A Guide to Engineering Career Paths

Engineers design and implement many of the systems we take for granted in our daily lives. But engineering isn’t a mysterious discipline only available to a few. It’s an industry that offers plenty of opportunity, as long as you’re willing to put in the work. If you’re interested in a career as an engineer, you’ll be able to choose from many paths. The possible engineering tracks can be divided into five major categories: technical, biological, environmental, industrial, and energy. Within each category is a handful of specialties. You can expect any engineering career to be both challenging and rewarding, so it’s in your best interest to research each specialty. That way, you’ll be able to determine which field interests you the most.

Aerospace engineers are real rocket scientists, developing aircraft, spacecraft, and other flying machines. A degree in aerospace engineering will take you on a journey through physics and math. If you dream of flight or of developing a craft that will fly to Mars, aerospace engineering may be the field for you. If you love music, audio engineering might sound like a dream career. Audio engineers could be involved in setting up and operating the recording technology that captures your favorite band’s new tunes. If the recording studio doesn’t appeal to you, consider live venues. Concerts of all types need to be mixed in real time to keep the audio clean. Audio engineers tune into the performance to make sure each instrument is set to the proper levels.

The world of automotive engineering is constantly changing, with new advances in cars and trucks arriving every year. Whether powered by gasoline, diesel, or batteries, cars need engineers to push their boundaries. In this competitive field, the best technology often wins. If you’re looking for a fast-paced, rapidly changing career, computer engineering may be the right choice. Think of the technology changes that the world has seen in the past decade or two and you’ll find that computer engineers were deeply involved. Personal computers have become faster and more compact and have added features like touchscreens. Mobile devices have become ubiquitous, and many pack as much computing power as desktop computers did in the recent past.

Modern agriculture is on a different scale from traditional family farms. Modern farms are nearly independent ecosystems and include a dizzying number of systems. Agricultural engineers design systems that maximize crop yield, get more nutrition out of animal feed, and minimize environmental impact. They may also design power delivery systems to ensure that all that farm equipment runs smoothly, manage data delivery throughout the harvesting process, and work out ideal planting schedules. Biochemical engineers understand the delicate balance in our ecosystem. They plan for the best and safest ways to ensure that our food supply is secure. Bioengineering also helps to protect the planet from the impact of human activities. That includes things like waste cleanup and proper breakdown of trash.

The importance of biomedical engineering can be seen every day in hospitals and surgery centers all over the world. The challenge of integrating life-altering technologies can be daunting, but the rewards are nearly limitless. From the cochlear implants that help patients hear again to the prosthetic limbs that let them function independently, the work of a biomedical engineer improves lives. It’s hard to imagine a world without the work of chemical engineers: They develop the chemicals that find their ways into plastics and other materials. But the pharmaceutical industry also relies heavily on chemical engineers to help develop new medicines. The list of fuels, paints, fertilizers, and other chemical-containing products is nearly endless. As you’d expect, you’ll need to study plenty of chemistry (as well as biology and math) to start a career as a chemical engineer. If you’re fascinated by the water and oceangoing vessels, marine engineering might be a natural fit. These engineers design and develop the watercraft that we rely on for both industrial and recreational purposes. Marine engineers spend their time figuring out better ways to build ships and submarines, from small boats to massive cruise liners.

If you’ve recently used a road or bridge, you have a civil engineer to thank. In many places around the world, you may owe civil engineers for your access to clean drinking water as well, since they design dams. In short, the world of the civil engineer revolves around designing and building the infrastructure we need in our daily lives. If you love to tinker with circuits and build your own machines, electrical engineering may be the career path for you. The explosion of electronic equipment in daily life means that there’s strong demand for electrical engineers. With a degree in electrical engineering, you can choose to work on equipment from the largest power plant to the smallest microprocessor. Materials engineers design the materials we use to manufacture goods. They’re constantly searching for better ways to build strong composites so medical devices last longer, trim weight off of materials used in aerospace, and find new efficiencies in semiconductor construction. Materials engineers are problem-solvers for a variety of other engineering fields, and they often specialize in a type of material, such as ceramics or plastics. Mechanical engineers turn computer-aided design (CAD) drawings into reality. Using math, physics, and material science, mechanical engineers design systems that make manufacturing happen. Their work turns analytical thinking into real machines, like a 3D printer but with almost limitless potential. If you’re interested in a career as a mechanical engineer, you’ll find high demand in the energy, chemical, and mining sectors.

Nuclear power is an important energy source in many countries, and this industry relies on nuclear engineers to deliver that energy. The role of a nuclear engineer is to design and develop equipment and processes for the safe operation of nuclear power plants. That includes dealing with nuclear waste, monitoring radiation levels, inspecting equipment, and overseeing regular maintenance. Mining engineers combine a handful of disciplines, like geology, physics, and thermodynamics, into a unique career path. Mining engineers are responsible for the safe and efficient exploration of mines. Depending on the type of mine, that may include overseeing a mining operation, determining the best way to extract minerals, and/or ensuring that safety equipment is up to standards. The work of geological and geophysical engineers centers on the study of the earth. Closely related to civil and mining engineering, geological engineers find safe ways to interact with the planet. Their work might entail finding a structurally sound way to tunnel through a mountain or determining the best location on a river to build a dam. Petroleum engineers find ways to extract crude oil and natural gas so it can be processed into fuels, fibers, and plastics. That means that they need to determine the safest and cheapest ways to get at resources that may be buried underground, in the sea, or deep in rocky layers. Once the oil or gas has been extracted, petroleum engineers oversee its processing, making sure that the company extracts the most value from these limited resources.