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Engineers can expect to make more money during their career than most graduates since it’s a fact that those who graduate with a degree in engineering earn a minimum of 20% more than the average graduate. Not only that, but engineers have a lot of opportunities and paths they can choose to follow in a wide variety of fields, which can lead to a very promising, rewarding, and successful career.
These professionals are important to industries and to the world as they design, test, evaluate, analyze, improve, develop, manage, and maintain our complex large-scale systems. Without the help of skilled engineers, we would have no water irrigation systems, no waste facilities, no electrical power plants or grids, no buildings, machinery, agriculture plants, computer software, computer hardware, transportation, or many of our modern luxuries.
These professionals go out every day to make the world a better place by ensuring our air is safe to breathe, our food is safe to eat, and our water is safe to drink, among other things.
Engineering Career Paths
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What Can You Do with an Engineering Degree?
Being an engineer of any type is a big job with a lot of responsibility. Engineers have helped create many of the products and tools we have and use today, not just necessities but also luxuries. As a thank you for all their contributions to society, we honor engineers each year as we celebrate National Engineer’s Week, on February 22nd, which is George Washington’s Birthday.
Students who graduate with an engineering degree will have many skills and a lot of knowledge under their hats. These degree holders have many opportunities awaiting them both professionally and educationally. There are numerous areas on which you can focus in engineering and there are a plethora of subcategories as well. Some of the main areas include mechanical engineering, civil engineering, medical engineering, and industrial engineering. What you can do within these specialties depends on your degree level.
With a 2-year associate degree in engineering you will gain basic technical skills and qualify for some immediate work in the field, but with limitations. Some jobs you will be eligible for are a consumer goods tester, a mechanical technician, or a research assistant. However, to obtain your professional engineers (PE) license and gain the status of an engineer you will need at least a bachelor’s degree.
A bachelor’s degree in engineering is the most popular option and the only way to advance from technician status to a full-fledged professional engineer. It typically takes four years to earn a bachelor’s, but with it you will be qualified for jobs that pay more in such as those in healthcare, computer science, transportation, architecture, telecommunication, mobile technologies, biomedical engineering, energy, and more.
A master’s degree program can advance your skills, knowledge, and research even further and you’ll have the option to focus on sub-disciplines like aeronautical engineering, civil engineering, electrical engineering, or chemical engineering. You can also complete a program in engineering management to move into leadership.
Skills Gained and Learned
Engineers are problem solvers who are good at following and giving instructions and have great mathematical skills. They must work well with a team or on their own, be prepared to work long hours if needed, have a good eye for detail, know how to manage their time, be excellent communicators that are very well organized, and are always up for a challenge.
Although engineers will acquire many skills during their studies the following are the top five skills necessary for them to excel in their field.
In order to work with a group of professional individuals, you will have to learn to be a team player; someone who values the other member's ideas, recommendations, and thoughts as well as knowing how to agree to disagree. This skill can also be applied when collaborating with vendors, clients, coworkers, and fellow engineers.
Working on the design, development, and engineering details of new products or technologies means that you will need to communicate with a variety of other professionals. Because of this, you’ll need to know how to make yourself understood whether you’re talking to another engineer or the average layman who may not understand all the technical jargon. Whether you express your words in written text or during an oral conversation, your solid communication skills will ensure that others gain a thorough understanding of the message you are trying to convey.
A professional engineer will be the first person to go to for solving a problem as they are expected to be highly educated and strong problem solvers. In this type of work, where you will follow a product all the way from concept through final development, you’ll use your problem-solving skills continually throughout the process.
Engineers spend a lot of their time dealing with mathematic equations in order to gather data on their products durability or quality; therefore, it is imperative to have exceptional mathematic skills. You don’t want to make a mistake with the numbers when designing products to be used by experts or the general public as that would be costly for your company and may ultimately cost you your job.
Most people will think of one way of doing things, but an engineer with creative thinking skills will think of five ways, and then analyze them all to come up with the best possible solution. Engineering students will learn to become creative thinkers that think both outside and inside the box.
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Computer engineering can lead to many different career opportunities in software development and hardware engineering in industries ranging from retail to consulting to aerospace and even in healthcare, telecommunications, or renewable energy. Computer, software, and hardware engineers are the most in-demand occupations in the US.
Computer engineers combine electrical engineering with computer science to innovate within computer systems, digital technology, and computer networking ensuring that systems run faster, are safe, and are more powerful. These engineers also design new computer hardware, create more effective and efficient software applications and computing platforms, and enhance the capabilities of communication systems and networks by integrating the latest technologies and innovations.
While a bachelor's degree may be sufficient for some positions, a master’s degree is preferred by most employers. Computer engineers usually work in an office setting during regular business hours and days. Salaries usually start around $51,000 yearly with a median annual average of $82,000. Those with many years of experience earn around $128,000 annually.
A software engineer plays a major role in software development and design. This engineer is the one who helps to decide how the software, created by a software design team, will function and work. Software engineers usually work with designers to help consolidate distinct program functions into one unified program. Thus, engineers also work with coders and programmers to help map out smaller functions and various programming tasks to later combine them into larger functioning programs or use them as new features for existing software.
Software engineers will typically work with design teams in the development and design stages of software creation. Together they will decide on the basic features and uses the program will include or is expected to perform. Typically, the engineer will also assist in plotting out the various aspects of the necessary automated tasks using flowcharts and documentation and also assist in illustrating the process for both designers and clients.
To become a software engineer, you’ll need to have at least a bachelor’s degree in computer science, computer engineering, or a related field. Many companies prefer candidates with practical experience in coding and programming. Most software engineers work in a computer lab environment or in an office setting during regular business hours, which means five days a week with weekends off. Salaries usually start at around $60,000 yearly with a median annual average of $84,000, and those with many years of experience earning around $125,000.
Hardware engineers are responsible for designing computer hardware. This refers to the physical components of a computer or computer system such as computer chips, circuit boards, monitors, and sound or video cards. They generally report to the hardware department leader and participate in all aspects of product development, which includes prototype design, concept creation, testing, and product development. One of their main duties is to propose design and architecture execution. Once a prototype is created, they participate in validation tasks by performing a careful analysis to identify and suggest any hardware changes or issues to the development team. In addition, hardware engineers provide specific advice about product acceptance criteria and life cycle support characteristics to colleagues.
Other tasks completed by these engineers may include creating hardware device performance numbers and specifications, improving reliability, and conducting failure prevention analysis using technical expertise. They must also understand software and hardware interactions to plan for product evaluation accordingly as well as use their engineering skills and knowledge to provide design ideas for features. However, no matter what task they are performing, hardware engineers must always follow company procedures and guidelines closely. One of the main tools engineers uses most often is a personal computer that has specialized software installed on it to create projections and simulations related to hardware capabilities.
These highly-skilled engineers must be able to prioritize, multitask, and should possess strong interpersonal skills in order to communicate with other engineers while also presenting complex concepts to non-technical staff. A bachelor's degree in computer engineering, electrical engineering, or a related field is required for this position and at least some experience in some type of engineering area is preferred. Salaries usually start at $62,000 yearly with a median annual average of $86,000, and those with many years of experience can earn around $130,000 annually.
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Careers in Electrical Engineering
Electrical engineers may be responsible for designing, developing, and testing electrical equipment for industries, such as engineering services, research and development, telecommunications, the federal government, manufacturing. Knowledgeable engineers are also required to supervise this work, as only they possess the knowledge critical to ensure success. These engineers spend most of their day in an office environment but occasionally visit other sites.
A bachelor’s degree is a must-have in this field and some practical experience is preferred. The median annual salary in 2018 for electrical engineers was around $97,000 and for electronics engineers it was $102,700. Electronics and electrical engineer's job growth from 2018 to 2028 is expected to grow by about 2%.
Electrical Engineer Responsibilities and Job Duties
Electrical engineers are responsible for designing and implementing components for devices that use electricity, specifically focusing on how the device utilizes the electricity it generates or which is provided from another source. Other duties of electrical engineers include researching, designing, maintaining, implementing, and improving electrical equipment and instruments; inspecting completed projects to ensure they comply with design standards; and applying electrical theory principles to engineering projects, while also training and supervising project staff when needed.
These engineers often work with teams to solve complex issues. These teams may consist of engineers who are experts in various areas, allowing each to bring their own expertise to different components of new products and devices. Because of this, it is important that electrical engineers are team players with the ability to communicate ideas clearly. In addition, engineers must be excellent problem solvers who are knowledgeable of computers, are able to think clearly, and have exceptional science and math skills.
The educational requirements to become an electrical engineer include having at least a bachelor’s degree, though many firms will prefer a master’s or doctoral degree in electrical engineering with some years of experience. The salary of electrical engineers usually starts at around $57,000 yearly with a median annual average of $74,785. However, those with many years of experience can earn up to $110,000 annually.
Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET)
IET is set to inform, influence, and inspire the global engineering community while supporting technology and innovation to meet the needs of society.
International Society for Optics and Photonics (SPIE)
The SPIE is an interdisciplinary advanced approach to the application and science of light.
Association for Computing Machinery (ACM)
ACM is the largest educational, scientific computing society in the world. It focuses on advanced computing as a profession and a science.
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Careers in Mechanical Engineering
Mechanical engineers apply fundamental physics and math laws to design and develop the mechanical devices that we use every day. Those with mechanical engineering skills are very valuable to employers as they have a working knowledge of structures, electricity, physics, mathematics, and computer applications, along with an understanding of environmental, economic, and social factors that industries need.
Vehicle engineers, also known as automotive engineers, oversee automotive manufacturing. They design the mechanisms and systems in cars, analyze potential issues, then work to solve them, and retest car parts and auto prototypes, while ensuring the systems and designs conform to cost and quality specifications. These engineers use computers a lot in their jobs, mainly to test and analyze auto parts and systems.
Vehicle engineers spend a lot of their time working from their office, but also travel to auto manufacturing plants. They usually work full-time during regular business hours with weekends off. It is not unusual for these professional engineers to put in some extra hours at the office when new products or projects are nearing completion and they usually work with a team of other engineering professionals.
A four-year bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering or a similar engineering field is required to qualify for an entry-level position in this field. Students pursuing this degree may consider taking courses in fields like mathematics, physics, computer science, and design. Some programs may also require courses in the humanities, such as philosophy and English.
All engineers in the US are required to be state-licensed. Therefore, after obtaining an engineering bachelor’s, engineers must also take and pass the fundamentals of engineering exam in order to obtain licensure. Once this step is complete, you will become an engineer in training (EIT) also known as an engineer intern (EI). After fulfilling the state-required work experience, which is usually four years in most states, you will be eligible to take the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam and, if you pass, you will receive a professional engineer (PE) license from the state in which you applied.
Salaries usually start at around $50,000 yearly with a median annual average of $77,000, and those with many years of experience may earn closer to $104,000 annually.
An industrial engineer looks to make manufacturing processes better while also maintaining required standards for machine functioning, product quality. And employee safety. They also look to improve operations, which may be done through optimization of machinery, new machinery, updating employee training, and, in general, better utilization of assets within the plant or another facility.
They do this by examining current production rates and studying reports from one department or from the entire plant and noting a variety of factors such as quality control, speed, and the safety of employees. Next, they consider strategic ways to make improvements, which may include changing staff schedules, continuing or improving worker training, performing maintenance on hardware, using new machine tools, or other options.
If the plant begins developing new items, industrial engineers work to produce processes and workflow reports that will utilize the facility to its fullest. They will perform research on the new products, components, or parts and make decisions about purchasing and costs related to materials, staff, and training. Industrial engineering project managers will need to have expertise in this specific area to do their jobs well.
The minimum education requirement for this occupation is a bachelor’s in industrial engineering, and some experience is preferred for employment. Salaries usually start around $51,000 yearly with a median annual average of $67,000 and those with many years of experience earn around $90,000 annually.
American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME)
ASME is a membership non-profit organization that enables knowledge sharing, collaboration, skills development, and career enrichment across all engineering disciplines.
Society of Experimental Mechanics (SEM)
The members of SEM are committed to research and development, interdisciplinary engineering applications, active promotions, and education of experimental methods.
The non-profit organization known as the Vibration Institute is dedicated to exchanging practical information about condition monitoring and vibration.
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Careers in Civil Engineering
Civil engineers design, develop, and supervise infrastructure systems and projects while working in various conditions and locations. They generally work full-time and spend about half of their time in an office and the other half out at construction sites where they solve problems and monitor operations.
A bachelor’s degree in civil engineering technology or civil engineering is required for employment in this field as well as licensure in order to be promoted to a senior position. To provide services to the public, civil engineers must be licensed. The median annual salary for civil engineers in 2018 was around $87,000 and employment is expected to grow from 2018 to 2028 by at least 6%.
Environmental engineers, also known as technological advisers, use technology in designing solutions to help meet today’s challenges of resource regulation, environmental law, land use, and pollution. They usually work for the government to monitor pollution and inspect facilities for environmental law compliance by testing the water and air quality and designing model projections.
They also assist in creating public policies and regulations for water, land, and air resources for future generations as well as developing, evaluating, and maintaining control systems for waste processing, water, and erosion protection services. In addition, environmental engineers advise businesses on ways to keep their environmental impact to a minimum.
Environmental engineers often work in the field but may also work in an office setting. This occupation is in high demand as we rely on maintaining our a safe environment for our survival. Environmental engineers are required to hold a bachelor’s degree at minimum in environmental engineering or a related engineering field with at least some environmental engineering experience. Salaries usually start around $50,000 for entry-level positions and the median annual average is around $65,000. Those with many years of experience can earn around $97,000 annually.
Architectural engineers apply scientific principles to design and construct buildings that improve the quality of life and enhance living standards for those who use them. They generally work with a team of other engineers, project managers, architects, company clients, or construction workers and must have knowledge of construction and building systems as well as structure, acoustics, lighting, electrical systems, fire protection, and anything else related to building and construction.
It is also important for architectural engineers to be skilled in computer-aided design (CAD) software and have excellent communication skills, both oral and written since they must create presentations for site project managers, sales representatives, clients, and their organization’s leaders.
Architectural engineers mainly work in offices but may also work at industrial production plants, research laboratories, and construction sites so some travel is usually involved. A bachelor's degree is required for this position, either in architectural engineering or a relevant field, along with some experience working in the field. Architectural engineers are also required to obtain licensing from the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES). Salaries usually start at $48,000 yearly with a median annual average of $64,000, and those with many years of experience may earn around $100,000 annually.
Mining engineers provide direction, technical support, and estimates to the mining companies they work for. They are also required to select equipment for company operations and are responsible for expense projections. Other duties may include troubleshooting, customizing, and upgrading, as well as rebuilding mining equipment and making the decision on whether or not machinery needs replaced.
These professionals may work alone, together with a team of other engineers, or work with both mining operations managers and equipment vendors. Skills needed to fulfill their job duties include interpersonal skills, leadership, strong verbal and written communication skills, and computer skills. They must also follow OSHA and MSHA regulations at all times and it is recommended that they attend relevant workshops classes and conferences.
Mining engineers spend a lot of time traveling and may work underground for extended periods. This position requires at least a bachelor’s degree in any relevant engineering field. Salaries usually start at around $55,000 yearly with a median annual average of $76,000, and those with many years of experience earn around $117,000 annually.
Water Resource Engineering
Water resource engineers oversee all kinds of water resource projects, including drainage system repairs, conducting hydrologic modeling, and handling and preparing analyses and services for their organization. They suggest changes needed for current models, create budgets and schedules, prepare hydraulic models, perform water resource calculations, design plans and documents with detailed specifications for water resources projects, and observe and document projects before submitting detailed reports on the results of their findings. These professionals must follow strict safety protocols that prevent accidents during construction.
Water resource engineers complete studies and reach other objectives by working with a group of other engineers or on their own. They must have extensive technical knowledge, possess problem-solving skills, be organized, and pay attention to details in order to identify possible issues with water resources. In addition, Water resource engineers participate in meetings to suggest any changes needed in the engineering standards and project cycles and use a computer-aided tool to modify existing designs as well as knowing how to interpret new and old model drawings.
A bachelor's degree in civil engineering, chemical engineering, or a relevant field is required for this position along with previous engineering work experience preferably in a water resource capacity. Also, industry certifications are a major plus. Salaries usually start at around $54,000 yearly with a median annual average of $66,000 and those with many years of experience earn around $94,000 annually.
American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE)
ASCE founded in 1852 has over 147,000 members in the civil engineering profession worldwide.
American Concrete Institute (ACI)
The ACI is advancing the knowledge of concrete by managing certification programs, conducting seminars, and publishing technical documents.
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Careers in Interdisciplinary Engineering
There are numerous engineering specializations and discipline options that don’t fall into any of the main categories. These are known as interdisciplinary engineering specializations, which involve combinations of engineering disciplines. There are also many interdisciplinary, traditional, and non-traditional fields of engineering that may interest you, they include architecture, design, law, geography, psychology, business, education, and more.
Some examples of interdisciplinary engineers are an acoustical engineer or a sports engineer. You may also work in human factors engineering, a field that takes psychology and human behavior into account when developing systems and products. The average annual wages for engineers in interdisciplinary and special fields vary significantly. However, for an entry-level engineer, it could range from $62,284 to $75,747.
Aerospace engineers design almost everything that is made to fly through the air as it’s normal function. This can include planes, rockets, spacecraft, and other planet-orbiting machinery.
They evaluate project proposals using various factors, such as safety, environmental impact, whether it meets clients specifications, engineering principles, and whether or not it is financially and technically possible. This can include innovations on existing aerospace products or new technologies. After approving projects, aerospace engineers become responsible for its design, manufacturing, and final testing to ensure it meets all necessary standards. However, in the case of a product being damaged or malfunctioning, it is their job to identify the problem area and apply possible solutions.
The two types of aerospace engineers include astronautical engineers and aeronautical engineers. Aeronautical engineer’s work with aircraft and astronautical engineers work with spacecraft. These professional engineers spend a lot of time in an office setting, designing and developing models and then testing them with simulations using sophisticated computer software.
Because they usually work with a team of other professionals involved in building spacecraft or aircraft components, they must have good communication skills. Other required skills include critical thinking skills, excellent math skills, analytical skills, and business skills. Aeronautical engineers are required to have at least a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering or a related field. As is suggested when calling this an interdisciplinary field, these specialists often have either training or experience in multiple levels of engineering including mechanical, electrical, thermodynamic, flight mechanics, celestial mechanics, etc.
Salaries usually start around $61,000 yearly with a median annual average of $83,000 and those with many years of experience earn around $129,000 annually.
Agricultural engineers apply technology and science to agricultural processing and production while working in the farming industry, government agencies, and non-profit or environmental organizations. They combine agricultural and chemical engineering principles with electrical, civil, and mechanical disciplines, using their extensive knowledge in automated irrigation systems, agricultural machinery, environmental sciences including water and irrigation drainage, and soil science including fertilization and crop nutrients.
These professionals are also familiar with animal science, plant growth management, plant biology, and seeding. Some of their duties include ensuring that machinery and equipment are working properly, per the manufacturer’s instructions and government rules and regulations. They must also have excellent written and oral communication skills, be able to train new agricultural engineers, stay updated with science and new technology related to agriculture, be a team player, attend various workshops and conferences, and know how to use essential software programs
To begin a career as an agricultural engineer, you will need a bachelor’s degree in biological engineering or agricultural engineering and most employers also prefer some practical experience as well. While agricultural engineers will spend most of their day working in an office environment, they also work outdoors in the field as well as travelling to different agricultural settings. Salaries usually start at around $44,000 yearly with a median annual average of $60,000, and those with many years of experience earn around $106,000 annually.
Biomedical engineering has a lot to do with opening new areas of product development as new things are found through medical research. When new research suggests new ways to treat diseases and injuries, biomedical engineers make the necessary components and equipment to turn those concepts into reality. Biomedical engineers work in a variety of sub-fields within the overarching fields of medical science itself; these include cancer treatment, diagnostic imaging technology, robotic surgery, and much more. Some biomedical engineers work on developing new machinery and equipment while others help improve already existing technologies, like limb replacements or parts that will help existing limbs to function better. Other machinery created by biomedical engineers or that they are involved in innovating are monitoring equipment, patient beds, and other electronic products that start as ideas or concepts.
These professional engineers often work together with a team and with medical personnel who will use the products they create and improve; therefore, biomedical engineers must have extremely effective communication skills. Science and mathematics concepts are also an essential prerequisite, as they are with any engineering role as practitioners must have extensive knowledge of engineering principles.
To pursue a career as a biomedical engineer, you will need at least a bachelor's degree; however, a master's degree is preferred. Your degree should be in engineering, chemistry, medicine, or another relevant field. Salaries usually start at $49,000 yearly with a median annual average of $65,000. Those with many years of experience can earn up to $94,000 annually.
A systems engineer deals with new and existing software and hardware systems within their company. They also create and maintain power systems, which may involve designing power grids to supply power to their company or other organizations. They are in charge of developing and debugging systems and for creating computer systems and efficient programs for their clients; working with computer chips and/or robotic machinery.
System engineers are typically required to have a degree in computer science, engineering, or a related field. They must also have a background in technology and science as they will need a comprehensive understanding of physics and chemistry. Some employers would also prefer certification related to system engineering or IT Certification, which helps to demonstrate qualifications and skills. In addition, you will need at least some hands-on experience, which you can acquire by completing an internship or taking classes that provide lab activities. Salaries usually start at $51,000 yearly with a median annual average of $75,000, and those with many years of experience can earn around $108,000 annually.
American Association of Engineering Societies (AAES)
This multidisciplinary organization is dedicated to advancing the understanding, practice, and knowledge of engineering in the public interest.
American Nuclear Society (ANS)
The American Nuclear Society is an international, not-for-profit, educational and scientific organization.
Illuminating Engineering Society (IES)
IES is the renowned technical authority on illumination.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need to be licensed as an engineer?
Every engineer that offers services to the public is required to have a license in all states.
Do you need a master’s degree to be an engineer?
A master’s degree is not required to be an engineer but most employers look for someone with master’s degree.
What are the most common engineering careers?
Some of the most common and highest engineering careers include:
- Mechanical Engineer
- Electrical Engineer
- Industrial Engineer
- Civil Engineer
- Chemical Engineer
- Aerospace Engineer
- Computer Engineer
- Petroleum Engineer
How much do chemical engineers make?
Chemical engineers make around $108,500 per year.
How much do electrical and electronics engineers make?
Electrical and electronics engineers make around $103,400 per year.
How much can you make as a aerospace engineer?
An aerospace engineer makes around $118,600 per year.