Until some years ago, if someone were to ask me what engineers do, I’d probably spit out some vague statement stuffed with generic machine-cement-steel-building-computers-yadayada keywords. But upon more exploration into the field, it was evident that the answer is a lot more than that.
To explain it, engineers build. Everything artificial around us — the house we live in, the bottle we drink from, the refrigerator we browse at 2 am, the edited genes in the virus in our vaccines, the laptop you’re reading this article from — all of this was created by engineers. In technical terms, engineers work to create and improvise machinery and equipment, and in some cases, they also create the environment that sustains that equipment. Something as simple as a lever and pulley system is engineering, a complex cantilever bridge.
The job of an engineer, however, doesn’t limit to just building. To engineer is to innovate. An engineer is responsible for planning, designing, maintaining, and optimizing whatever they are building. They are also supposed to predict all the problems that might arise and come up with cost-effective solutions.
Types of Engineering Professions
We now have a broad understanding of what do engineers do. But, engineering is a broad discipline, so it is categorized into several different types and subtypes. This categorization is done based on what it is that the engineer shall build. For example, one who designs machines is a mechanical engineer, and one who designs computer programs is a computer engineer.
The categories of engineering discussed in this article are:
- Aerospace engineering
- Agricultural engineering
- Biotechnological engineering
- Chemical engineering
- Civil engineering
- Computer science and engineering
- Electrical and electronics engineering
- Environmental engineering
- Industrial and systems engineering
- Materials engineering
- Marine engineering
- Mechanical engineering
- Mining engineering
- Nuclear engineering
Keep reading to know in more detail about the individual engineering disciplines and what do engineers do.
The job of an aerospace engineer is a rather exciting one. From cloud-touching airplanes to deadly missiles, they’re all engineered by aerospace engineers. To speak in more technical terms, they apply concepts of physics and mathematics to design, construct, analyze, test, and maintain commercial airplanes, helicopters, rockets, weapons, missiles, satellites, spacecraft, and other machinery that work aerodynamical principles. Some aerospace engineers also specialize in specific aeronautical engineering disciplines such as navigational guidance, aerospace propulsion, ground vehicle systems, structural analysis, and many others.
The minimum requirement to become an aerospace engineer is a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering or a related field. The coursework usually comprises the study of physics, mathematics, jet propulsion, aerodynamics, aerospace structures, and other subjects, depending upon the specialization.
Some of the common employers of aerospace engineers are the defense industry, companies of commercial airlines, spacecraft, and automobiles, among others.
The median pay of aerospace engineers in the USA: $118,610 per year
With only so little availability of arable land and over 7 billion mouths to feed, it is important to make agricultural and cultivation practices more and more efficient. This is where an agricultural engineer comes in. Agriculture engineers study all aspects of farming — machinery, irrigation, soil suitability, food biotechnology — and apply engineering principles to solve several agricultural problems. Some common problems being addressed by agricultural engineers are food production optimization, sustainable agriculture practices, soil transformation, multi-purpose machinery designing, water security, and a lot more.
A BTech. or equivalent degree in agricultural engineering is required for entry-level jobs in this field. As a part of the coursework, one would study crop production technology, soil technology, fluid mechanics, agricultural biotechnology, agricultural machinery, land and water resources management, food engineering, irrigation and drainage engineering, tractor and power systems, post-harvest engineering, working of tubewells and pumps and more.
Some common specializations under agricultural engineering are Irrigation and Drainage Systems, Crop Production, Dairy Management, Post-Harvest Technology, Poultry and Fish Processing, Soil and Water Engineering, Agricultural Waste Management, Food Engineering, and Agricultural Machinery Design.
Leading agricultural equipment firms, research services, and consulting agencies seek to employ agricultural engineers.
The median pay of agricultural engineers in the USA: $84,410 per year
Biotechnology and Biomedical Engineering
When we think of engineers, we often imagine intense mathematics or metal machinery. But what do engineers do with biological systems? Biotechnologists and biomedical engineers use biological constituents and develop products out of them that are useful for humankind. These products can range from biofuels to bioplastics to medicines and a lot more.
Biotechnology deserves an entire article of its own, for its application covers many fields, some major ones being pharmaceutics, vaccine production, agriculture, food science, healthcare, fuel production, bioremediation, waste treatment, and cosmetics. Genetic engineering has helped save countless lives, and GM crops have prevented the wiping out of multiple agricultural occupations, and all this was made possible by biotechnologists.
A bachelor’s degree is enough to become a biotechnologist, but it is advised to pursue higher studies because most companies require decent research experience and specialization. The biotech course usually comprises microbiology, biochemistry, bioenergetics, genetics, immunology, tissue culture, protein engineering, bioinformatics, enzyme technology, bioprocessing, mass transfer, and mathematical courses.
Some common specializations under biotechnological engineering are medical biotechnology, food biotechnology, bioprocess technology, and bioremediation.
Pharmaceutical industries, vaccine production companies, bioprocessing industries, health and cosmetic companies, agriculture and animal husbandry industries, among others, are the top hirers of biotechnologists.
The median pay of bioengineers and biomedical engineers in the USA: $92,620 per year
We are heavily dependant on several chemical and petrochemical products, be it fuel, plastic, paracetamol, and whatnot. Chemical engineers do the processing of these products from raw materials. Designing the power plants, the equipment, the chemical reactions involved are all a chemical engineer’s responsibility. Chemical engineering is a very broad discipline, with applications in petroleum technology, pharmaceuticals, food processing, and has a decent overlap with biotechnological engineering as welhelor’s in chemical engineering are required to become one. The course for chemical engineers comprises reaction engineering, mass transfer, process equipment design, chemical process technology, biochemical engineering, chemical engineering thermodynamics, instrumentation and process control, heat transfer, transport phenomena, and more.
A chemical engineer would typically be employed in a gas/oil extraction company, a pharmaceutical firm, a fo& drinks company, or employed for chemical waste remediation, or any other firm dealing with chemical and petrochemical processing.
Median The median chemical engineers in the USA: $108,540 per year
Often the generic picture that comes to our mind when we think about what do engineers do is that of a person in a yellow helmet and a neon vest, holding a map and passing instructions on a building construction site. Well, that person you imagine, is most likely a civil engineer.
A civil engineering job revolves around infrastructure. The designing, building, supervising construction, testing of all kinds of infrastructure — buildings, roads, drains, airports, tunnels — you name it.
A BTech in civil engineering is usually required for entry-level jobs. Some of the things one would study in this course are structural analysis, transportation engineering, water resources engineering, solid mechanics, soil mechanics, foundation engineering, design of steel structures, structural detailing, and other subjects, depending upon the specialization if any. Some common specializations are geotechnical engineering, structural engineering, and architectural engineering among others.
The top hirers of civil engineers are government departments, provincial administrations, and municipalities, construction companies, architectural firms, steel industries, and so on.
Median pay of civil engineers in the USA: $88,570 per year
Computer Science and Engineering
Out of all the engineering degrees listed in this article on what do engineers do, computer science is the most in-demand. And why wouldn’t it be? It is difficult to imagine our lives without computers. All these apps, websites, software, hardware, and so many more tools that have made over lives exponentially easier, were developed by computer engineers. Even engineers in other disciplines are being advised to learn to code because computer science has its applications in practically everything.
Technically speaking, computer engineer applies their knowledge of mathematics, computer systems, coding languages, algorithms, computation, and other things to design, develop and debug new tools, devices, networks, and other technology.
To be a computer science engineer, one would have to get a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science or Information Technology or related fields. As a part of the course, one is most likely to study programming, data structures, signals, networks, discrete structures, switching circuits, software engineering, compilers, computer architecture, operating systems, computational theory, and more.
Some of the top hirers of computer scientists and engineers are search engine websites, social media firms, online marketing websites, and information technology consulting companies. For detailed information on several different types of computer science jobs, check out this article on Top 7 Exciting Computer Science Jobs.
Median pay of computer science engineers in the USA: $77k-126k
Electronics and Electrical Engineering
It is pretty evident that our generation is heavily dependant on electronic equipment and it is practically impossible to imagine our lives without it. After computer science and engineering, electrical and electronics engineering degrees are one of the most sought after.
Electrical engineers design develop and debug all things electricity — power generation, power transformation, power distribution, electrical machinery, electrical components of a vehicle, and the chips and circuits inside electronic devices. Electronics engineering specifically is a subcategory under electrical engineering and it deals specifically with relatively much smaller circuits and chip designing. Many universities offer a degree in electronics engineering exclusively.
To become an electrical engineer, one would need a bachelor’s in electrical engineering or related fields. The subjects and topics typically covered in the course are signals, networks, electrical machines, analog electronic circuits, control and instrumentation, power systems, embedded systems, digital electronic circuits, power apparatus, and others.
Median pay of electrical and electronics engineers in the USA: $103,390 per year
It is not hidden that industrialization has taken a huge toll on environmental health. To undo this damage and prevent further ill impacts, we need environmental engineers. They engineer methods for preventing air pollution, processing hazardous wastes, combating climate change, efficient recycling, safely disposing and managing waste, and ensuring sustainable use of land and water resources. It is a very altruistic profession as it deals with not just saving humankind but also entire ecosystems.
To become an environmental engineer, a minimum of a bachelor’s degree is required in the field of environmental engineering. The environmental engineering program typically comprises environmental chemistry, environmental microbiology, ecology, water resources, mass transfer process, environmental geodesy, environmental planning, wastewater engineering, air pollution science, air pollution monitoring, fluid mechanics, environmental computation, biological treatment technologies, physicochemical treatment technologies, hazardous waste management, among others.
Wastewater treatment plants, environmental consulting firms, solar energy companies, and construction companies are some of the top hirers of environmental engineers.
Median pay of environmental engineers in the USA: $92,120 per year
Industrial and Systems Engineering
Industrial and Systems Engineering, also known as ISE, is a fast-growing job. It is more on the analytical and mathematical side of engineering and is somewhat an amalgamation of engineering and business. An IS engineer’s job is mostly on the lines of optimization and management, in simple terms, their job is to make things better. ISE has its application in several domains, mainly logistics, transportation, manufacturing, investments, production, and even healthcare.
A BTech in industrial engineering is required for most jobs. As a part of the bachelor’s program, one would typically be required to take courses on operations research, production design, work system design, process planning, quality design, logistics and supply chain management, engineering economy, optimization and heuristic methods, simulations, product development, and other similar courses varying from institute to institute.
Since all kinds of projects need optimization, there are several jobs available for industrial engineers in all kinds of sectors. However, some common recruiters are logistics companies, healthcare firms, and financial consulting companies.
The median pay of industrial engineers in the USA: $88,950 per year
A marine engineer is responsible for the operation and maintenance of watercraft and all marine equipment. In some cases, they also overlook the functioning of extracting resources from the ocean. One thing to note is that a marine engineer’s life can be both exciting and extremely challenging. Some engineers work in the engine room of ships, with a temperature of 40 degrees, in the middle of the sea, and this life may not be for everyone, so choose your occupation accordingly.
For entry-level jobs, a bachelor’s degree in marine engineering or naval architecture is usually required. The stuff you’d have to typically study in a marine engineering course are elementary navigation, mechanics of machines, marine engineering drawing, control engineering, fluid mechanics, applied marine control and automation, ship structure, marine steam engineering, applied thermodynamics, material strength, among others.
There are several jobs in the public sector that need marine engineers, especially in the navy, coastguard, and defense. Other than that, marine construction companies and shipping companies also hire marine engineers and naval architectures.
Median pay of marine engineers in the USA: $95,440 per year
Materials engineering, as the name suggests, deals with the development of materials. Material engineers use their atomic understanding of materials to create a wide variety of products. What makes this discipline among the very versatile ones is that these products can be anything, from ceramics to plastic to electronics to specialized alloys and whatnot.
A bachelor’s degree in materials engineering is required for entry-level jobs. The course for material engineering covers topics like engineering materials, metallurgical thermodynamics, materials processing, deformation behavior of materials, extractive metallurgy principles, phase transformation, iron and steel making, corrosion, among others.
Some of the top recruiters of materials engineers are automotive industries, construction companies, and several consumer goods companies.
The median pay of materials engineers in the USA: $95,640 per year
In this article on what do engineers do, we have listed several engineering disciplines, and mechanical engineering is probably one of the oldest ones. To explain in simple terms, mechanical engineers design, construct and maintain machinery. What will be the components of the machine? Is the machine to be power-producing or power-consuming? How will it be powered? What will its basic design be? How will the power be transformed? What material should be used for the machine? A mechanical engineer applies physics and engineering principles to answer all the above questions.
A BTech in mechanical engineering is the minimum requirement for most jobs. Typically, a mechanical engineering course comprises transform calculus, machine kinematics, thermodynamics, heat transfer, casting, forming welding, thermo-fluids, machine elements designing, along with other mathematical courses.
Automotive industries, the energy sector, and construction firms are some of the top hirers of mechanical engineers.
The median pay of mechanical engineers in the USA: $90,160 per year
With the population growing and the resources shrinking, there is a constant need for finding new sites of resource extraction, and making the existing ways of mineral and fuel extractions more efficient. This task is done by mining engineers. Mining engineers locate sites of valuable resources such as coal, petroleum, and other minerals, and then devise plans and layouts for safe and efficient extraction and construct the required equipment.
To become a mining engineer, one would have to pursue a bachelor’s in mining engineering, the course of which usually consists of subjects like geology, rock mechanics, solid mechanics, thermodynamics, underground coal and metal mining, ventilation, climate control, mining machinery, mine hazards and rescue, surface mining, environmental engineering, mine safety, and others.
Mining and environmental consultancies, quarrying companies, mining companies, and extraction companies are some of the top hirers of mining engineers.
The median pay of mining engineers in the USA: $93,800 per year
With the growing pressure on industries to shift from carbon-intensive fuels to carbon-free sources of electricity, it has become necessary to establish more nuclear power plants. Today, nuclear energy is the only carbon-free source that can be widely expanded to produce large-scale electricity for the country.
Let us first understand how nuclear energy works. Inside the nucleus of an atom, all of its components are held together tightly with very strong attractive nuclear forces. When this atom (usually radioactive atoms such as Uranium and Thorium) is split, an enormous amount of energy is released. This energy can then be tapped to rotate turbines and thus produce electricity.
The process of producing nuclear energy must be carried out with great caution and should be monitored by an expert who understands the physics behind it. This is where a nuclear engineer comes in. Nuclear engineers are responsible for designing and supervising the activities involved in the reactor, which include loading the fuel into the reactor, implementing protocols for safe levels of radiation, developing the reactor cores, and other jobs. They also research finding new and innovative applications of nuclear energy.
When enrolled in a nuclear engineering course, one would have to study topics like applied nuclear physics, nuclear systems design, reactor physics, engineering of nuclear systems, along with a bunch of mathematics intensive subjects. Besides theoretical knowledge, since this job carries a huge weight of responsibility, it is important to be able to work under pressure, possess great problem-solving skills and attention to detail.
Nuclear power plants and nuclear research institutions hire nuclear engineers.
The median pay of nuclear engineers in the USA: $116,140 per year
So, this was all about what do engineers do. Of course, some engineering disciplines may have been missed, because engineering is so broad, it is impossible to compress it all into a single article.
You may also check out this amazing video by NUS engineering where they broadly wrap up on what do engineers do in less than a minute:
Engineering is not only fascinating, but it also allows making a significant impact on the world. If innovation, problem-solving, physics, and mathematics are things that you are naturally drawn to, then engineering might be for you. Be sure to introspect yourself and research well to find out which engineering course excites you the most!