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What Is an Engineer?

February 22, 2021

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 prospective 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 explore what engineering is and some careers you can find in this field.

What is an engineer?

An engineer is a professional 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.

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. However, 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.

Skills for engineers

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

  • Creativity: Engineers must 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 or in writing.

  • Attention to detail: The small details can make a big difference in engineering. These professionals must 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 must have the self-discipline to work diligently on each project until it is complete.

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

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.
  2. Complete the Fundamentals of Engineering exam.
  3. Gain entry-level work experience.
  4. Complete the state licensure examination.
  5. Prepare your resume.

1. Get a bachelor's degree

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

2. Complete the Fundamentals of Engineering 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.

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 that will help you hone your skills, improve your engineering skills and prepare for licensure.

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.

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 as well as their benefits. For example, if your manufacturing processes increase output by 30%, you should include this valuable statistic. Include your relevant skills as well, such as communication, project management and problem-solving.

Engineering jobs list

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:

  • Industrial engineer
  • Biomedical engineer
  • Environmental engineer
  • Marine engineer
  • Civil engineer
  • Mechanical engineer
  • Computer engineer
  • Electrical engineer
  • Mining engineer
  • Materials engineer
  • Nuclear engineer
  • Petroleum engineer
  • Chemical engineer
  • Aeronautical engineer

National average salary: $74,078 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 that increase efficiency and minimize waste.

National average salary: $75,817 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 healthcare professionals, such as physicians, nurses and researchers, to assess the current needs in the healthcare system and develop effective solutions.

National average salary: $79,307 per year

Primary duties: Environmental engineers are concerned with air, water and land pollution. 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.

National average salary: $79,751 per year

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

National average salary: $81,477 per year

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

National average salary: $83,237 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.

National average salary: $86,550 per year

Primary duties: Computer engineers work with computer software and hardware as well as 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.

National average salary: $86,775 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.

National average salary: $88,023 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.

National average salary: $90,700 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.

National average salary: $90,995 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.

National average salary: $91,650 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.

National average salary: $92,681 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.

National average salary: $99,666 per year

Primary duties: Aeronautical engineers work with aircraft and spacecraft. 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.

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