What is an Engineer?

An engineer applies scientific and mathematical principles to design, develop, and maintain systems, structures, and processes across various industries. Engineers can specialize in diverse fields such as civil engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, aerospace engineering, and many others. They are responsible for conceptualizing, planning, and executing projects, ensuring they meet safety standards, regulatory requirements, and are economically viable.

Engineers may work in various settings, including corporations, government agencies, research institutions, and consulting firms, collaborating in multidisciplinary teams to address complex technological and societal challenges. Their work is characterized by a combination of analytical thinking, creativity, and a dedication to improving the efficiency, safety, and sustainability of systems and technologies.

What does an Engineer do?

A female engineer working on a drone.

Duties and Responsibilities
The duties and responsibilities of an engineer can vary depending on their field of specialization. However, here are some common responsibilities that engineers typically undertake:

  • Designing and Planning: Engineers are responsible for designing and planning systems, structures, processes, or technologies. They analyze requirements, gather data, and create detailed plans and specifications to meet project objectives. This involves considering factors such as functionality, safety, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness.
  • Problem-solving and Troubleshooting: Engineers are problem solvers. They identify and analyze technical challenges, develop innovative solutions, and troubleshoot issues that may arise during the design, implementation, or operation of projects. They use their expertise and critical thinking skills to overcome obstacles and ensure the functionality and reliability of systems.
  • Research and Development: Engineers are often involved in research and development activities. They explore new technologies, materials, and methodologies to enhance existing systems or create new ones. They stay updated with the latest advancements in their field and apply scientific principles to drive innovation and improvement.
  • Project Management: Engineers may assume project management roles, especially in larger projects. They oversee project timelines, budgets, and resources, ensuring that the project progresses smoothly and meets its objectives. They coordinate with stakeholders, manage teams, and ensure effective communication throughout the project lifecycle.
  • Testing and Quality Assurance: Engineers conduct tests, simulations, and experiments to evaluate the performance, reliability, and safety of systems or prototypes. They analyze test data, identify areas for improvement, and make necessary adjustments to meet quality standards and regulations.
  • Collaboration and Communication: Engineers work collaboratively with other professionals, including architects, scientists, technicians, and clients. They communicate technical information effectively, both verbally and in written form, to convey ideas, provide instructions, and present project proposals or reports.
  • Compliance with Codes and Standards: Engineers ensure compliance with applicable codes, regulations, and industry standards. They consider environmental, health, and safety requirements to ensure that projects meet legal and ethical guidelines.
  • Continuous Learning and Professional Development: Engineers engage in lifelong learning and professional development activities to stay current with emerging technologies and industry trends. They attend workshops, conferences, and training sessions to enhance their skills and knowledge.

How to Choose an Engineering Field
Choosing an engineering field is a significant decision that requires careful consideration of personal interests, skills, and career goals. Remember that your choice of engineering specialization does not have to be permanent. Many engineers find opportunities to pivot or specialize further as their careers progress. Keep an open mind, stay curious, and be proactive in seeking experiences that align with your evolving interests and goals.

For some career suggestions, see our comprehensive list of engineering specializations.

Here's a guide to help you navigate this decision-making process:

  • Self-Assessment: Reflect on your interests, strengths, and passions. Consider subjects or projects that have genuinely intrigued you in the past. Think about whether you enjoy problem-solving, designing systems, working with technology, or contributing to specific industries.
  • Research Engineering Disciplines: Explore the various engineering disciplines available. Research the core principles, applications, and industries associated with each field. Common engineering disciplines include civil, mechanical, electrical, chemical, aerospace, biomedical, computer, and environmental engineering, among others.
  • Educational Requirements: Consider the educational requirements for each engineering specialization. Some fields may require specific coursework, certifications, or advanced degrees. Ensure that the educational path aligns with your academic goals and preferences.
  • Job Prospects and Industry Trends: Investigate the job prospects and industry trends for each engineering specialization. Some fields may have higher demand for professionals, while others may offer more niche opportunities. Stay informed about emerging technologies and industries to anticipate future demands.
  • Networking and Informational Interviews: Connect with professionals working in different engineering fields through networking events, informational interviews, or industry seminars. Gain insights into their daily tasks, job satisfaction, and the challenges they face. This firsthand information can be invaluable in making an informed decision.
  • Internships and Co-op Experiences: Pursue internships or co-op experiences in different engineering fields. Hands-on experience can provide a practical understanding of the day-to-day responsibilities and challenges within a specific specialization, helping you assess whether it aligns with your interests.
  • Consider Your Values and Goals: Reflect on your personal values and long-term career goals. Some engineering specializations may align more closely with specific industries, such as healthcare, environmental sustainability, or aerospace. Consider how your work can contribute to societal goals and make a positive impact.
  • Flexibility and Interdisciplinary Opportunities: Assess the flexibility and interdisciplinary nature of different engineering specializations. Some fields, like systems engineering or engineering management, allow for versatility and collaboration across multiple disciplines, providing diverse career paths.
  • Professional Development Opportunities: Consider the ongoing professional development opportunities within each specialization. Some fields may require continuous learning and adaptation to evolving technologies, while others may have more established practices.
  • Seek Guidance from Mentors: Consult with professors, career counselors, and professionals in the engineering field. Seek guidance from mentors who can provide valuable insights based on their experiences and help you make an informed decision.

Are you suited to be an engineer?

Engineers have distinct personalities. They tend to be investigative individuals, which means they’re intellectual, introspective, and inquisitive. They are curious, methodical, rational, analytical, and logical. Some of them are also enterprising, meaning they’re adventurous, ambitious, assertive, extroverted, energetic, enthusiastic, confident, and optimistic.

Does this sound like you? Take our free career test to find out if engineer is one of your top career matches.

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What is the workplace of an Engineer like?

The workplace of an engineer is diverse, dynamic, and often reflects the specific industry and field of engineering they are engaged in. Engineers can be found working in a variety of settings, ranging from traditional offices to research labs, manufacturing facilities, construction sites, and even remote locations. The nature of the workplace depends on the type of engineering and the specific tasks involved.

In office settings, engineers often collaborate with multidisciplinary teams, utilizing computer-aided design (CAD) software, simulations, and other tools to design and analyze systems. They may engage in project planning, conduct research, and communicate with clients or stakeholders. For engineers in fields like software or electrical engineering, the office environment may involve coding, testing, and troubleshooting software or hardware components.

In contrast, engineers in manufacturing or construction may spend a significant amount of time on-site. This could involve overseeing the implementation of designs, ensuring quality control, and addressing any issues that arise during the construction or production process. Fieldwork might also include environmental engineers conducting assessments or civil engineers inspecting infrastructure projects.

Engineers working in research and development may have a combination of lab and office work, focusing on innovation and creating new technologies or products. The workplace may include experimental setups, testing facilities, and collaboration spaces for brainstorming and problem-solving.

The work environment for engineers is often fast-paced, especially during project deadlines or product development phases. Engineers may need to adapt to changing priorities and address unforeseen challenges. Strong communication skills are crucial, as engineers often collaborate with colleagues, clients, and other professionals. Additionally, the emphasis on teamwork and interdisciplinary collaboration is a common feature of engineering workplaces.

Given the advancements in technology, remote work has become more prevalent, allowing engineers to collaborate virtually, access data and simulations from various locations, and participate in meetings without being physically present in the office. This flexibility can vary depending on the engineering discipline and the nature of the tasks involved.

Frequently Asked Questions

Engineering Specializations and Degrees



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