What Is an Engineer? (Types, Salaries and Responsibilities)

Updated March 13, 2023

An engineer conducts tests from their work table, which holds a laptop, tools and diagnostic equipment.

Engineers are responsible for the innovation and development of new products, services, technologies and processes. They can work in many different fields, making this a diverse career for aspiring engineers to explore. Understanding the scope of engineering can help you decide if engineering is a good fit for your interests and skills. 

In this article, we answer the question "What is an engineer?" and list some careers you can find in this field.

What is an engineer?

An engineer is someone who is involved in inventing, designing and maintaining a variety of machines, structures and data systems. Engineers are also responsible for adhering to their employer's specifications for budget and timeline. Engineers are experts in their fields, creating and innovating constantly.

Related: Computer Engineer vs. Electrical Engineer: What's the Difference?

What does an engineer do?

Engineers use math and science to solve problems and make use of new discoveries. While engineers don't typically make scientific discoveries themselves, they take the information from these and find practical uses for them. They pursue valuable innovations that advance the way humans use products or perform tasks. Engineers can work with everything from massive architectural constructions to complex maps of the human genome.

Average salary for engineers

The average salary for an engineer is $85,720 per year. This varies by industry, with industrial engineers making an average of $73,922 and aeronautical engineers earning an average salary of $98,310. Experience impacts an engineer's salary as well. Those with a longer tenure and more proven abilities typically earn more.

For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the link provided.

Skills for engineers

Several key skills are important for engineers. These equip them to come up with innovations that help them succeed and advance in their careers.

  • Creativity: Engineers have creative minds that help them come up with new constructs and original approaches.

  • Communication: Engineers are responsible for communicating their ideas clearly with others on their team. They may do so orally, graphically and in writing.

  • Attention to detail: The small details can make a big difference in engineering. They also have a keen eye for even the smallest elements of a project.

  • Self-discipline: Engineering is a challenging career that continuously presents new problems to solve. Engineers have the self-discipline to work diligently on each project until it's complete.

  • Technical skills: The scope of an engineer's technical and scientific abilities varies by specialty, but all engineers have strong technical skills.

  • Problem-solving: One of the primary duties of engineers across all disciplines is to solve challenges with their knowledge and skills. So problem-solving, especially in unique situations, is a helpful skill for all engineers.

Related: Chemical Engineer vs. Mechanical Engineer (Key Differences)

How to become an engineer

A strong educational background is necessary to become an engineer. Follow these steps to begin your engineering career:

1. Get a bachelor's degree

Engineers need a minimum of a bachelor's degree, preferably in engineering or engineering technology. Most programs allow for specialization, which helps you gain detailed knowledge in a particular area of engineering. Search for an educational program that's accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology.

2. Complete the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam

The FE exam is the first of two tests required to gain licensure as a professional engineer. In most states, you can take this test upon graduation. After passing the test, you become known as an engineer in training or an engineer intern.

Related: Mechanical Engineer vs. Automotive Engineer (With Salaries)

3. Gain entry-level work experience

Engineers need a minimum of four years of relevant work experience to gain licensure in most states. Seek an entry-level engineering position or internship to help you hone your skills, improve your engineering skills and prepare for licensure. Some organizations may train you and prepare a development plan so you can get your license, while others don't.

4. Complete the state licensure examination

The exact requirements for licensure as an engineer vary by state, but typically include an examination after you've completed the necessary work experience. Complete your state's exam and any other requirements to become a professional engineer. The requirements for each state may vary, so research the requirements before you start your license.

Related: Data Engineer vs. Software Engineer: Key Differences

5. Prepare your resume

Draft a detailed resume that provides specific examples of your engineering experience. Detail the solutions and systems that you've designed and their benefits. For example, if your manufacturing processes increase output by 30%, include this valuable statistic. Include your relevant skills as well, such as communication, project management and problem-solving.

Jobs in engineering

Engineers can work in many diverse fields, so you can likely find an engineering position that caters to your area of interest. Consider some of the following options for engineering specialties. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, visit indeed.com/salaries.

1. Electro-mechanical engineer

National average salary: $48,871 per year

Primary duties: Electro-mechanical engineers create, install and repair automated machinery. They may work in both corporate and industrial settings to improve these machines. They may also test or operate machinery they create to ensure it performs the tasks they designed it to complete

2. Industrial engineer

National average salary: $80,876 per year

Primary duties: Industrial engineers evaluate the machinery, materials, energy, labor and processes that are used to produce a product or deliver a service. They develop new approaches and systems that increase efficiency and minimize waste. This allows organizations to operate more effectively within their respective industries.

Read more: Learn About Being an Industrial Engineer

3. Computer engineer

National average salary: $80,992 per year

Primary duties: Computer engineers work with computer software and hardware and networks, routers, printers and other types of related equipment. They continuously design and develop new computer-based products and solutions to keep up with the rapidly changing landscape of modern technology. They may create both hardware and software to improve on previous computer systems.

4. Civil engineer

National average salary: $85,806 per year

Primary duties: Civil engineers design roads, tunnels, bridges, dams,  airports and other types of infrastructure within a city or larger jurisdiction. They may also design water supply and sewage systems. They assess the needs of a community and develop plans that serve the inhabitants, protect the population from natural disasters and improve functionality and efficiency within the city or town.

Read more: Learn About Being a Civil Engineer

5. Marine engineer

National average salary: $87,319 per year

Primary duties: Marine engineers work with all types of watercraft, including boats, ships and tankers. They work with underwater propulsion, steering, construction and design to ensure that marine vessels perform to their maximum capability. They focus on developing better ways to manufacture and maintain marine equipment for the best performance.

6. Mechanical engineer

National average salary: $87,503 per year

Primary duties: Mechanical engineers work with machinery, which may include electric generators, gas turbines, machine tools, elevators, robots, and heating and cooling equipment. Some focus on production equipment within a factory while others focus on construction or farm machinery. This is a very broad discipline and includes work with nearly any type of machine, assessing and improving upon its operation.

Read more: Learn About Being a Mechanical Engineer

7. Environmental engineer

National average salary: $88,785 per year

Primary duties: Environmental engineers are concerned with air, water and land pollution and how to minimize peoples' and companies' effects on the environment. They evaluate the sources and effects of pollution and develop systems for rehabilitating affected areas. These engineers work to control pollution in compliance with local, state and federal laws.

Read more: Learn About Being an Environmental Engineer

8. Structural engineer

National average salary: $90,529 per year

Primary duties: Structural engineers create and improve buildings to withstand the environments within which they reside. This can include designing new buildings to withstand coastline erosion or improving a building to increase its safety capacity for humans. The primary responsibility of this type of engineer is to develop structures that last longer.

9. Materials engineer

National average salary: $90,568 per year

Primary duties: Materials engineers work with the raw materials that are used to create a variety of consumer products. They may use plastics, composites, metals, ceramics and other items to create or improve upon items.

They assess the strength, stability and other properties of these materials to find new uses for them or determine the best material to use for improvements to an existing product. Some materials engineers also create new materials such as alloys, plastics and ceramics to improve other systems.

10. Nuclear engineer

National average salary: $90,679 per year

Primary duties: Nuclear engineers work with the systems and equipment that are used to generate and use nuclear power. They assess and improve upon the processes and instruments that are used with radiation and nuclear technology. They may specialize in nuclear power generation, the use of radioactive materials or the development of fusion energy.

11. Electrical engineer

National average salary: $92,738 per year

Primary duties: Electrical engineers work with all types of electrical equipment, including wiring, lighting, motors and controls. They may also work with navigational systems, power generation, transmission devices and communications technology. They focus on the efficient transmission and use of power and improve the efficiency of electrical systems.

Read more: Learn About Being an Electrical Engineer

12. Biomedical engineer

National average salary: $92,969 per year

Primary duties: Biomedical engineers work in the healthcare field designing systems, devices and equipment for the diagnosis, treatment and care of patients. They work closely with other health care employees, such as physicians, nurses and researchers, to assess the current needs in the healthcare system and develop effective solutions. For example, they may develop machines to assist in medical procedures or new ways to heal patients.

13. Chemical engineer

National average salary: $93,647 per year

Primary duties: Chemical engineers assess the chemicals that are used for food, clothing, medication and other purposes. They study properties such as oxidation or combustibility to determine the most appropriate uses for various chemicals.

Chemical engineers also work on developing new chemical products for various applications. They also develop and create systems that create, modify or refine chemicals. For example, breweries require chemical engineers to create new beverages.

14. Mining engineer

National average salary: $94,997 per year

Primary Duties: Mining engineers design the systems that locate and extract metals, minerals and coal. They seek environmentally sound and economically viable ways to access these resources in the most efficient ways. They also improve safety procedures in mining operations to ensure other employees remain safe while using tools and extracting materials.

15. Aeronautical engineer

National average salary: $101,447 per year

Primary duties: Aeronautical engineers work with aircraft, spacecraft and ground vehicles to improve aerodynamics. They assess the design, controls, structure and functionality of this equipment and work to improve upon the current systems. They may focus on communications, navigation, propulsion or other aspects of aeronautical design.

Read more: Learn About Being an Aeronautical Engineer

16. Systems engineer

National average salary: $102,975 per year

Primary duties: Systems engineers manage complex projects to ensure every aspect meets its requirements. They may analyze a system to improve its automated and manual elements of it. Sometimes, systems engineers may design a new system for a company or organization rather than trying to improve an existing system.

Read more: Learn About Being a Systems Engineer

17. Petroleum engineer

National average salary: $127,049 per year

Primary duties: Petroleum engineers work on extracting gas and oil from the earth. They work closely with geologists to determine the best drilling methods for safety and efficiency. Petroleum engineers strive to develop improved technology and methods for successfully recovering oil and gas resources.

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