- locates reservoirs of natural gas and crude oil beneath the earth's surface
- creates and improves systems and products that use photonics—lasers, optics, fiber optics, and imaging
- 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
- creates robots and robotic systems that are able to perform duties that humans are either unable or prefer not to complete
- sells complex scientific and technological products or services to businesses
- 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
- 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
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Also relevant for Mathematician
That question was posed to engineers at Honeywell, which has operations at about 1,200 sites in 70 countries. With more than 131,000 employees worldwide, including more than 22,000 engineers, Honeywell is a major player across industries, including homes and building, aviation, defense and space, oil and gas, industrial, chemicals, and vehicles.
Here is how some of those engineers responded to the question:
Sunaina Wanchoo, Senior Engineer in Bengaluru, India
At Honeywell: 10 years
Education: Electronics and Telecommunication, Avionics Specialization from The Aeronautical Society of India and a Private Pilot License for Cessna 172R
What she does: I am with the customer and product support team. We receive the issues from the airline operations center or from pilots, for example: ‘Aircraft was supposed to turn left but it turned right.’ I fly the same scenario as explained by the pilots on simulators with customer navigation database and the real-time flight plan. I reproduce the issue on the simulators for the subject aircraft, find the root cause of the issue, and provide a near term solution or workaround to the pilots until the issue is fixed in the product software and hardware.
Why engineering?: Flying an aircraft has been my childhood dream and my present job role allows me to live my dream of flying every day – maybe not in the real aircraft, but I fly the simulators every day. I enjoy engineering the aviation Field, imagining things, and thinking ways to make it happen.
The best thing about being an engineer: It is the fact that you're being paid to think. Engineers innovate and bring to world the things that never existed. Engineers convert dreams and imagination into reality.
Yanling Wu, Senior Project Engineer in Houston, Texas
At Honeywell: Six years
Education: Ph.D. in chemical engineering
What she does: I create analytics-related business cases and derive insights from data by working closely with data scientists. The development of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and data analytics has empowered us to solve operational problems that were believed to be unsolvable. We are beginning to change the way our customers operate and manage their plants. I am excited to be part of the digital analytics transformation journey.
Why engineering?: I always liked to understand how things work. I was a kid that loved playing with Rubik's Cube and building blocks. In school, I was very interested in math and physics and that is why I enjoy solving engineering problems and providing solutions.
The best thing about being an engineer: The fact that we get to solve problems, design things that matter, improve the quality of life, and never get bored is the best thing about being an engineer.
Francis Rodriguez, Advanced Manufacturing Engineer in Torrance, California
At Honeywell: 15.5 years
Education: Industrial engineering with a specialty in manufacturing processes at the Instituto Tecnologico de Mexicali; also, a Master’s degree
What she does: As an industrial engineer, it is my team’s job to make sure our technology designs are capable of being manufactured in the real world. Sometimes the design environment does not fully reflect the limitations and obstacles for building a particular component. My team and I make sure our new products and platform components are manufacturable at Honeywell plants and at our external suppliers.
Why engineering?: Well, to be honest, it was not my first thought. I originally wanted to be a doctor but my girlfriend kind of convinced me otherwise. I did my research and recognized the potential it had for being successful. I am certain that I made the right choice.
The best thing about being an engineer: In engineering, you are always challenged to look for the best way to do things in less time and at less cost.
David Kucera, Engineering Fellow in Brno, Czech Republic
At Honeywell: 15 years
Education: Biomedical engineering at TU Brno, Czech Republic
What he does: We design electronic controllers for gas-fired heating systems for industrial and commercial applications – furnaces and boilers.
Why engineering?: As a kid, I enjoyed constructing things by myself – toys, Legos. I have also wanted to know how things work and how they break. I have always been interested in physics, math, electronics, and programming.
Patents: 18 granted and more filed
Li Wang, Technology Fellow in Shanghai, China
At Honeywell: 13 years
Education: Material science and engineering, which includes electronic materials and devices, micro-electromechanical systems, energy harvesting, advanced materials, and sensing technology for clean air and water
What she does: I’m an engineer with a lot of curiosity, always moving from one tech field to another. I spend half of my time working on various technical projects to deliver results, and then with the other half on innovation platforms to serve more engineers.
Why engineering?: In engineering, you can choose to follow your heart and it's simple to deal with things.
Patents: More than five
Petchirajan J, Software Engineer in Madurai, India
At Honeywell: Three years
Education: Bachelor of Engineering in Computer Science and Master of Science in Software Systems
What he does: I am a software engineer designing and developing tools. As a Tech Lead, I am involved in the entire development life cycle. I evaluate the newer technologies and identify the fitment of that technology for revenue generation.
Why engineering?: Since I was young, I have always been curious about how things work. I always used to break electrical items to understand how it was working. When I got around to high school, I joined a private computer center to learn programming and it led me to software engineering.
The best thing about being an engineer: It is the fact that we don't have routine 9 am-to-5 pm office work. As an engineer, we have to stay up-to-date with all types of technology and industry knowledge and this continuous learning makes our life very interesting.
Maryam Abdul-Wahid, Software Engineer in Phoenix
At Honeywell: Interned in 2015 and 2016 and started full-time in 2017
Education: Electrical and Computer Engineering with a minor in Systems Engineering at the University of Arizona
What she does: The program that I work on is Primus Epic 2.0 Touch Screen Controller (TSC) – Honeywell’s integrated avionics system for small and mid-size business jets. My role involves programming the graphics, writing and reviewing software requirements.
Why engineering?: My high school engineering classes were very hands-on and engaging, which inspired my decision to become an engineer. We designed cardboard chairs to support 200 lbs, experimented with programmable logic controllers, and designed autonomous robots for statewide competitions.
The best thing about being an engineer: The countless number of career paths available. Just within the aerospace industry, there are numerous exciting and challenging programs related to defense and space, commercial aircrafts, and business aircrafts.
Inspiration: I am inspired by the people at work and the Women in Honeywell Engineering Network (WHEN) and Aerospace Women’s Council (AWC).
Charlene Numrych, Regulatory Engineer, Lincolnshire, Illinois
At Honeywell: Five years
Education: BS Electrical Engineering at University of Illinois and MBA at Lake Forest
What she does: I work with regulatory agencies around the world to ensure Honeywell's gas detection equipment meets all laws, safety and performance requirements. This involves not only understanding the product design and documentation to be able to explain the designed-in safety features, but also the production requirements that ensure the product will be made every time as per the specified requirements.
Why engineering?: I made a deal with my father. He was afraid that I would get hurt competing as a varsity gymnast, especially after I broke my leg in the first competition. So he told me if I took Electrical Engineering, he would never complain about my gymnastics. His logic? It would be too hard for me to keep competing and keep up with studying. My logic? All the time saved arguing about gymnastics will more than cover the studying.
The best thing about being an engineer: There is a tremendous amount of flexibility in the path you can take – everything from moving into law and being a forensic expert to being on the ground level of fascinating new projects. There truly is no end to what you can do building on the basic engineering fundamentals. For instance, I use my knowledge of physics to be a better gymnastics/circus teacher.
Inspiration: Everyone at every level thinking ‘outside the box’ – which sounds trite – but is very true. The most inspiring things are watching ideas which seemed crazy at the time – like Dick Tracy’s watch – come true.
The following list of challenges facing the engineering field was compiled in 2018 by global information analytics firm Elsevier.
1. Upgrading the sagging United States infrastructure
The American Society of Civil Engineers gives the aging U.S. infrastructure a D+ grade. The Society estimates that $3.6 trillion dollars must be invested by 2020 to bring U.S. roads, bridges, water, electrical, and sewage system to safe working order and standards.
2. Educating first world engineers to understand how to solve third world problems
According to the Renewable Resources Journal, the world population will grow by two billion over the next two decades, with 95% of the growth occurring in developing or underdeveloped countries. The challenge that this fact presents for engineers: they must find new and innovative ways to solve problems and address issues in these countries.
3. Promoting green engineering to improve sustainability and reduce the carbon footprint in manufacturing
The U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy reports that the U.S. manufacturing industry produced 19,237 BTUs and 1,071 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.
4. Identifying viable alternative energy sources
According to the British multinational oil and gas company BP plc, formerly ‘British Petroleum,’ contributions to energy production from renewables and other new fuel sources are growing at 6% per year and will contribute 45% of the increment in energy production by 2035.
5. Rethinking how cities look and work
54% of the world’s population lives in cities. According to ARCADIS Sustainable Cities Index seven of the world’s top 10 most sustainable cities are in Europe.
6. Making STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) more appealing to young students
As of the beginning of 2018, the United States had 1.2 million unfilled STEM jobs. A UCLA study revealed that 40% of students enrolled as STEM majors switched subjects or failed to earn a degree.
7. Safeguarding personal data and personal wealth from cyberattacks
According to the 2017 Data Breach Investigation Report, 24% of data breaches affected financial institutions; 15% involved healthcare organizations; 12% targeted public sector entities; and15% involved the retail and accommodation sectors.
8. Addressing climate change through engineering innovation
By 2050, six of the 10 cities with the largest annual flood costs will be in Indian and China. Three will be in the United States: New York, Miami, and New Orleans.
9. Feeding the growing world population through cutting-edge bio-engineering and agricultural innovations
The United Nations warns that by 2050 world food production must increase by 60% to keep up with demand. The challenge is to reach this goal in a sustainable way and ensure food and water access.
10. Improving health and well-being through life sciences, nanotechnology, and bio engineering
By 2060, the population of Americans aged 65 and older will have more than doubled in size from 2011. This puts a lot of pressure on new drug creation and on engineering techniques to deliver drugs.
Global research and advisory firm Universum reports that business students around the world named Google as ‘the world’s most attractive employer.’ Engineering and IT students concurred, probably due to Google’s great salaries, plentiful perks, and overall company culture.
Universum surveyed approximately 100,000 engineering and IT undergraduates in 12 countries and asked them to choose the companies and organizations they would most like to work for. It then compiled a ranking of the most desirable employers across the globe.
Google, Microsoft, Apple, BMW, and IBM are the top 5 dream employers of engineering and IT undergrads.
Here is the complete list of the top 50:
50. Airbus Group
This aerospace and defense corporation is based in Leiden, Netherlands.
Novartis International is number one in sales among the worldwide pharmaceutical industry.
48. PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers)
PwC is the largest professional services firm in the world, operating a network of firms in 157 countries.
47. Volvo Cars
Based in Gothenburg, Sweden, this luxury vehicle manufacturer was established in 1927.
46. Schneider Electric
Schneider is a French corporation that focuses on energy management and electricity distribution.
This American multinational food, snack, and beverage corporation is based in Purchase, New York, and was formed in 1965.
44. Adidas Group
Based in Germany, Adidas is the second-largest sportswear manufacturer in the world.
This pharmaceutical company was founded in Barmen, Germany in 1863.
With 95,000 employees working in more than 85 countries, Schlumberger is the world's largest oilfield services company.
This ‘supermajor’ oil and gas company is based in London.
This Chinese technology company was the world's largest personal computer vendor by unit sales in 2015.
Hewlett Packard Enterprise is an information technology enterprise company based in Palo Alto, California.
This pharmaceutical corporation produces a wide range of medicines and vaccines and was founded in 1849.
This Japanese company is the 6th largest automaker in the world.
The largest chemical producer in the world, BASF is based in Germany.
This multinational engineering and electronics company was the world's largest supplier of automotive components in 2011.
Accenture, the world's largest consulting firm by revenue, is a global company of approximately 384,000 employees, with offices and operations in more than 200 cities in 55 countries.
This Anglo-Dutch consumer goods company owns 400 brands and is one of the oldest multinational countries in the world.
This New York City-based ‘Big Four’ accounting firm is also the world's second-largest professional services network.
With over 103,300 employees worldwide, Dell develops, sells, and supports personal computers.
30. The Boston Consulting Group (BCG)
BCG, a management consulting firm, operates in 48 different countries.
The 3M Company is a multinational, Minnesota-based corporation specializing in products like adhesives and laminates.
28. J.P. Morgan
JPMorgan Chase & Co. is the sixth-largest bank in the world, by total assets.
This American corporation specializes in creating database software.
This Sweden-based ready-to-assemble furniture giant became the world's largest furniture retailer in 2008.
25. Cisco Systems
Cisco Systems specializes in networking equipment and is the largest networking company in the world.
Toyota Motor Corporation is based in Japan and employed 344,109 people as of 2015.
Owning 447 factories in 194 countries, Nestlé is a food and beverage company based in Switzerland.
The largest of the world's oil and gas ‘supermajors,’ ExxonMobil is based in Irving, Texas and is the biggest direct descendant of John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company.
21. Goldman Sachs
Goldman Sachs specializes in global investment banking and other financial services and is headquartered in Lower Manhattan.
20. Volkswagen Group
This German automotive manufacturing company employed 610,076 people as of 2015.
Daimler is a German automotive company that produces premium cars (like Mercedes-Benz) and manufactures commercial vehicles. As of 2014, it had 279,972 employees.
18. The Coca-Cola Co.
The flagship Coca-Cola product of this Atlanta-based beverage corporation was first invented in 1886.
17. McKinsey & Company
This worldwide management consulting firm specializes in both qualitative and quantitative analysis.
16. L'Oréal Group
This French cosmetics company employed 78,600 people as of 2014.
15. General Motors
Hailing from Detroit, General Motors designs and builds vehicles and owns 396 facilities on six continents.
Royal Dutch Shell is considered one of the six oil and gas ‘supermajors.’
13. Ford Motor Company
This automaker is headquartered in Michigan and is controlled by the Ford family, which has minority ownership.
12. Johnson & Johnson
This medical devices and consumer goods manufacturer was first founded in 1886 and now includes around 250 subsidiary companies.
11. Procter & Gamble (P&G)
P&G is a consumer goods company based in Cincinnati, Ohio, with 110,000 employees as of 2015.
This multinational conglomerate sells consumer and professional electronics and is based in Tokyo.
This electronics conglomerate is based in South Korea.
Headquartered in Munich, Siemens is the largest engineering company in Europe.
Intel Corporation is based in Santa Clara, California and employed 107,300 people as of 2015.
General Electric, a multinational conglomerate specializing in appliances, energy management, and other services, has over 300,000 employees around the world.
International Business Machines Corporation is based in Armonk, New York, and was founded in 1911.
4. BMW Group
Luxury vehicle company Bayerisch Motoren Werke is based in Munich and was founded in 1916.
This Cupertino, California-based multinational technology company is famous for its consumer electronics.
Microsoft is based in Redmond, Washington and primarily develops and sells computer software and personal computers.
This technology company specializes in Internet-related products and is renowned for its core search engine.
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