Think you know what engineering is all about? Read on and make sure you haven’t been hoodwinked by any of these persistent engineering myths.
Engineering is one of those careers that’s surrounded in myths and misinformation. “People have a view about what engineers do that isn’t really accurate until you get into the industry”, says Kelsie Clarke, a Systems Engineer at petroleum company, Woodside Energy.
We can safely say that the following engineering myths have been officially busted.
MYTH: Engineers all work on-site, on big infrastructure projects
FACT: Engineers work on all sorts of projects, in all sorts of places!
Most projects require a design team who’ll carry out planning and development in the office, and they might split their time between the office and on-site.
“Engineers don’t all wear hard hats and steel-capped boots!” says Kelsie. “Engineers can be out in the field, in the office, in research labs, or working for NASA!”
Engineers work on a dizzyingly diverse range of projects. Any piece of technology, device, machine or man-made material has had input from engineers, who can work on any aspect of design, construction, testing, operation and maintenance.
MYTH: Specific types of engineers all work on one thing
FACT: The digital revolution saw the definition of engineering evolve and branch out
Civil engineering = bridges, mechanical engineering = engines & gearboxes, electrical engineering = poles & wires… right?
Wrong! These misconceptions are seriously outdated. These days you’ll see civil engineers like Kelsie, who’s supported water supply and sanitation projects, mechanical engineers making sure building services (like lifts) are optimal, and electrical engineers managing the supply of renewable energy to match demand.
There are more engineering specialisations now than ever before. The digital revolution saw the definition of engineering seriously branching out, with contemporary infrastructure (think software, hardware, data and business processes) often managed by engineers.
MYTH: Engineering doesn’t require creativity
FACT: Creativity is crucial for problem solving!
Creativity is a quality that often gets overlooked in engineers, but you can’t address an engineering challenge without creativity. “You need creativity to solve problems,” says Kelsie.
And Kelsie would know, having solved some pretty out-there challenges, such as designing tech to improve life for Cambodian tuktuk drivers. Sounds pretty creative to us.
MYTH: Engineers need to be maths wizards
FACT: The level of maths involves varies between careers
We won’t lie: the first year of engineering courses is pretty maths-heavy. But when you get out into the workforce, it’s more about applying those skills, rather than performing complicated calculus wizardry. Most engineers use physics/chemistry, geometry, trigonometry and algebra, with more complicated maths performed computationally. Some engineering roles are more technical, while others are more project-managed based, so the level of maths involved varies.
MYTH: Engineers are all employed as… well… engineers
FACT: Engineering skills are highly transferable
It’s a fair assumption, but a 2017 report by Engineers Australia revealed that only 60% of Australians with engineering qualifications work in jobs that are primarily related to the industry.
Instead, many apply their in-demand problem solving and lateral-thinking skills to roles in scientific research, policy development, business management, financial services, communications and sales…the list goes on! More often than not, there’s at least one engineer at the forefront of every tech startup, too.
MYTH: Engineers lack social and personal skills
FACT: Communication is vital in engineering
Like any profession, engineers are a diverse mix of individuals: from introverts to extroverts and everyone in between. But people skills are seriously valuable for any career as an engineer. “Engineering is very much about communication,” says Kelsie. According to a 2017 report by Deloitte, two-thirds of all jobs will be ‘soft-skill intensive’ by 2030.
Thanks to Kelsie Clarke for helping us bust these engineering myths – check out Kelsie’s profile here.
This article originally appears in Careers with STEM: Engineering 2019
Author: Larissa Fedunik-Hofman
Larissa is the editorial assistant for Careers with STEM and a Chemistry PhD student. Larissa’s goal is to promote public engagement with STEM through inspiring stories.