What is engineering? It’s probably not what you think

What is engineering? Two stereotypical engineers stand wearing hard hats and high vis with a big red cross over them. Text says

One thing we’ve heard time and time again from students, parents and teachers is that some young people won’t even consider an engineering degree or career – not for a moment. “Why not?” we ask. “Because they don’t know anything about it,” they all say. So, why not answer the age old question: What is engineering?

 

Defining engineering

If you’re envisioning hard hats and wrecking balls, we’re going to stop you right there. It’s time to clear out any preconceived ideas about what you think you know about engineering, and learn about the 21st century definition of an engineer.

Engineering is defined as:

“The branch of science and technology concerned with the design, building, and use of engines, machines, and structures.”

AND…

“A field of study or activity concerned with modification or development in a particular area, e.g. software engineering.”

AND…

“The action of working artfully to bring something about.”

So, there’s no one singular career that defines everything that engineering encompasses. However, there are a few key skills that are central to all engineering careers.

Think:

  • Problem solving
  • Design thinking
  • Innovation
  • Technical skills
  • Maths and science like physics
  • Creativity

 

What is an engineer?

An engineer can work across most industries – some that you might not expect. Engineers can; design bionic limbs for people with disabilities, create skin patches that prevent sunburn or skin cancer, design auditoriums for optimum acoustics, develop software programs or work with AI.

There’s way too many careers to name here, so instead meet some real-life engineers working in the field to find out what it’s like to be an engineer.

Catherine Isaac, mechanical engineer at Cochlear

“The potential to improve the hearing of hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, enabling them to hear the voices of their loved ones and hear music again motivates me to do my best everyday.”

cochlear

Macinley Butson, young biomedical inventor

“My invention has aimed to aid the treatment of cancer but I would love to see the day where it is no longer needed because we have found a cure.”

Macinley Butson smiles wearing the red BHP Science and Engineering Awards t shirt

Adrian Arumugam, Google site reliability engineer

“Every day, when I see the sheer scale of Google’s massive networks and systems… it’s mind-boggling! I just can’t help take a step back and admire what we do.”

Luca Stamatescu, Telstra graduate engineer

“My job involves a lot of rapid prototyping and developing proof-of-concept technologies in artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and humanoid robotics.”

We’ve also made this comprehensive list of all the engineering careers we could possibly think of, in case you’re still stuck for ideas.

 

What is medical engineering?

If you’ve ever considered working in a health career, you might like to consider medical engineering or biomedical engineering. Medical engineering or biomedical engineering is about designing, creating and maintaining medical machinery and biomedical devices like bionic limbs or artificial transplants like pacemakers for the heart.

Biomedical engineering is a great field for people who feel like they want to make a difference with their career. You’ll be bettering the lives of countless people every day by creating life-saving and life-improving tech.

What’s it like to be a biomedical engineer? Get the lowdown from an expert.

Elliot Thomas, medical engineering student

“My big picture goal is to help as many people as I can. I’d love to work with prosthetics or artificial organs.”

Medical Engineering student, University of Newcastle

What is computer engineering?

Computer engineers don’t necessarily construct computers or write code. Computer engineering is a broad branch of engineering that covers everything from programming, UX and UI design, product development (like designing and engineering smartphones), electronic engineering, machine learning and artificial intelligence – and heaps more!

What’s it like to be a computer engineer? Get the lowdown from an expert.

Grace Nolan, Google cyber security engineer

“Hackers might try to steal Google’s intellectual property, or peek at people’s emails, or shut down Google’s services. I do investigations and write automated detection and response systems. Think: designs inspired by traps in the Home Alone movies but for the digital realm.”

What is mechanical engineering?

Think of a machine, any machine. A mechanical engineer had everything to do with it. Whether that’s a spacecraft, energy generator, robot or mining machinery. Mechanical engineering is probably closest to what people imagine when they hear ‘engineering’, but even this sector of engineering has some awesome and wide-ranging possibilities.

What’s it like to be a mechanical engineer? Get the lowdown from an expert.

Beth Jens, NASA propulsion engineer

During her PhD on hybrid rocket combustion and its application to space exploration missions, Beth spent time at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory working on her research. Now she’s a propulsion engineer at NASA.

NASA engineer

What is civil engineering?

Civil engineering is about engineering the things around us in the built environment. Civil engineers design and construct transport systems, public infrastructure like bridges, tunnels and roads, buildings like apartment blocks or skyscrapers, waste water and sewerage systems, or clean energy systems.

What’s it like to be a civil engineer? Get the lowdown from an expert.

Carina Pirozzi, chemical engineer

Chemical engineering is Carina’s passion because she loves solving problems. “It’s a mixture of logic and science, with a creative twist.”

Chemical engineer

Keen to learn more?

This list of all the engineering careers we could think of might help you to narrow down your choices and find the right engineering career for you.

Eliza Brockwell

Author: Eliza Brockwell

Eliza is the Digital Producer for Careers with STEM. Eliza is passionate about creating content that encourages diversity of representation in STEM.

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